Work vs. writing: my story, part two

Work vs. writing: my story, part two

If you’ve ever struggled to balance the demands of your paid work with your creative goals, this post is for you.

I’ve dragged my feet when it comes to writing about my story. Partly because I know I’ll have to revisit some difficult things I’ve faced over the past few years, and partly because I’m terrified of sounding fake.

So, before I write another word, here’s the truth: I don’t have it all figured out. I still struggle with perfectionism and self-doubt and anxiety and the rest of it. I still struggle to show up at the page, and sometimes I still hate myself for that.

I’ve grown, though, during these past few years. I’ve become aware of patterns in my thoughts and behaviors that drag me down, that keep me trapped in a dark little box of not writing and resenting myself for it.

And, slowly but surely, I’ve rearranged my life so that I write. So that I set down words and share them with my writer’s group and send them out to editors—and sometimes to you, you people of the internet.

Does that sound silly, or trivial? Well, for me, it’s a small miracle. But it entailed some difficult decisions, including leaving my dream job. That’s the slice of my story that I’ll be sharing today.

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My story: How I went from “always wanting to write” to actually writing

My story: How I went from “always wanting to write” to actually writing

I’ve alluded to my story many times in these posts.

I’ve danced around my story. Told you bits and bobs, dribs and drabs. Some of them quite personal, or painful. I’m a private person, so I wonder every day whether I should say so much about myself. But I’ve learned so much from other bloggers and writers who’ve opened up about their journeys, and my mission here is to go deep and to be honest.

So now I think it’s time to sketch out my story—or at least the arc of it—in one place.

Here’s the truth: three years ago, I nearly gave up on my longtime dream of being a writer.

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How to start journaling—and deliver on your creative ideas

How to start journaling—and deliver on your creative ideas

If you procrastinate on your creative ideas or impulses, this post is for you.

Do you believe in alternate universes?

I do, sometimes. There are so many quirks in our lives, so many tiny flakes of coincidence that build and build into a great avalanche of The Way Things Are. But what if one or two flakes had gone missing, or blown south instead of southwest?

A universe where my ex and I went through with the wedding. A universe where my dad visited the doctor a year earlier for his colonoscopy. A universe where I died from a ruptured appendix at age 23. These are all easy enough to picture, and I think about them all the time.

Sometimes, though, my imagination loses itself in truly elaborate what ifs. What if my ex and I had moved into that cute little place with the turret and the comically sloped ceilings, rather than the spacious, sprawling apartment where we ended up? Would the tiny apartment have kept us closer somehow? And if we’d stayed together, would I have been happier last year? Would I have finished my novel by now? Would I have stayed at my job?

Maybe I shouldn’t, but I enjoy spending a fraction of my life in alternate universes. If things go my way, I’m grateful not to live in the universe where that car didn’t brake in time. If things go poorly, I take comfort that—somewhere, in some other dimension—my dad is drinking his second mug of coffee and watching This Old House.

I can tell you one thing, though: there is sure as hell a universe where I’m not writing.

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How to have a body: an introduction to body awareness

How to have a body: an introduction to body awareness

If you ever procrastinate, experience anxiety, or slip into negativity because you get lost in thought, this post is for you.

I cried during acupuncture today.

“Mind if I stick some needles in your stomach?” the acupuncturist asked at the beginning of my treatment, and of course I said yes, because when do I say no to anyone?

But as I sat alone, trying to enjoy the soothing music, trying to regain the peace and tranquility I felt during my first session last week, my thoughts took over. And my thoughts weren’t pretty: punctured organs, internal bleeding, infection.

I lifted the blanket and studied the steel needles. At the base of each needle, my skin puckered into a divot, which couldn’t be normal, could it? I nearly fished my phone out of my purse and googled how to tell if your liver is punctured.

It sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. I called out for the acupuncturist.

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Writing through the storm

Writing through the storm

Always wanted to write? This entry’s for you.

“I always wanted to be a writer.”

People tell me this all the time—scientists, lawyers, yoga teachers. Writing is a precious, secret, painful dream for them. They talk about it in low voices, their gaze slipping to a corner of the room.

They talk about it the way you’d talk about the one who got away, the person you still love even though it’s been ages, even though you probably shouldn’t.

“I always thought I’d write a book.”

 But life gets in the way. But you don’t think you can. But your father’s sick or money’s tight or your job sucks the life out of you.

It’s cruel: the times when it’s most difficult to write—when life is hard and your creative spark dims and your self-esteem is getting ripped out by the roots—are precisely when you need most to write.

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Building a mastery mindset (or a mistress-y mindset)

Building a mastery mindset (or a mistress-y mindset)

So much writing advice—so much life advice, for that matter—tells us to let go of outcomes. Check out Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful TED talk, or Anne Lamott's brilliant piece on "Shitty First Drafts," or Cheryl Strayed's account of reaching a point “where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked.”

Just show up and do the work, the advice goes. Don’t fret over whether it’s any good.

Much as I love this line of reasoning, it doesn’t work for me. Not caring about the outcome? Oh, friends. That ship sailed ages ago.

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Moving on from failure

Moving on from failure

I failed at the violin.

I mentioned this recently to someone who knows me well—OK, my ex-fiancé—and his jaw dropped. Which is saying something, because at the time his mouth was full of Jersey diner waffle fries, and that stuff is precious cargo.

I guess I can understand his surprise. I played the violin for 16 years—from the age of five until I graduated from college. I entered competitions, attended summer programs, played in orchestras. I locked myself in the damp practice rooms beneath my college’s music building. I channeled my inner gypsy/witch when I performed the Saint-Saëns concerto, with its unsettling, strange beauty.

That might not sound like failure. But to me, it was. It is.

I was never as good at the violin as I wanted to be. I never managed to work hard enough at it, to give it my all. For years, the violin represented an instance where I failed to do my best, where I let people down—especially my dad, who spent hours each week shuttling me to and from lessons, writing up the advice my teachers gave me in his most careful handwriting, and checking on my progress.

When I zipped up my violin case after my senior year of college and adopted the excuse that I was just too busy to keep playing, I thought I’d move on. I thought a weight would be lifted from my soul.

But that never happened. I still carry the weight of that failure with me.

I explained all of this to my ex, but he was still baffled. “Sure,” he said, “you could have practiced every hour of every day, but you did other things with your life. That’s OK.”

But is it?

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