I admit it: I hate my life right now. I am feeling overworked, underpaid, and asked to take on more each and every year. Part of it has to do with recent leadership changes where I work. In the last three years, the college I work for has had three different deans. Each leader has his or her own priorities and initiatives, and the faculty and staff are faced with making sure the previous initiatives continue and starting the new ones that the new leader wants to implement. On Tuesday, I will be having a difficult conversation with the Administration, explaining that I need my nights and weekends back and asking what can either be dropped or shifted to someone else.
I am between projects right now. It is a foreign feeling for me. Normally, I race on to something else before finishing my current project, constantly scanning my environment for the next amazing thing to do or activity to try.
This year, I decided to try something different. I set an intention to finish what I start. It is more difficult than I imagined. Now, before starting something, I actually have to commit. No more leaping out of something because I’m stuck, bored or both.
Even though I have been writing and journaling consistently since I was eight years old, I still have problems with writer’s block. Take today, for example. I want to write this post but have been staring at my computer screen for almost an hour, trying to figure out what to write next.
Writer’s block never really goes away, for me anyway, and it can happen for any number of reasons. Typically, I find that writer’s block results from allowing external opinions or circumstances interfere with our writing practice.
This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again, starting most memorably fifteen years ago when I decided to put writing first after finding inspiration and my voice while completing Julia Cameron’s creative unblocking course The Artist’s Way. The course was a revelation to me, and I got serious about my craft as a fiction writer and poet and applied to MFA programs in creative writing. I didn’t get accepted. I was devastated. I stopped writing for awhile but eventually took a creative writing course at my local community college and found the will to continue.
After working consistently on my craft for another three years, I got accepted to the MFA program at Columbia College in Chicago. I was ecstatic! FINALLY, I was going to earn the terminal degree that told the world I was a writer. The only problem? It didn’t work out.
Okay, I admit it: I am writing this blog post for myself today, just as much as I am writing it for all of you, my lovely audience. Why? Because even though I have made a career out of writing, there are still plenty of days when I doubt my own abilities and talents, and I recognize the need to talk myself back into what I know, based on the hard lessons about writing and life that I need to learn and re-learn.
Recently, I was on vacation in New York City and discovered a book in the NYU bookstore that I was really excited about. It is Jonannah Negron’s How to Be an Artist. I saw the book and just knew I had to have it. Usually when I get a feeling about a book, it’s dead right. My intuition was right on this book, too, except for one thing: Negron says that all artists need day jobs.
That really bothered me because she is assuming that you can have EITHER your art OR your freedom. But what if you want both? Do you really need to choose?
One question that has plagued me throughout my adult life as a creative person is, should I follow my passion?
When I was in my twenties, the answer was a resounding YES. It was easy enough to make that decision in college when I was a student and didn’t have to worry about things like health insurance or saving for retirement. I felt free to follow whatever interested me and did.
Let’s face it: writing a novel is hard work. And, one of the things that often makes it harder is books on how to write novels. Yes, you read that correctly. I honestly believe the sometimes reading a book about how to write a novel actually gets in the way.
Perhaps you’ve read this elsewhere—and because I absolutely believe this to be true, I think it bears repeating—there are two kinds of novelists:
Writers who write by the seat of their pants (sometimes called “pantsers”) and write each day without planning their novels.
Writers who plan each part of their novels before they write it, complete with character sketches and an outline.