Anne here for a moment: I’ve been cracking the get-your-work-out-there whip pretty heavily in my last two series, so I am very pleased to reintroduce FAAB (Friend of Author! Author! Blog) Jordan Rosenfeld, bringing her patented brand of writer encouragement. Here, she’s addressing a MONUMENTALLY important issue (in response to an excellent reader comment — thanks again, Moo!) that seldom gets discussed at writers’ conferences, which are typically geared to either business (“Get and agent! Get an agent!”) or craft (“You’re writing wrong! You’re writing wrong!”). But in the quiet of whatever time and space we have managed — often with great difficulty — to carve out as a writing studio, this issue often looms large: how do we give ourselves permission to write?
Take it away, Jordan!
Dream On, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld , Guest Blogger
I received a comment awhile back from reader “Moo Crazy” who asked for suggestions on what to do when one’s desire to write is at odds with one’s inner morality that suggests writing is not a “responsible” way to live, usually because of its slim profit margin. A lot of writers, therefore, hold back from the time they would love to take from children/job/significant others and don’t give their writing life their “all,” which breeds its own kind of nasty feelings.
Let me say the obvious first and get it out of the way so we can move on to working with the feelings:
If you don’t write, there will be no product with which to do anything.
If you don’t write, you are not being responsible to yourSELF.
Whatever you believe about writing — i.e, a noble endeavor or a waste of time — will not only be true for you, but you will teach others to believe this about it as well.
If you resist writing out of guilt, you will also slowly begin to resent those you believe are keeping you from doing what you love.
So when you look at all those likely outcomes of holding back, you can see that leaning in to the responsibility angle also comes with some drawbacks.
Let me share a little story on this subject. I have been writing all of my life. When I met my husband he took one look at my loaded shelves full of journals and knew he was in the presence of someone for whom writing was not just a passing fancy. However, he is also a rational person who believes that financial security is a wise thing. I always wrote “on the side.” I jammed it into the crevices of my life wherever I could find them. I rose early, worked late, put off social engagements, even sacrificed time spent with him.
When small but exciting things happened to me, like the time I went to the writing conference — where I, in fact, met the illustrious Miss Mini — and was told by an agent, “This is really good stuff, you should finish it and then send it to me,” I came home thinking “I’m going to do it. I just need a month.” But when I got home, I couldn’t make a case for taking a month off from my already low-paying job. I felt guilty. What if he banked on my success and nothing happened? What if I failed him?
I proceeded to be a pretty miserable person for quite some years, always hungering after the life that I wanted but was afraid to have in which I wrote all the time and called my own shots. Not until I started creating space for my writing life by focusing on it every day, by doing all the various exercises I previously led you all through, did anything shift.
And then one day, after I’d spent a particularly juicy week day-dreaming about the freelance writing life I was going to have for myself, after I’d started taking my writing life so seriously that nobody dared tell me it was a pipe dream, my husband came to me. “I think you should quit your job,” he said. “It’s time. You have to do this.”
You have no idea how amazing it was to hear those words. What had changed in him from the man who couldn’t bear the idea of me taking a month off to finish a novel?
*I* had changed. I had begun to take myself and my writing so seriously, as if it was in fact a child I was to nurture, that I all but radiated an aura of success. Nothing about our finances changed; I didn’t hand him a written guarantee that I would bring in X dollars. I simply began to do all the work on myself — that of visualizing, emphasizing the positive, writing down in precise detail the writing life I wanted — and he shifted along with me.
I’ve been self-employed for two years now and in these two years more has happened to my career than my entire life put together prior to this.
Two books are being published, I’m a contributing editor at Writer’s Digest magazine, I’m writing book reviews for an NPR-affiliate radio station and the SF Chronicle, I have a literary agent shopping my novel. A few years ago, none of that seemed plausible to me. It all seemed so very far off.
The key is that we think we are making our family members safe, our parents happy and our society proud of us for our restraint by not writing. When all we are really doing is preventing ourselves from our own fullness, our own potential success, which will have a positive effect on everyone in our lives. It’s a terrible edge to walk.
I recommend you start by giving in to your daydreams. You don’t even have to do anything, but start fantasizing in full vivid color, what kind of writing life you want. How much time do you see yourself writing? When, where, and what is coming out? What would you be doing differently if only you had the time to write? Ask these questions until you actually begin to shift.
My next online class with Rebecca Lawton might also help you to this end:
CREATING SPACE: FOR WRITERS AND OTHER ARTISTIC SOULS (Wavegirl Books, 2007) is part writer’s guide, part playbook and now, a series of online classes! Using a principle pioneered by the authors, the class guides participants through activities and insights designed for a creative life. We explore how you attract your life, show you how to fashion your own journey by Creating Space for your desires, and cheerlead you through the process of writing and attracting your good. The classes draw from the principles of the forthcoming book.
Next Session: Letting Go, Creating Space
Schedule: 4 weeks, October 20 through November 17, 2006
LIMIT: 15 students
It’s important to remember that you are the one who shapes your own life. You are in charge of letting go of what you don’t want, and you — guided by your feelings — can make choices that allow everything and everyone around you to play supportive roles in your life story. This four-week class will teach you the principles of Creating Space, and how to let go of what keeps you from your goals.
To register: Send an email to: email@example.com with your name, address, phone number & email address, and send a deposit of $50 (refundable until October 1st) to: Wavegirl Ink, P.O. Box 654, Vineburg, CA 95487-0654
All class participants will receive a 10% discount on the annual Creating Space Retreat or other CS classes. Those who refer friends who complete the current class will receive a $25 discount on any subsequent class in the series.
Anne again here: Thanks, Jordan! As always, you can catch Jordan’s words of wisdom on her blog, as well as on her literary radio program Word by Word.
But right now, let’s talk about this one: what struggles do YOU face in giving yourself permission to write? What helped you overcome them?
8 Replies to “Dream On: Guest Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld”
I started writing in high school. But then with a naval career and other “adult” interests, I put it aside. It wasn’t until I started reading again on a regular basis a couple of years ago that I felt the urge to write again. I don’t know that I had any struggles to allow myself to write. Now that I am, the struggle is to give myself permission to do other things, work on my cars, the yard, the house. I have such an urge to get to the computer and create or polish what I have created, that the other stuff gets pushed to the back ground.
I hear you Dave! I often have to remind myself that bills need paying, thus actual work needs doing 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing how you moved writing from the margins of your life to the center, and with a corresponding shift in your spouse. I have recently made that same move, with a corresponding shift in my husband. He’s now a cheerleader rather than a voice of impending financial doom, and the support has done me a world of good in my writing. Nice to know we’re not the only couple struggling with this. I really appreciated your blog.
Claire–Oh this is such a good thing to hear! Bravo to you for putting your writing center stage. It’s hard work, but it pays off quicker than most investments 🙂
I was on vacation for a week, from my get up and go to work job, the one that helps pay the bills. Found that I had time to work at polishing my manuscript, write a few query letters, and then get out and get some around the yard/garage work done. To be able to do that more or less full time would be great and would eliminate the conflicts I mentioned earlier. (Comment #1)
It’s hard to get non-writers to understand why we need so MUCH time, isn’t it?
If I ran the universe, writers would get three extra hours in each day.
I don’t think it was entirely coincidental that the writers of those lengthy 18th- and 19th-century tended to have housefuls of servants…It’s not as though Thoreau was doing his own laundry at Walden, after all.
Now, I have no children, so I don’t dare to assume what I’m about to say applies to those of you who do (though I have numerous friends with kids who do, in fact write books), but I have always found there is far more time in a day than we are willing to admit. Because it means sacrifice. But it’s there if you carve it out.
It also requires keeping pretty close tabs on how you spend your time. I always advise editing clients who say they don’t have time to write to keep a diary for a week, writing down how they spend every ten-minute increment of their time — because until you are sure HOW you are spending your time, it’s hard to change your routines.
I should add, in Jordan’s support: I’ve literally never had a client who did this NOT be able to identify where cuts could be made in other activities in order to make time for writing, even amongst those with small children. However, there may have been a self-selection bias in my sample here: writers far enough along in the process to seek out an editor have already found a fair amount of time to write, generally speaking; they were looking for MORE.