Today I’m going to tell a story about having fun. So much has happened in the last few months, but let’s start with the two biggest.
First, I quit my job. It was a long time coming. I’d been contemplating taking time off to write full time since June of 2015. I’ve had a job since I was 18. The thought of being unemployed was frankly terrifying. It took me six months to work up the courage to quit, and up until the very end, I don’t think any of my friends actually trusted that I’d go through with it. Honestly, I’m still a little surprised I did it.
Second, I put away the second manuscript in as many years. Last January I tabled City Book because it was so terrible (in that special way first books are) that no amount of revising could fix it. This January I put away Space Book.
It started when I was forced to take a break from writing. I am big on schedules and goals and deadlines so by the first week of January, I, of course, had all of 2016 planned. That plan lasted less than two weeks. The second week of January I developed awful wisdom teeth pain, and I had to have emergency dental surgery. Between life obligations and the tooth extraction, I ended up spending a full week away from my computer. And it was only at the end of that time that I realized I hadn’t once thought about my novel. I hadn’t missed it.
It was shocking because since I started writing seriously 1.5 years ago, not a single day had gone by where I wasn’t desperately in love with what I was writing. I was always itching to get back to my computer. I never wanted to take a day off, and even when I did, I couldn’t go more than a few hours without thinking about my world and characters. And I had gone a full week without thinking about my novel.
Ups and downs in creativity are totally normal which was why it took a bit of time for me to differentiate that this was more than just one of those normal downs. I had put this book away for a few weeks at a time before, but I always found myself picking it back up again. This time was different. I couldn’t figure out why. I told myself it was less stressful for me to work on that super secret project because it was secret. I wrote a short story while at a retreat in November, and I told myself that story came out easily because I was improving as a writer. I told myself revisions are hard and I was just procrastinating by wanting working on something else. I told myself that it was grass is greener on the other side syndrome—any other thing I worked on would be just as hard as Space Book.
But when I took that week off in January, I finally came to terms with what was really wrong with Space Book: it wasn’t fun.
I think deep down I’d known for a while it wasn’t working. Every chance I got to take a break from it, to work on something new, I did. And then I would guilt myself into returning to it. It was the first book I wrote to the end. I had to revise it. I had to finish it to prove to myself, and the world, that I could write and revise a book. Putting it away felt like giving up.
Putting it away was hard. Most of the people in my life didn’t agree with that decision at first. Give it a few more months, they said. Just finish it. I felt guilty enough that I gave in and decided to keep working on it. But a few days in I was tired. I knew I didn’t want to work on it anymore.
That’s when it hit me: I am not agented. I am not published. I have no contract. No one is waiting for my next book. So why then was I making myself miserable by forcing myself to write a book that wasn’t fun anymore?
So I put it away.
I was in a pretty terrible place for a few days. I’d already put away one book. Did putting away another make me less of a writer? Did it mean I was going to forever keep writing first drafts and then giving up on them? If I hated revising that much was I even cut out for publication?
But after a few days the anxiety subsided and the guilt passed. The primary feeling I felt was relief. Freedom. For the first time in a year I was giving myself permission to work on something else and not feel like I was cheating on Space Book by doing so.
I gave myself a week to mourn Space Book (read: binge a lot of TV and ice cream) and then I threw myself into outlining and drafting the next book. Since then I’ve completed what I’m calling a “zero draft” of Myth Book. It was a horrible draft, but it was tremendously fun to write. I enjoyed every minute of it. Now I’m patching and kind of rewriting and revising it into a first draft fit for critique partner eyes, and it’s shocking that it’s still fun.
The lesson I’ve learned here is that none of this matters if I’m not happy.
Goals are great. Schedules and plans are great. But they are just tools. They are ways for me to get to my end goal of being a published author. At the end of the day so much of this industry is out of my hands. All I can do is write the story I want to tell and try to have some fun while doing it.