When I started writing, I was a stay-at-home mom in need of a hobby. During naptimes and after bed time, I’d run to my laptop and get carried away. It was my escape hatch. Something that was just for me that also provided a creative outlet. But then something miraculous happened--I got published.
For several years, I threw myself into becoming a Real Author. I wrote and wrote and wrote. My vacations were usually spent at conventions. All of my friends were writers. In my free time, I read to keep up with the market. My dream had come true, but there was this nagging sense that I was missing something.
I burned out in 2014. My new series wasn’t “meeting expectations.” I’d gone back to school to get my MFA in writing popular fiction so I could get more teaching gigs. I wrote a novel and two novellas in four months. I was bitter and exhausted. That’s when I realized I needed to take a step back and figure out what was missing.
As it turned out, I had to face the hard truth that I’d become a workaholic. Every facet of my life revolved around books. I love books. I love writing. I love reading. I love book people. But there’s more to life than all that. In order to figure out what was missing, I had to go back to the beginning and see where I went wrong.
Turns out, I started out right. I found a hobby that was rewarding and fun. It was when I became a pro that I got off track. See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.
The path to get myself back on track involved some experimentation. I had to figure out some activities I could do without stressing. I also had to figure out who I was beyond just being an Author because I’d gotten into the trap of adopting that identity. Also, since writing a book is such a marathon, I needed things I could do that weren’t a huge time commitment--I needed the payoff of completing a project more often.
Now, in addition to writing and grad school (which is almost done), I make time in my week for play. I go on Artist Dates as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I cook all the time, and have recently begun what I call my “Bread Odyssey” to learn how to bake. I planted an herb garden in containers on my patio, and use them in my experimental dishes. I also recommitted myself to a yoga practice and try to meditate often. None of these activities have stakes attached to them. If I burn dinner, we can just order a pizza. If I can’t do a pose in yoga, it’s not a failure. If my mind wanders during meditation, I don’t have to worry how the bills will get paid.
In a recent yoga class, my teacher talked about the difference between having fun and enjoying yourself. Fun, she said, was an activity you do to escape your routines. However, enjoyment is the act of finding happiness in your routines and responsibilities. Therefore, another element of a good hobby is that it becomes a part of your daily or weekly habits, instead of something you use to run away from your writing (or life). This is why drinking, drugs, gambling and social media are so dangerous. They can provide fun via instant gratification, but long-run they don’t bring us joy. Better then to focus on habits and hobbies that help us be more plugged in to our lives--ones that allow us to enjoy ourselves.
The best part is that the more I allow my inner artist to play with other hobbies, the better my writing becomes. Before, I’d berate myself if I took even an evening off to watch TV. Now, I think about my stories while I chop onions or dig in the dirt, but I also allow my mind to take a mini-vacation from my imaginary worlds. I feel more present, more balanced, and calmer. But the best part is I love writing again. Funny how that worked out.
Now, I’m not saying that writing will ever be a stress-free job. I’m also not saying that you should just shirk your deadlines in pursuit of the perfect hobby. But I do think it is vital for anyone whose hobby became their career to find a replacement emotional escape hatch. Otherwise, you risk becoming so invested in the outcomes of the thing that used to bring you joy that you can end up resenting that thing--in this case writing. If you want to protect your love of writing, you need to make sure you’re not relying on it for everything--to be your hobby, your outlet, your income, your source of pride, the source of all of your friendships and activities, etc. It can’t be all those things at once. Nothing can.
So, if lately, the thing you love hasn’t been bringing you any joy, consider taking yourself on an Artist Date to the craft store. Or take a cooking class. Or maybe just get out an take a walk. Be a part of the world again, and remember that writing is something you do--not the totality of who you are. The writing life you save might be your own.
What is your favorite non-writing hobby?
Jaye Wells is a former magazine editor whose now writes bestselling and award-winning supernatural novels. This summer, she will earn her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and is a sought-after speaker on the craft of writing. When she's not writing or teaching, she loves to travel to exotic locales, experiment in her kitchen like a mad scientist, and try things that scare her so she can write about them in her books. To learn more about Jaye and her books check out www.jayewells.com
Top photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/41636846@N00/20747955690">Exit From Fear</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>