Advice on writerly success almost always includes exhortations to write daily, to remain focused, to give up other things in order to keep the butt in the chair. There is much truth in those words, but taken to extremes, can become quite dysfunctional.
New writers in particular are vulnerable to the negative judgments wrapped up in those pieces of guidance, worrying if one can be a “real” writer if not behaving as if writing is the most important thing in life.
It’s a tremendously destructive mindset.
See that picture? That’s my son and I. It was taken by my sister almost fifteen years ago, during a wonderful hike around a lake in southern Indiana. That day, my son touched a frog, giggled over the sound of pebbles splashing in the water, and freaked out over mud sticking to his shoes. Those memories keep my heart full–not only because of my son’s darling childhood experience, but because my sister (who now has two little boys of her own) was there to share it with me.
The picture is one of my favorites. It hangs on the wall where I can see it while I’m working. Sure, I could say it reminds me of the reasons I work on as many projects as I do. But it’s actually there to remind me to stop working rather than obsessively tune out the world to produce content. It’s there to tell me who I am is more important than what I do.
There have been times I behaved otherwise, always trying to take more and more and more time. I could always do those other things later, tomorrow, next time. And I’ll still blow off steam from time to time by griping about things that dig into my writing time and my writing energy. But now, as I watch my son speed toward independent adulthood, as I come to accept the aging of my parents, as my sister and her children build a new life in a new place, as more people I know grow older and share the regrets of their middle age, I get it. I get it.
The other way the “write every day, all the time, no matter what” advice can hurt us crops up during times of great pain–emotional or physical. Believing a writer is real only when producing content adds a layer of guilt, depression, and anxiety to hard times that interfere with creativity. Only recently have I discovered the Writing for the Long Haul series over at Janni Lee Simner’s blog. Its most recent entry, “Writing Through Crisis” by Deborah J. Ross, is important for any writer who has endured emotional hits and tragedy. An April 2012 post from Kris Rusch is another important perspective on the impact of life events and hard times on one’s ability to write.
A riverbed doesn’t stop being a riverbed in periods of drought. A writer doesn’t stop being a writer while raising children, loving families, caring for friends, or enduring and processing emotional upheavals. Rather, that’s a writer who is fully participating in life, whose experiences will later inform and enrich their stories when time to write can again be found, and the empathy required to write is once again a companion rather than an affliction.
So if you’re a new (or newer) writer, cut yourself some slack. Choose your priorities as if you never know if “later” will exist. And, frankly, ignore anyone who wants to judge your writer-ness by their own priorities and choices.