by Jenny Hansen
Every so often, I read an article that makes me ponder this writing life and the characters we create. The one that prompted this post was Harvey Mackay's Try IKIGAI; The Secret for Happiness. "Ikigai" (pronounced Icky Guy) has been a hot topic in the business arena for a few years, but I hadn't stopped to think about the fiction possibilities until now.
What does ikigai mean?
This definition comes from Domestika.org:
"Ikigai is a Japanese word that loosely translates to 'a reason to live' or 'reason for being.' It’s a combination of the words iki (生き), meaning life and gai (甲斐), meaning worth.
"According to Japanese culture, we all have an ikigai: something that makes us happy, that we’re good at, and that allows us to make a contribution to our community. Finding your ikigai involves setting out on a continuous journey of self-reflection and personal growth that leads to the ultimate reward: a happy life."
You are here at Writers In the Storm because you have found your ikigai.
Or you're on a journey to find it, and you feel down in your bones that it's writing. You are at least facing forward toward your dreams, which is a mindset many people never achieve.
I am totally impressed with you, by the way! I hope you're impressed with you.
There are principles and books and tons of resources on ikigai. You can google and find scads of info. But data is not what's lighting me on fire today. Inspiration is what's lighting me on fire today.
This post examines how we can get some ikigai in our writing lives and how we can use our own journey for our characters.
How can you find your ikigai?
Circling back to that Domestika.org article I mentioned at the beginning of this article... "there’s no magic recipe, but two things can guide us: self-observation and a flow state of mind."
The authors recommend you ask yourself questions like:
- What do I enjoy most?
- What do I spend my happiest moments doing?
- When do I lose track of time?
You can ask yourself these questions, and I'd also recommend you ask your characters. What puts you into that "flow" state of mind?
What are the "Big Parts" of ikigai for writers?
Check out that photo up above. (Don't be distracted by that big cup of coffee or shiny pen. Look at the napkin.)
- Outer Circle (going counter-clockwise): Love, Skills, Money, Needs
- Inner Circle (going clockwise): Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession
Now think about your writing life and what you like and dislike about it. Think about what frustrates you about it.
Some Outer Circle scenarios:
- You love to write so much, you go get some skills. But the money doesn't come, and you still have needs.
- You love writing so much, you stay at a day job to meet your needs while you get skills and (hopefully) start to make some money.
- Maybe you don't love writing but you are so good at it that you make money doing it. You stay because it has become your passion and your profession.
An Inner Circle scenario:
- Writing is your passion so you make it a mission to get some of that outer circle stuff. It becomes your vocation to get those stories out of your head. If you do great on the outer circle, it might become your profession.
I could keep going on all this around and around the circle, but it isn't my interpretation of it that matters.
It is your interpretation that matters.
Give Yourself An Honest Assessment
Sometimes when we get frustrated with the writing life -- or, heaven forbid, envious of someone who seems to "have it easier" -- it can help to take a look at that diagram and see if we are stuck in a particular place.
It's important to be honest, at least with yourself about where you are stuck and why.
For example, I have a day job that takes care of the money but I struggle with needs, which I see as time. Without time (because of the three-job-juggling act of day job, family, and writing), fiction can't be my full-time profession. Yet. Not without some unacceptable sacrifices on my part.
My Personal "Hard Road"
It was a long hard struggle for me to figure out how writing and publishing would fit into my life. I didn't really figure it out for my first five to eight years of parenting. Eventually, after many blows to my morale, I made the choice to let my writing take a back seat to parenting.
I'm not going to lie - I had to wiggle around and wrestle with my decision (a lot).
- I tried multi-tasking
- Writing on my lunch hour each day
- Waking up one hour early
- Going to bed one hour late
- Giving up reading
- Doing social media during tasks like cooking and movie-watching
And it stressed me out because I had no time for myself, and I was tired all the time. Babies teethe, get sick, wail, giggle, crawl, walk, and seduce you with that yummy smell on the back of their necks. I was so exhausted from trying to cram everything into my days that eventually writing became just another task on my parenting to-do list.
To put it into the perspective of this post, there was no ikigai in sight. No passion. Subsequently, there was no joy or meaning in my manuscript.
My biggest struggle?
Two messages -- inner and outer -- entwined and nearly choked the life out of me.
First of all, the dreaded "Should." The voice in my head lectured that "I should be able to be a new first-time parent while I work a part-time job, shop, cook, clean, blog, write, and complete any other number of tasks."
I could do all those things. But no, I absolutely shouldn't do all those things. Doing all those things made me lose my passion for almost everything.
The second (moronic) message bombarded me from the outside. You know the one. That sly innuendo society whispers, particularly to women, that "you can have it all" if you just [fill in the blank].
These two particular inner and outer messages were my death trap until my little one was about 6 years old.
Note: It doesn't have to be parenting kicking your behind. It might be caregiving, being the sole income in your house, or chronic illness.
For the record, you can indeed "have it all" IF...
- You are independently wealthy, retired, or make enough money to hire out jobs like housekeeping, shopping, cooking, and childcare.
- You give up things like leisure time, reading, and sleep.
I know so many writers who fall into these two ikigai-smashing traps. I know writers who give away all their energy to expectations and things outside themselves. I know writers who conserve nothing for themselves and their own joy.
What I wish for you, now and in the new year, is that you prioritize your own joy - that you chase your own ikigai.
It took me about five years to become 100% okay with my choice but when I did, my creativity blossomed. When I stopped stressing, I started writing more. It was magical.
This process of honest assessment about writing choices makes me think of Laura Drake's favorite quote from Randy Pausch.
Your Characters and Ikigai
You can put your characters through the same questions and scenarios we talked about above. Maybe they achieve ikigai through numbers, healing, childcare, building, farming. Maybe it's some other endeavor that transports their souls. Whatever their dream endeavor, you want to clearly identify the hurdles they must overcome to achieve it (so you can create some super-tall brick walls along their journey between page one and their dreams).
You are here at WITS, building on your writing dreams and creating community, so I expect that your ikigai is in your sights. Brava to you!
Have you ever explored the concept of ikigai? Which parts of the inner and outer circles are a struggle for you? What activities put you in a state of "flow?" We'd love to hear your story down in the comments!
By day, Jenny Hansen provides LinkedIn coaching and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
Top Photo purchased from Depositphotos.