This is a post for writers, but only self-doubting writers. Shiny, self-confident, well-adjusted writers, please avert your eyes, and readers, stop reading. I want you all to think I’m perky, witty, and above all…successful. But those of you writers who wrestle demons, gather ’round…
I’m coming to grips with something sort of devastating for a 42 year-old who is supposed to be grown up. I feel like I’m failing. I thought it was because my ten year plan didn’t work out. I’m not making enough money writing, and it’s time to get another job. (Oh shit, smell the blood in the water? No one will buy my books now!) Just the thought of getting a full-time job brings tears to my eyes, like, every day. I’ve had four part-time jobs for a bunch of years now. I write under two names, tutor SAT prep, and teach pastry arts classes at a community college. This gives me time to write, but it’s not enough money. I’m not doing it right.
That’s what I hear in my head, but even *I* know it’s bullshit.
My employers value me. My publishers want more books. Getting another job does NOT mean giving up writing. It isn’t failure because I’m happy with my work. It isn’t the death of the dream. So why do I feel wrecked? The answer is simple. And sickening. I wreck myself.
Notice I didn’t say “wrecked.” Because I do it over and over. My husband has made a joke out of it so often, my kid said it the other day. “But you love to beat yourself up. It makes you happy.” What was I supposed to say? “I’m not happy”? Well, why the fuck not? I should be. My life is amazing. But I never make a list of the good stuff. Just the stuff that needs doing, and that list never ends. So I beat myself up about beating myself up about not being happy.
Thank God for yoga and an instructor who reminds us “It’s a practice.”
Happiness is a practice, at least for me. I know we’re all precious snowflakes, but I bet it is for some of you, too.
I know why I’m wired for self-doubt, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fight the demons. Even if I didn’t have deep-seated issues, I’ve chosen a profession in which I will never be good enough. Because even when I type THE END that only means it’s time for several passes of edits. I love edits and my editors, but I write the damn books with my blood and guts, so…you know. It’s hard to try to get it right over and over again, and of course typos always make it into the final, formatted manuscript. And then…the reviews come. The amazing, wonderful, good, so-so, bad, horrid, putrid reviews. (I’m grateful for every one. Yes, even the putrid ones I shouldn’t have read. They bought the book or at least read the book.) Oh, and let’s not forget not every book becomes a bestseller, hits the lists, the top 100, or whatever meaningless measure I’m tormenting myself with this week. (Because I know if it doesn’t sell then it isn’t good and neither am I and, oh, those shitty demons!)
My agent says I need to get a thicker skin. She’s right. Is there an app for that?
Damn it. No. Or I would have deleted Minecraft to make room for it. It’s up to me. It’s up to you. Denial is the first phase, and admitting there is a problem is the first step, but that’s only the beginning for people like us. Our demons are hydras, and we like their heads. They’re familiar.
Are you happy?
In yoga, when I fall out of a pose, I laugh and get back in. When I get dizzy, I put a leg down. Because there is no “good enough.” There is only my experience. None of the measures matter.
In my writing life, each book is as good as I can make it, and I enjoy writing them. The job doesn’t stop there, but I don’t have to stand still for the inevitable, measuring blows. I took Tae Kwon Do in college, but it’s only now that I realize the best way to block a punch or a kick is to get out of the damn way. Or deflect it. Just because somebody throws a punch, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Since we aren’t talking about a physical fight, guess what? Even if the punch lands, it doesn’t have to hurt. We make it hurt by giving it power.
I already know I’m my own worst critic, and I’m wired to internalize criticism and shrug off praise. Unless you are one of those shiny, happy, charmed people who aren’t supposed to be reading this, you are, too. We can’t wake up, realize we’re hard on ourselves, and stop. But we also don’t have to beat ourselves unconscious.
It’s never going to be good enough.
Because there IS no good enough.
Not for people like us.
But there is this moment, this day, this life, and we can get back in it every time we fall out. Happiness is a practice. Or that’s what this writer is telling herself this month to keep the demons at bay. I’m at a double crossroads. It’s time to get that new job, and Hot Nights Book 3 is my last official deadline. I need to pick two new projects, so I’ve been pondering this topic a lot. (Ha! Like I haven’t been pondering it for at LEAST 20 years.) Are you pondering, too?
Do you have a mantra, a manifesto, a talisman, a demon deflector, hydra head-lopper? Would you please post it in the comments? I think I’ll make a postcard out of all of them and send one to you. :-)