Dreams of our Future Happy Selves are funny things. I’ve discovered how we can be blinded by the dream, and not recognize it when it’s right in front of us. That’s because it doesn’t usually look like the image held in our minds, where it is we make up what it must be like to have “that life.”
artwork by Michael V Malano
Last year I was in the middle of a writing life grumble (an unhappy place, but not as intense as a full on depression*). I had made progress, but I certainly wasn’t having the glamorous writing life I’d imagined.
On a whim, I sat down and made a list of what I did with my time. And what do you know… it consisted of reading, writing, story editing, blogging, attending writing group, attending conferences, contacting schools, marketing myself, social networking, sending out proposals for conferences and grants, conversing with writers on list-serves… in other words, I WAS DOING IT!
Holy cow. I was living a writer’s life… really? But, but, but… what about the Dream?
I have been surrounded by writers of all kinds (from experimental performance poets to picture book authors) for the past 20 years. And granted, a few of them are rock stars who have major awards and sales and movie deals and live in two countries and have fans all over the world. But the truth (and the secret) is that the majority of them struggle to organize their time and pay the mortgage (or rent).
The majority of them send out proposals and grants and queries (and get rejections for proposals and grants and queries). They find creative ways of making money (or soul-sucking ways of making money that leave them close to suicidal). Life is never exactly where they want it to be, they lose hours of writing time to other things, they get down and sometimes have to drag themselves to their desks…
There are high highs and low lows. A call from an agent sends them through the roof. They’re on cloud nine. Three days later they’re swimming in rejections or bad reviews or a mess of grant paperwork.
In one day recently I went from a fantastic visit with 120 elementary school students to a rejection letter and a technical glitch that ate up hours of my time. I’ve driven books to schools, sent hordes of individual emails to potential reviewers, set up booths for festival events, and rewritten one of my query letters sixteen times – and none of it felt glamorous at the time, because really, it’s not.
And that’s what I’m telling you. The writing life (or whatever other creative life you have in mind) is not really all that glamorous.
But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fulfilling, engaging, enriching, joyful, and extremely rewarding.
Several years ago, after “coming close” (yet again) to some screenplay funding, but not getting it, I told a friend of mine I was going to throw in the towel. That’s it. I’m finished being a writer.
She laughed and said to me, “Oh yeah? What else are you gonna do?”
“Good point,” I responded. I really didn’t want to do anything else. So I decided to embrace it instead.
These days I like to remind myself as much as possible that THIS IS WHAT WRITERS DO! I’M DOING IT!
And this serves, more often than not, to make me grateful and joyful and much more satisfied with where I am instead of pining over some future happiness. And now when I’m at my computer spinning tales, I’m fully immersed in my experience, because I decided my purpose is to enjoy my creative life whatever that looks like.
Do I want to be a rock star writer? Of course. But, in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy myself in the here and now.
For the next 7 days: every time you start to disparage about how you are not making it as a writer (or artist or singer or whatever), tell yourself, “I love my writing/singing/acting life! Here I am doing my writerly/singerly/actorly things.”
If you want to get really fun with this idea, apply this thought to EVERYTHING you do. While you’re riding your bike think, “Here I am, the writer riding her bike to the store.” or “I love being a writer shopping for groceries.”
Seriously. Because all those writers, actors, singers, etc you admire happen to also shop for groceries, get their cars fixed, and take their pets to the vet.
Yes, it might seem silly to think these thoughts at first, but I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.
*If you are past the point of grumble and are in full on depression, here is a brilliant and realistic blog post author Libba Bray wrote about depression