Profusion, and Being a Neurotic Writer

I hope y’all aren’t totally bored with the garden pictures yet. I can’t stop taking them, and then I want to show them off. It’s just so PRETTY!!!! So I’m doing a very strange combo post. The photos are for those of you who love the photos. If you aren’t interested in reading about the neuroses of a pair of SAHM’s who are writing novels, then you can feel free to skip the text and just look at the pretty pictures. If, however, you wish to have a window in to the kinds of things my  warped little brain obsesses over, read between the pictures.

Roses! With Monarda in the Background

I had a great conversation (via i.m.) with writing buddy Laura last night about the insecurities and doubts involved in writing. We are both in the lucky,  yet somehow troubling, position of being supported by our respective spouses while we write, as well as taking care of the house and gardening and cooking and all of that. In her case there’s also a 2 1/2 year old, which makes me feel like she gets a pass for pretty much everything. Toddlers–wonderful little creatures, but so much work! Anyway. Since it’s difficult to create any kind of order from the tangled worries of the writer who USED to bring in an income from a day job, I’m simply going to list the issues we talked about, in no particular order.

Shasta Daisies, Monarda, and My House

For one thing, when writing there’s always the question of “what is my goal”. It might seem like the answer is obvious: to tell the story. And that answer is, in fact, a correct answer for both of us. But is that it? Is that the only goal of writing? Or do we write to hone our craft–to have better plots, better sentence structure, more beautiful prose, more excitement and emotional impact? Or do we write with the goal of publication–seeing our name in print? And if we write for publication, are we satisfied with JUST being published, even if we are mediocre? Or do we only want to be published if we can publish something that is made of awesome? Do we write with the hopes of selling lots of books? Or do we write because we want to share something with the world? Or do we write just for the joy of doing it? I’m sure every writer has a different set of questions with this same general theme, and a different set of answers too.

Pink Bee Balm

Tied to the question of “what is my goal?” is a very well-developed struggle with the concept of results. We were brought up in a culture that is very results oriented–and by “results” I really mean “income”. So any activity that one spends a lot of time on is evaluated according to its income generating potential, unless perhaps it is something that is going to save the world. Then it’s okay to do it without making money at it, maybe. Although it’d really be better if you can get it to make some money, because then you can be 100% SURE it’s worth it. Right? In this kind of paradigm, doing things just because you want to is only tolerated if you squeeze them in around “doing real work” and “being productive”. And by “being productive” I mean–you guessed it–generating an income. And while, in theory, I understand that doing something just because I love it is valid, my conditioning causes me to have doubts about spending several hours a day on something that may or may not ever generate income.

Shasta Daisies, Lupin, Coriander, and Red Roses

And all of this worry about money is probably rooted in an even deeper insecurity; the old worries about being selfish, about not doing anything that’s “important” or “worthwhile”. Because the value of a novel is something whose merits might not be obvious to everyone. I mean, ending world hunger? Working for world peace? Bringing aid to those who’ve been through floods or earthquakes or volcanoes erupting? It’s easy to see how those actions matter. And obviously we can look at a paycheck, which feeds our family, as something with merit. But telling stories–is that important enough? And even if I think it’s important enough, will the people around me–the people I care about, the people who depend on me–think it’s enough?

Curry Plant and Cornflowers

And this concern about whether writing a novel is important enough is tied to the even deeper issue of self worth. That is–do I deserve the happiness of doing what I love every day, just because I want to? Can I justify spending my energy on this, whatever the outcome? How is it fair that the hubster drags his ass of to a job every day while I stay home and do what makes me happy? How did I get lucky enough to live my dream when not everyone gets to? What makes me think I have the right to be so selfish?

More Cornflowers, with Yarrow and Wormwood

And oh, the most fun question: do I reallysuck? Am I deluding myself that my skill is improving and that I’m a decent writer, on my way to being a really good writer? Or am I just plain hopeless? Should I toss the whole thing and go get a job at the grocery store? How long do I keep working on this before I give it up? How do I KNOW if I’m any good unless I query? But why query if I’m not sure I’m any good? (Okay, I’m not really to the querying point yet. I’m working on it, in spite of my trepidation, but I’m not there  yet. But those of you who are there–or are close to being there–probably have these questions.)

Yarrow, Lamb's Ear, and Roses

One of myfriend’s has an additional element to the “do I suck” fear, which is “am I wasting an agent’s time? Why should he/she bother to read MY query/sample chapters/manuscript out of the thousands he/she is offered?” For that matter . . . why should ANYONE give me that many hours of their time?

Ornamental Hyssop, Pink Bee Balm, Purple Garden Sage, and Something Orange Whose Name I Can't Remember

I told you–neurotic. And I’m sure I missed something here. I am really good at coming up with ways to make myself crazy. And I am, apparently, not alone, because my writing buddy has lots of crazy similar to mine. No wonder we work so well together!

And um .  . . now you have an even more vivid picture of my neuroses. Don’t you feel lucky?

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4 thoughts on “Profusion, and Being a Neurotic Writer

  1. Well put! I think something interesting here is your questioning whether it’s fair for your husband to drag his … off to work while you stay home. I’m about to be in the same position, but my husband and I are in two different places: he’s excited to finally be gainfully employed AND doing something he really loves. I, on the other hand, am completely unhappy in my job, the department is on the verge of falling apart, and I’ve been tolerating a lot of crap here for nigh on two years. It makes sense for me to leave here and work on my own writing career from home while he (happily, hopefully) trots off to the office each day. And we’ll BOTH be happy, instead of one of us miserable and the other one unemployed. See how that works? Sometimes?

    Your garden is gorgeous!

  2. you have the right to pursue your dreams because you have the courage to step outside of the “norm” and claim that pursuit. from my experience you do not suck. I am impatiently waiting for the opportunity to read the whole story, based on the couple of passages I have read so far. finally, your query is not the waste of an agent’s time because your writing does not suck. besides, agents can take care of their own interests every bit as well as any one else.

  3. Seems like everyone is worried about this right now. I think making yourself happy is a worthwhile activity. And ending the day feeling happy and content because you spent it doing things you love with people you love is a laudable day, a laudable goal. If life is made up of our experiences, our times spent making money are not the ones that are going to stand out. It’s the times we’ve been at our happiest.

  4. I know all your doubts very well. If you are likely to learn from what others have written about this issue, I recommend some really helpful books (at least, they helped me):

    – John Bradshaw, Healing the shame that binds you
    – a lot by Julia Cameron (a writer herself, she tells you that you have “a right to write”, even if you are sucking)
    – a lot by Oriah Mountain Dreamer who encourages you to follow your way (e.g. “What we ache for”). She also has a very encouraging blog,
    http://www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com

    So, go on and be blessed! Your marvelous garden shows you how to live – with trust.
    Love, Mira

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