If I had to pick the underlying theme of my many blog posts about writing, it would be me asking: what am I doing this for? The question isn’t unique to my profession, or even to creatives. From time to time, we all take a look at what we’re doing and ask why. Or we should. And it’s not something you can ask once and be done. The answer changes with time.
I set goals at the beginning of this year and felt pretty good about not only the direction I wanted to take my career, but in the number of books I wanted to write. It was a good number. Very doable. Then I got to work and started writing the wrong book. Henry and Marc’s HEA was number three on my list of projects. I went with it, though, and by the time I hit the 6k mark, I’d entered that wonderful phase where the story started to tell itself. I was golden; writing 1500-2000 words every morning, revising a two or three chapters of Irresistible, the novel I drafted last year, every afternoon.
Then I finished drafting this second book and suddenly had two books to revise. Revisions on Irresistible had ground to a halt as Counting on You hit the phase where all I wanted to do was write another chapter so I could see what happened next. This is a good thing, usually. It’s one of my favourite parts of drafting. I rushed past the finish line, took a few days to recharge, and started revising Counting on You.
So I was attacking my To Do list out of order. What did it matter, so long as I got all the books written by the end of the year?
Revisions did not go well. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept rewriting scenes that didn’t need rewriting and becoming frustrated. I was also super distracted, meaning I’d get through a paragraph before flipping over to Facebook to see what was going on. As usual, all the things were going on, and none of them were particularly entertaining.
It’d be easy to say that politics and the general state of things was getting to me and I think that’s partially true, but when I took a step back and examined the reasons why I felt Henry and Marc’s HEA wasn’t working really had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with me. I was in a hurry. Too much of a hurry. I wanted it done so that I could get back to revising Irresistible and drafting Road Rash, the book I was supposed to write first. And I needed all of this to happen right now because after the end of March, I had no new contracts lined up. Everyone else had a dozen books coming out by the end of 2017 and I had nothing!
Well, one more thing lined up and something written. Actually two things written, both partially revised. Plus I was working on a third story for an upcoming newsletter, and I had a list of three blog posts to write. And a new release tour coming up, meaning another ten blog posts. Promotion to do—Block and Strike had just released and it was February! Four intense weeks of selling LOVE. I should do ads! Post in all the groups.
I also had to keep up with my monster of a house, parent my teenager and plan two new conferences with my local writing groups. And I had this month’s entries from my critique group to read, plus all those RITA books. Oh, and another ms to get ready for a competition I wanted to enter.
For some folks, this level of craziness might be doable. For me, it’s not. I was exhausted, and not giving myself permission to be exhausted because, OMG, I work from home. All I had to do was write, right? Yeah, no. Not even Stephen King gets to just write. The main point of it all, though, was that I wasn’t very happy. Writing and revising had begun to feel too much like a chore. It’s allowed to feel like that on occasion. Some days you just get the words down and pretty them up later. Every day shouldn’t be like that, though, and slavishly writing and editing a specific number of words just so I could tick the little boxes on my To Do list was starting to feel sort of insane. I’m not a machine. I’m a human being.
You already know how this story ends—sort of. I took a break and after three days of doing nothing (well, trying to ski in no snow, hiking, drinking too much scotch and hiking through the hangover), I pulled up Counting on You and revised three chapters without stopping. I didn’t check Facebook once. I also left my work day right there, at three hours of writing work, and filled the rest of my time doing things that made me happy. When I’m not too tired, cleaning my house makes me happy. I planned to slowly start increasing my writing hours again (I was putting in eight to ten a day before my little melt down), but a moment of meditation changed my plans once more.
Every Thursday morning I go to yoga and we traditionally end every session with a meditation. This past week, my instructor Gale talked about following our hearts. About how we too often follow our heads when really, without disregarding common sense, we should be doing what makes us happy. I love writing and I chose to do it because it makes me happy. So why was I allowing my head—the part of me that felt I needed to publish a dozen books while writing all the blog posts and doing all the promotion—to squash my heart flat? The analogy extended beyond my writing career as well. I’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities over the past couple of years connected to my volunteer work at the library. Too many, when I sat down and counted them up. It was time to start saying “no.”
So I tossed the list. If I get the books I had planned for this year written, fantastic! But I’m not going to write one of them next. Instead, I’m going to follow my heart and write the book that’s been calling to me for a while now. Something a little bit science fiction, a little bit romance and a lot of fun. I’ll finish revising Counting on You and Irresistible first. No more writing one while I’m revising another one or two or three. Then I’m going to take my time with this next project. I’m not going to count my words. Okay, that’s a lie. I am going to count my words, but only as a way to track the progress and pacing of the story. I’m done with trying to pump out this many words a week and that many words a month.
I’m also going to do drop a few other things off my To Do list and acknowledge that just because I have the freedom of working from home, for myself, I’m not obligated to fill all those hours with work. I’m lucky to be where I am, so why shouldn’t I take advantage of that?
I doubt this will be the last blog post I write about writing, and my struggle with finding balance within my writing career. But for as much as I write these posts for myself, to sort through my thoughts, I hope they help others too. Are you following your heart? If not, I hope you can rearrange a few things even if it’s just the idea of what’s possible in your mind, because life’s too short to wear ourselves out trying to be happy when sometimes, all we need to do is just take a little time and do a little less.