And the feeling has been...terrifying. I don't feel like I'm in a rush, overwhelmed, sidetracked or off-track. My edits are in, my galley is done, I have a line up of books coming out and I'm working on a book now. There's no pressure. Except for what I put on myself every single day.
I worried and said to a couple of friends, am I done? Did I wear myself out and now I'm a girl who used to write? Because, I have to be honest...I've never written without a feeling of urgency...a feeling of: I have to do this, I have to get this done, I have to show this person or that person that they weren't wrong. That I wasn't wrong to keep trying.
As they tend to do, my friends smartened me up. They assured me I wasn't done, but maybe that pressure and feeling of needing to DO MORE and BE MORE was actually stifling my writing. I hope not. But it might have been misleading me. That self-induced pressure may have been forcing me to think I need to always move at the same pace. And no matter how hard I try, that pace was always behind others and in front of some (I told you, random.) But it makes sense in my head. Sort of. I think I've been struggling with my place right there in the middle. I'm no longer a debut author. I'm not one of the biggies. I'm just...somewhere in between.
I've been reading Jennifer Probst's book Write Naked. This book was made for how I've been feeling. It's everything I love about the writing community and writing and authors and words. She's perfectly honest and in between sharing personal anecdotes, she breaks down moments in her own career that mirror ones I've had or hope to have. But she also reminds you that it isn't about pushing yourself to be better than someone else...in fact, that's the exact way to drive yourself crazy.
As a teacher and a mom, I always tell kids, the only person you have to be better than is the person you were yesterday (this is not my quote but I like it). And even though I truly believe it, I don't apply it to my writing. Or myself, but that's a road we won't go down today. The thing is, in her book, Ms. Probst gives exercises...I haven't been doing them because I'm so into the book I want to swallow it whole and internalize it. I'll go back and do them after I finish. But I read through what she asks you to do and the one that stuck with me was make a list of where you want to be...your goals. What you want for yourself and your career. I should have done that when I started out. And here's why:
Because I forget to remember how lucky I am. At one point, I wanted an agent more than anything. Then I got one and I wanted to sell a book more than anything. When I co-wrote and sold not one, but two books, I wanted to write a book BY MYSELF more than anything. When I did that, I wanted to write another book and have it be loved. Do you see what was happening? I didn't stop at any of those points and say, you did it. You got exactly what you wanted. Good for you and yay. Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled and proud and so happy that I've been able to put books out into the world. I've been so lucky to have my agent, work with my wonderful editors, and mostly to touch people's lives with my words. That is a dream come true. I recognize it, but I haven't stopped to absorb it. Because I've been too busy pushing forward to make sure I don't let myself down.
If I'd written that goal list in 2012, it would have said: to publish a book that someone (other than my mom and best friend) loves. I did it. I've done it a few times in fact. Why do we forget to stop and appreciate those moments? They seem to take so long to reach and fly by so fast. I didn't stop. I kept pushing. Writing multiple things at a time. Writing faster. Writing more. And then...I caught up. There's no urgency right this minute and maybe I should be worried...I was...but on the other hand, it's kind of nice.
It's scary to realize that I don't have complete control over my books. It wouldn't matter which path to publishing I took. I have no more control with Forever Christmas (self published) than with Dangerous Love (co-authored), or More than Friends (Entangled Publishing) because I can't predict where they will go or who will hate them or who will love them. Jennifer Probst wrote the Marriage Bargain and then put it away for FIVE years. And I kept thinking, what if she'd gotten it out in the world sooner? Would she have become a USA Today Bestseller 5 years sooner? Maybe. Her point, I think, was that you can control your career, your words, your choices, your schedule, and many other parts of your journey, but not everything. I love how honest she is about this because while I've been feeling like I have to reach the next level and the next level and the next after that, she's been there and said, she does the same thing....you get into this circle of wanting more and needing to keep reaching higher. Part of that is ambition and it's what makes us career writers and it's healthy because it makes us strive for more. But we (I) also need to realize it's not all in our control. By remembering to be happy and appreciative of where we are in our journey, we gain a sense of...power over ourselves and our work.
Last week I kept thinking I have to recapture that urgency or what will happen to my books? But maybe I need to embrace this feeling. I'm not going to quit my job anytime soon and write full time (because I love eating), but maybe I don't have to. I don't have to convince myself that I'm only a real writer if I'm able to do that. Or any of the other things I think we try to convince ourselves of as writers. It's our career. It'll unfold as it's meant to and the journey is unique for everyone.
So while I'm settling into a new kind of comfort zone in terms of my writing pace and own expectations, the news feed shows that there were several fatalities at a concert in Manchester. And holy hell, talk about randomness because then I thought, I'm worrying about writing and books when people can't even go to a concert or public event without wondering if they'll make it home. And then my anxiety wraps me up like a very noose-like blanket and I think, why does any of it matter and what can I do to stay safe and keep my family safe? And as much as I hate to admit it, once again, it comes down to not being able to control everything. God, that sucks. I really like to be in control. I want a guarantee that we're all going to be okay and everything is going to be fine. But there aren't any. And it terrifies me. And it bothers me that I worry about how well my next book will sell or if my face needs more make up today when there are so many bigger, more important things in life. But maybe these moments are what pull us through the others. If I'm thinking about books, I'm not thinking about how it scares me to let my kids go to school because what if something happens. When I'm reading and getting lost in a book-- or writing a book, I'm not wondering if my best friend and I should attend the concert in July that we're both pretty pumped about.
Life is sad and scary and out of our control. But it's also happy and thrilling and within our control to a certain extent. It's not about best seller lists or movie deals or who can write the best and most books. It's not about falling off the Weight Watchers wagon again or whether I'm a better mom than so and so. It's about getting up each day and planning to be the best person you can...better than you were yesterday. For writers, it's about sharing our words and pulling someone into a world that gives them a break from their own. It's about reminding each other that there is good and kindness and support out there. Chris Cornell's death was another part of my blah feeling this week. We're all guilty of looking to the person next to us and thinking "if only I had that or I could do that". But it isn't true. We don't know what anyone carries around with them. We convince ourselves (or I do) that we'll be happy with the next level, if we can just get one step further, lose five more pounds, write one more book, win one more contest, have one less argument with our kid or spouse, that everything will magically and suddenly be okay.
I don't know if everything is going to be okay. I stay away from the news because it frightens me. But here's what I know: my husband is outside making our house look better. My girls are downstairs hanging out and happy. The people I love are all okay right now. The sun is shining and right this very moment, I am okay and so are you, at least I hope so. As much as we plan for the future and want all the things, what we have is right this minute. Right now. That lack of urgency I'm worried about having? Maybe it's a long awaited contentment. Maybe it's me remembering to stop and be happy with where I am and what I have right this second. The rest will come as it does. I can't control all of that. But I can embrace happy right now. So I will. And I'll hope next week I'm not rushing around in a mad, frantic mess ;)
Truly though, all randomness aside, if you're a writer, read Write Naked. It'll remind you that we're all in this together and no one achieves greatness alone. It'll remind you to thank the people around you and be grateful they're there. If you're not a writer, well, um....I have other book recommendations if you need them.
I'm going to post this now because if I don't, I'll re read it and second guess it a dozen times and never share it with you because I'll tell myself I shouldn't. But I should. Now. Because this is where I'm at.