How often have you heard people say to you: Don’t take on too much. Have SMART goals. Be realistic.
Most of my life, I’ve ben realistic. I’ve been so realistic, I sometimes depress myself. It’s not really psychological self-harm: it’s digging yourself deep so that you can say, with absolute certainty, that your feet are on the ground.
I wonder, how deep is deep enough? Should I go as far as my knees? As my waist? As my neck? Why don’t I just lie down and let myself be buried for good measure?
If that sounds needlessly harsh and cruel, good. It’s meant to be.
I think there is a problem in the cultural discourse around busyness and risk-taking. We tell ourselves to be SMART (specific, measurable, accountable, realistic, timely) about the things we take on, but at the same time, our culture glorifies busyness – to the point where people who take a risk and only do one thing are treated as lazy slobs.
Writers are the easiest example. Anyone who has done their research on publishing knows the very dismal statistics of employment. There is no such thing as a constant stream of income. You’re taxed as a self-employed individual. In the States, you have to pay a fortune for health insurance (and if the UK government has their way, you on this side of the pond will too, and very soon). Whether you succeed or fail depends on dumb luck as much as it does on the hours you spend on social media marketing. And if that isn’t bad enough, your cousin Gladys keeps asking you when you’ll get a real job.
Unless an author strikes out and their book sales hit the stratosphere, they will probably need some other source of income. (And if they hit the stratosphere, they have a whole different set of problems.) Writing seems less like a genuine vocation, and more like an expensive hobby.
And yes. It sucks. It sucks so hard.
Imagine being a young, budding writer. You’ve been doing your thing, on your own, or anonymously, for a while, and you want to learn about publishing. You read the statistics. You soak up the misery. You look at the NYT bestseller list and you think: “There’s no way I’d be this lucky.” Your parents tell you that people who rely on luck are fools and slobs. Society tells you that you are a spoiled brat by virtue of being born after 1989.
I don’t have to imagine. I am that writer. I’m lucky that my job is something I genuinely love, and makes me as excited to get out of bed in the morning as the thought of writing. But for three and a half years, I went through a sort of hell where I asked myself, on a daily basis, what the **** am I doing with my life? Why do I keep doing this to myself? I hated everything and it felt like everything hated me. I spent my time studying, because that’s what good girls do, and skipped valuable socialization time because I wanted to write. I don’t want to imagine what my coursemates thought of me. I only had a few good friends, by virtue of us living together (small blessing, all things considered). I exercised excessively. I stressed out. I went on diets that gave me more troubles than they were worth.
But the absolute worst thing that came out of all that “playing safe” thing was this disgusting sense of self-righteousness, a sanctimoniousness that I swear other people could smell off me at 1000 paces. I thought I had it all figured out. I looked down on other people with similar dreams. I resented those that pursued their dreams full time.
This isn’t a cautionary tale. This is a call to action.
No more jealousy. I’ll pursue my dreams at my own pace and in my own good time, and keep my eyes on my ballpark.
No more wishy-washiness. I’ll be as ruthless with my writing as I am with my work.
No more delay. I have to act now.
This January is a bit of a NaNo. I want to finish a novel, or barring that, a first/second draft. Alongside my other projects, and querying agents. Because I want to.
And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But damn, it’s a challenge I wanna take.