Monday, April 18, 2011

My Thing

This weekend, I told my next-door neighbor that I had written a book and was in the midst of revising it for my editor. And, yes, five years in my house and, until now, only one neighbor knew that I wrote fiction. Hubby thinks I’m taking reticence too far. To digress, my neighbor got over her surprise and declared that it must take a lot of discipline to write a book, that _I_ must be very disciplined. Me? Disciplined?

Anyone who really knows me would readily say that Kristen and discipline do not usually go hand in hand. My house is tidy, in the sense that things are put in their place –or near their place. But look under my couch and you will see dust bunnies. My sink is often full, and empty glasses occupy many a side table around the house. And for the love of God, do NOT open one of my closets, or risk being swept away by a tsunami of laundry. So a disciplined person? Not so much. A disciplined writer? Well, yeah, a bit.

My neighbor was correct: it does take discipline and commitment to write an entire novel, edit it, sell it to an agent, revise it for an editor, then start all over again. We’re talking about potentially years of work and thousands of hours with your butt in the chair. If you don’t love doing it, you’ll probably sputter out and stall. And that’s okay. It isn’t for everyone.

But why am I disciplined in this where I am not in any other avenue of my life? Simple answer: because it’s my thing.

When I was sixteen, I took flying lessons. Every Saturday, I’d get in my car, my driver’s license so new it still smelled of laminate, and drive an hour to a country airfield with a tiny strip of runway (for the record, my parents were way braver than me, because the thought of my child doing the same gives me the willies). For one hour, I’d take a little Cessna 152 up in the sky and fly. I loved flying. Soaring into the sky sent a thrill through me every time. But when my dad no longer paid for lessons, I stopped, thinking, eh, I’ll find a way to get back to it eventually. That day never came.

I love interior decorating. At one point, I must have had 200 decorating magazines crammed into my bookshelf. Sitting down to peruse them, decorating my own house, heck, designing my own furniture, is satisfying and a joy. It never occurred to me to enroll in design school.

There are many things that give me joy, little hobbies that I like to do, but they aren’t my true passion. That is reserved for writing. Because not once, since I first sat down and hit the keys, did it occur to me to give up. Not once.

When I write, I fit within my skin. Everything clicks into place and I feel right.

Often, the question arises, why do you write? Some will answer, because it is what I am. Others will counter with: writing is something I do, not who I am.

I’ll admit here that when I read that latter statement, I think, “Ah, I see, then writing isn’t your true thing.”

Now, I play many roles wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. On Sunday mornings, my kids pile into my bed to cuddle with my husband and me and laugh at inane jokes. This is the good stuff. Life works like that, good times and bad. And while my loved ones fill my soul with joy, they do not feed my soul. In writing, I find my true self. It is what makes my soul sing, satisfies my need to create, and fulfills my sense of accomplishment. I am a writer. It isn’t my job. It is my expression. Without it, I become less of me.

Surely, my view point will seem obsessive to many of you. For some, writing is something to do that brings them joy, but at the end of the day, they may well move on to another thing and not feel it’s loss. This is totally okay. However, there is a caveat to that. If your aim is to get published, you have to understand the commitment involved. If writing isn’t in your blood, isn’t something you will never give up on, and you somehow find yourself under contract, it is going to be a slog. Because you will be expected to commit, put in the blood, sweat, and tears.

Often times we keep our eyes on the prize and ignore the process. Writing is about the process, not the prize. Any art done on a professional level is about the process. It will be what you do, not what you dream about. And, really, isn’t that the point?


  1. I wish I could take flying lessons. But I get nervous just going over a steep hill.

  2. Great explanation of the drive...and lack thereof sometimes. I've had a dry spell, but it's ending now. Thank God!

  3. Thank you Kristen for expressing how I feel better than I've been able to. Sure, I enjoy knitting, and curling up with a good book, and baking, and spending time with family, etc. etc., but there's nothing like the act of creation (or subcreation as Tolkien called) to give my soul wings.
    Er, now editing on the other hand... On the third hand, ever since I've rediscovered how much I love writing romance, even the editing has gotten easier and nearly as exciting as the initial drafting stage.
    Wow, flying! That's exciting. I don't even have a driver's license...

  4. Great post, Kristen. You put it so eloquently it's obvious you're a writer :)

  5. This is a really great post, and I completely agree with you. At the end of the day writing is all about the process, and it's what most of us spend our lives trying to perfect.

  6. I think you're one of the most disciplined writers I know, by far. I've never seen anyone tackle *anything* with as much determination as you have writing in recent years.

    I do, however, in a general sense, think it's possible (and I'm talking in the second person here) to be able to let your writing go now and again without fearing that it means it's not your true passion.

    I've taken two different breaks of over two years from my writing in the last couple of decades, and for me, part of the passion is the fact that I always come back to it. I might not be doing it- I might be feeding my soul piecemeal with the junk food that is my other hobbies- but that will let me survive through difficult times when I don't have the energy or the focus to write, and in the end I will always, always come home to my writing.

    But I do think when you get to the point where you want to be taken seriously, that's where you need to knuckle down and refuse to give it up.

  7. Excellent post, Kristen. And yes, yes, yes, it's the process, not the prize, that really counts ... which perfectly explains why I am comfortable with the notion that I might not ever be published. Heck, I'll do everything I can to make it happen, but if, for whatever reason, publication eludes me, I know I'll keep on writing. It's in my blood now, it's what I *do*, and I can't see myself stopping.

    I know that might sound like pompous claptrap, but it's the truth. :-P

  8. @Mutt -*g* FWIW, I lost a lot of nerve when I got older. At 16, I didn't much think about my mortality.

    @Joanne -thanks. :)

    @Zan Marie -I'm glad your dry spell is ending.

  9. @Deniz -editing is a whole different animal. On the fourth hand,(g) it really separates the girls from the women. :)

    @Susanna -that is nice of you to say.

    @Milena -I agree. That we're always striving for perfection yet are never quite satisfied is part of what keeps me going.

  10. @Claire - Thanks for the kudos, Claire. Though I hope I wasn't as literal as all that.

    As I've said many times, I take breaks. Lots of them. This isn't about constancy, or even knuckling down. What I want to get across in this post is that, for me, writing isn't a hobby. I have hobbies and enjoy them. Writing is simply part of me and *that* is why I am able to work at it as I do, when I might let other things fall through the cracks. And why I return to it again and again, despite the breaks.

    As for the publishing side of it, I DO think that if a person wants to be a published writer, writing ought to be more than a hobby for them. It ought to be something in their blood, because they'll be expected to work their ass off to make it. :)

  11. @ Rachel --not pompous at all. Erm, not to me, anyway. :) You are talented and you don't give up. That's 90% of the battle won.

  12. Kristen, wow! Did you look in my office? Did you see the books on watercolor painting, the scrapbooking supplies, the handmade quilts on the wall? Yes, those are all a piece of "me" - but none of those activities have stuck with me like writing has. Writing is gift, given to me. The others are things that I pursued. I've never pursued writing - it's always been there. (Does that make sense?)