I started writing my first novel 8 years ago, almost to the day. (I don't know why I'll always remember it was July 12th that I wrote those first fateful words.) I had already been writing for years, mostly short stories and some failed attempts at novels, but there was something about this time that was going to be different.
It wasn't so much that this story idea was any better than the rest. It was more a state-of-mind. I had recently discovered National Novel Writing Month, and along with that, the realization that yes, truly anyone could write a novel. Before then, it had seemed like a pipe dream--something to poke at in the dark corners of my space and time.
That book did end up becoming my first complete novel, but I still didn't consider myself a "writer." I'd managed to find the time over those six months to complete a first draft, but there was still so much I didn't know. It was still just a "hobby." I hadn't made it a priority in my life.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Over the next few years, I had my two girls. Through the exhaustion of two pregnancies and the endless sleepless nights that come with newborns, I continued to write because I couldn't not write, and because in all the chaos, it was my lifeline.
I didn't think too hard about what writing would mean for my future--it took every ounce of energy I had just to make it through the day.
When my second (and final, for sure!) daughter turned one, life started to finally settle into a routine. The girls weren't quite so dependent on me, and with that opportunity to breathe and regroup, I had to take a look at what role writing was going to play in my future. Would it continue to be dirty little secret or was I going to make a career of it? In my heart of hearts, I always knew it would be the latter, but being a young mother had been a convenient (and valid) place for me to hide, avoiding the next step. Because let's face it, declaring yourself a career writer is scary, and the path is hard. We've been hearing since we first picked up the pen that it's almost impossible to make it in this industry, so why set ourselves up for failure? Why put myself out there for rejection?
Nevertheless, I reluctantly decided to move in that direction. I wasn't 100% sure it was what I wanted or that it was even possible, but felt like it was time to either sink or swim.
COMMITTING TO MY WRITING
Let me tell you, somehow writing had never been harder. I now had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and while they were mostly sleeping through the night and were no longer nursing, it felt like parenting had never been harder. Their incessant requests drained me of energy, their frequent colds threw life constantly out of balance, their tantrums had me counting down the seconds until nap time. And don't even get me started on the days that nap time didn't happen at all.
On top of that, two pregnancies had taken their toll on my poor body and I began to battle health problems. Writing, now that I had decided to take it "seriously", became another demand on my time when I had more than my share of demands. I'm embarrassed to admit how angry and hopeless I felt during this time, but I'm sure you can empathize. You can probably even relate.
With sheer stubbornness, I managed to finish my book through all of this and even land an agent. It was an exciting time, but it was also a terrifying time. I was no longer just writing for me, on my own schedule. I had other people counting on my writing now and I still hadn't discovered the secret to writing every day and to mentally blocking out everything else during those times so I could focus on nothing but my story. But since I had finally committed myself to writing as a career, I knew I had to find a way to overcome all these obstacles.
I did a lot of soul searching and personal growth, and here's what I came up with...
THE TRUTH BEHIND WHAT WAS HOLDING ME BACK
It was all me. All those obstacles, that lack of energy, those intrusions--it was all me.
Don't get me wrong--they were very real and very valid (kids are the most demanding little creatures!), but I finally had to admit that they only affected me as much as I allowed them to.
Finding a way to work my writing in around their needs was up to me. How much energy I handed over to them when they threw tantrums was my choice. How much power I gave my health issues over my body was a matter of my mind.
I had been clinging to these barriers because it was safer than admitting that writing was hard and vulnerable and that I was likely to feel like I was failing more often than I felt like I was succeeding. It was so much easier to succumb to stressors and do literally anything else but write...but it wasn't getting me any closer to my goals.
And making a career of my writing was my goal. Not fully embracing it was just another way I hid in my fear.
Since then, it's been a long and trying couple of years. Professional edits were the hardest writing challenge I'd ever faced. There have been hundreds of days when I managed to make writing the priority of my day and felt like I was walking on air, and there have been hundreds of days when there was just no way I could rise to the occasion and I felt buried under the weight of my guilt.
CHANGING MY MIND
Are the girls less demanding? If anything, now that they've started school, I feel like there are more demands than ever! I navigate two different school schedules, homework, packing lunches, volunteering, and play dates along with the usual household and mothering responsibilities. My health got a lot worse before it started to get better, and even now, it's a daily battle.
But you know what? I'm a more productive writer than I've ever been and it comes easier than it ever has. Not because anything outside of me has truly changed, but because a lot of things inside me have changed.
Here are just a few of those things:
- I no longer allow myself to fall victim to my life or my need to be a writer. Everyone has demands on their time and energy and those demands are never going to stop. Now I find ways to improve, overcome, or work around those demands.
- I've made writing the priority of my day and have it scheduled into my routine Monday through Friday. I give my family the weekends so I keep a good balance.
- But I also don't beat myself up when life gets in the way. Because I no I'm no longer using life as an excuse, I can accept interruptions at face value. Guilt is just another barrier to my writing that I don't need.
- I am proud to call myself a writer, on the bad days and the good days. Because regardless of what anyone else may think about writers, I know that writing is the most fulfilling way to spend the time I have on this earth.
- And because I take my writing and my writing time seriously, the people around me take my writing seriously. I no longer have to defend or beg for my writing time. I am a writer and I will write--try to stop me!
I'm not saying it's easy and I'm not saying there won't be times in life when writing really does have to take a back seat or even come to a complete stop. It happens. What I am saying is that if a writing career is really what you want, you have to be wiling to go to battle for it, even when--especially when--the obstacle you most need to overcome is yourself.
What is the biggest obstacle to your writing? How do you overcome it?
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Jamie Raintree is a writer, a writing business and productivity instructor, and the creator of the Writing & Revision Tracker. Her debut women's fiction novel will release Summer 2017. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website below.