Monday, April 28, 2014

Life is Not a Sticker Chart

A week ago I found this quote. I'm not sure it resonated with me so much as it hung around, clanking about in my head. It seemed right, mostly, I think, because it confirmed what I've most feared: I am no longer a writer.

From 2007 until 2010, I wrote nearly every day. I didn't make much money on it, and working strictly as a novelist, I spent far more time writing than I did submitting my writing. But I viewed it as my job, to work each day creating stories I'd hoped would one day launch a career. I called myself a writer.

For two years after that, I was a student, but still, writing every day. It felt more like work than writing ever had before. I had deadlines and revisions and people to please.

In the year since, life's been more a roller coaster, as I've added a "real" job - one with scheduled hours and a regular paycheck. I poked around a couple different projects, trying my hand at some non-fiction and flash between the novel I was working on. I submitted a few stories. But it's been sporadic... weeks of obsessive writing, then days, even weeks, without.

I felt guilty about this. The mantra among published writers is that you find time to write, no matter what. If you have a job, you get up a 4am to write. If you have kids, you stay up until 1am to write. You find time. And for years, this is what I've done. (Well, not the getting up at 4am. That is just crazy talk.)

The past few weeks have been exhausting, though, and not just work-wise and family-wise, but just emotionally. By the time I shut the work computer, carted my kids around, cheered them on, cooked dinner, tucked them into bed, I sat with my novel open and stared at it, then chose instead to read. Or watch TV. For years I barely watched any TV, but these days, the hours between 9:30 and 11:00, it's about all I can manage. And then, I've actually be going to bed rather than stay up another two hours to write.

The last few weeks, as I've struggled through a single chapter that has proved to be a bit difficult to wrangle, I've not been writing much.

The words of my husband last year kept reverberating in my brain: If you don't get paid for it, isn't it really more a hobby than a job?

Then I read this: "You are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer."

I let that sludge around my heart, every time I turned on the TV, every time I chose to read rather than write. I knew every time that I was making a conscious choice not to write, making a conscious choice to be a person who dreamed about being a writer but not really being one. This is, after all, the thing that is what writers pride themselves on - sacrificing personal time to persevere as though this were a second job.

Then I thought of my friends who love to scrapbook. They don't do it every day. Sometimes not at all for a month or two at a time. But they are scrapbookers. And my friends who knit, even if they only do it for stretches at a time, they are knitters. And the bikers, even if they only ride in warm months, are bikers.

Who is to tell us how to label ourselves, or tell us what name we are worthy of?  Is there some star chart I don't know of where we get to put stickers on each day we write, and you only get to be a writer if there are a certain number of stickers per week? Seriously, peeps, is this the kind of regulation and guilt we need heaped into our lives?

So while I might not answer the question, "What do you do for a living?" with the answer, "I'm a writer," I am most definitely a writer. Even if tonight I choose to turn on the TV.


  1. For some, I suppose this reminder about how habits become virtues become lifestyle is motivating. But I think the issue is more complex than this. A creative life can't be nothing but a slog and stickers on a chart. No one does good work with that sort of mentality. Guilt is a real creativity crusher.

    That said, I am still really rolling with your "touch it daily" idea (thanks again for that fabulous post). That might not mean computer time per se. But there are less taxing aspects I can and do noodle with when I'm stressed because it's fun--research, brainstorming, adding clips to an idea file, adding to a word journal or a movement journal.

    We need better, saner memes, I think!

    1. Thanks, Laurel! I totally agree! I have found it true that if I shut my novel off for long, I lose passion for it. It IS important to touch it every day! And I am still doing that... still opening it almost every day, still figuring out how it will weave together in the end, or how to untangle a knot of a problem with the structure. I think about it. But I'm not plowing away at the words every day in the sense of filling a word count.

      I suppose it's a need to let go of that guilt of piling up words and allow myself the knowledge that "touching it" can sometimes be refilling the emotional well I draw from when I write. It's all about finding the balance, and letting myself free from other's choices of balance.

  2. Nobody's handing out gold stars… and let's just do what we can and not feel guilty about everything!

  3. I came upon this site through Leigh Rourks' blog and she's a fine writer so I knew any link from her site would probably be pretty damn good; I was right. Let me assure, honey, you can flat out writer whether you are "in service" at a keyboard or putting pen to paper, the essence is there. Feeling lousy about what one doesn't do is counter-productive to any positive movement: you can start over any time changing what you don't like about this moment by acting the opposite way. But comes a time when the day-to-day moments and joys require all our effort for whatever reason. And that's okay.

    1. AJFlamingo - thank you so much for not only reading but responding with such a thoughtful response. I like your phrase, "day-to-day moments and joys." Why muck all that up with guilt? One the best days, those joys include writing, and for now, I'll take that.

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