When I was first learning to write--meaning, writing professionally, versus the hours I spent scribbling madly in one of the hardbound journals my mother got me every year for Christmas--one of the people I would turn to often was Jane Yolen. Jane is the author of what must be about a million books and poems now. She has written books for every age group and audience. She wrote an excellent nonfiction book about magic and fairy tales called Touch Magic, her picture book Owl Moon is still a favorite of my son's at age 15, and I adore her stories about strong-willed girls. I read Jane's blog religiously because she always seemed to tell it how it was, but also because she seemed to be a real person, like I was, with a family, with other things in her life. At every convention I see her at, she always is honest and upfront with new writers: Writing is hard. Even the best of authors, the most prolific authors, the authors who have been published for sixty years, still get rejections all the time. Just because something is hard, though, doesn't mean it has to be painful. The most important lesson I've ever learned from Jane Yolen has been to take joy.
The past couple years have been extremely hard for me in many ways, professionally, personally, with family, politically, etc. It's been hard for many of us, if not most of us. My autistic son has become a teenager with a vengeance, my writing time vanished for large periods of time, projects I've been involved in have stalled for reasons beyond my control, businesses I've been a part of have died, my house is just permanently under construction, multiple pets have passed away... you get the idea. And let's not even start on the state of the world. I've found myself stuck in an awful feedback loop of wanting to get published so writing for the market even though I know I shouldn't, writing with desperation instead of joy. So, of course, THAT didn't work out well. And I refused to give myself a break.
Something made me think of a book that I read over and over again when I was a newbie writer: Take Joy, by Jane Yolen. The book is about how to find your happy place while you are writing, how to make writing enjoyable again. Jane doesn't believe in the philosophy that writing has to be painful. She advises writers to take joy in their craft, because who wants to spend their days doing something that causes them pain?
For me, writing DID get to the point where it was painful. I felt ridden with guilt about not writing, and when I was writing, I was overly critical and pushed myself more and more, harder and harder to make up for lost time, to be better than I was, to win, to make it, to be successful.
But what WAS success? I couldn't answer that. It certainly wasn't what I was doing. I didn't WANT to be miserable. I didn't WANT to spend my life writing and creating things I didn't really enjoy, just to what? If I needed money, I sure as hell wouldn't be creating art. There are much better and easier ways to make a buck. To get exposure? Why would I want to be known for things I didn't really believe in?
And that's WHY I wasn't writing, really. I thought back to the days when I was writing a lot, all the time, really. I still had a special needs kid, I still homeschooled, I had all the same obligations. But I always had my traveler's notebook with me, jotting things down, taking notes, and I was always getting lost in my story worlds. Why? Because they were where I wanted to be. The answer to why I wasn't writing as much is kind of obvious, once given some thought. I wasn't writing as much because I wasn't writing about a place or subject I wanted to disappear into. I wasn't writing about the people and places I cared about. And why was that? Well, it's multi-fold, but part of it was listening to people I shouldn't have, taking bad advice from people who cared about different things than I cared about, and worrying about goals that weren't really my goals. And comparing myself to others. That one gets me every time.
So this year, I'm going to go back to the basics. What makes me happy? What makes ME happy, not what makes others happy? It's harder than it seems, especially because getting approval from others IS nice. But in the end, it isn't enough, and always seeking attention and approval from others isn't exactly healthy. And when you are happy with what you are doing, you usually do better work, you get more done, and you are in a healthier place to be able to do even more. A good place to start is to ask yourself why you started writing (or doing anything else you enjoy) in the first place? Hold on to that answer and try to get that feeling back again.
2018 will be my year to take joy. How about you?
For those interested, Take Joy by Jane Yolen is a wonderful book from Writer's Digest Books, but sadly it isn't in print anymore. You can find used copies on Amazon, though, and it's well worth it. One of my favorite chapters is chapter 6, where she gives some writing advice (warning that they are not RULES--they work for her, but not necessarily for anyone else). I see myself referring to this book often in the next year as I try to focus on me and what makes me happy.
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her fiction has appeared in Circle Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis. She studied astronomy and physics at Northern Arizona University and has published some non-fiction in the field of astronomy and library sciences. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and editor of Hath No Fury, and she is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.