In my last post, I discussed a writer's identity and how we have to be willing to scrap projects when what we are working on does not fit our identities. It's probably in the top 5 for posts on this blog that are actually meaningful, and potentially helpful to future writers and artists. Anyway. In that post I mentioned how I was sunk into writer's despair and thought that I would never write anything good or of value again. I thought I had written two books before the age of 27 and that would be it, nothing good would ever again flow from my pen (I got some fountain pens for Christmas, hallelujah!). What reinforced that thought was my notion that if I couldn't make the hockey book good, then I couldn't make anything good, and thus I wasn't actually any good at writing, and thus I should give up. Whoa, now!
Since deciding to move on from the writing of the hockey book, I have realized that I need to slow down. Yes, it's true that John Keats was dead and famous at the age of 25, and many authors do know fame before 30, and many authors do know fame, or at least some substantial success, with their first attempt, but I, and most other writers and artists, need to accept that I am not those people. Perhaps it is because my writing is not popular writing, or perhaps it is because I'm not good at networking or marketing or anything, or perhaps it is because I'm just not very good or interesting as a writer. Whatever the reason, I am almost 27 now and not famous, even with my first book out in the published world now for four months. It's no cause for shame, however, and it's certainly no cause for me to try and rush into projects that are not part of my identity, like the hockey book, only because the dream of having yet another book is too enticing for an under-recognized author, and then only to be mired in a land of insecurity and fear.
What I and probably every other less-than-famous writer or artist needs to do is slow down. Slow down and take stock of the positives. For me, shortly after my 27th birthday, I will be able to say that I have one self-published book and one publisher published book out in the world, neither of which are trivial writings, and that I am married to a lovely woman... a lovely woman that, oh by the way, is devoted to helping me be a better writer by a) reading and editing, and b) taking over all the agent-type responsibilities that I hate doing, can't do, or simply am not good at doing. Honestly, Danielle's presence in my life is perhaps the greatest asset that my writing career has: with her by my side, I will be much more likely to send essays and short stories to journals and magazines and such than if I were doing the single thing or married to some other woman. There are a whole bunch of reasons why I love her and will be joyful to have married her, but I cannot hide how crucial she is to my future writing career. I can truthfully say that without her, my writing career would be a big nothing. So anyway, I will have a lot that many 27 year-olds do not have. I will already have a legacy, something that I can pass on to my family and say, "Look, your [whatever my relation is to the person I'm talking to] published something smart." I might also add, "Suckaaaah." Essentially, once I published the first book, I had reason to be content, and in being content to slow down and ask the question, "Now what?"
Slowing down and asking the now-what, I can take more time on each project because I'm no longer in an urgent race against death. I'm still in a race against death, but it's far less urgent--I've already published. So why shouldn't I work only on the things that I want to work on? Why shouldn't I spend a little more time on each project to ensure better quality? Why shouldn't I relax a little bit and not demand of myself that I publish two or three major things a year? Even if I didn't have other responsibilities and obligations in my life, such as my part-time job and my tutoring students and my preparing to be a pastor, I'd still have reason to slow down and enjoy life. That's the now what: enjoying life. I've done, at least partially, what I set out to do as a writer. Continuing to write I will only do what I've already done over and over again, which is not reason to stop writing but it is reason to stop rushing. Rushing only got me into trouble, and in fact slowed down my work because now my last four months have nothing to bring to the world.
Slowing down, I can work better and more joyfully, and produce a better product. The aim is always to write to share with others, but there's no need anymore to rush to publication.
I guess the lesson here is to work hard and feverishly on a solid first work, and then rest easy knowing that you have secured your legacy and done your job. Life and being a writer are never things we can coast through, because there are always more things to say or new ways to say it, so I don't mean "rest easy" in the sense that you should slack off. I mean "rest easy" in the sense that, yes, there are always more or new things to say, but don't try to do everything all at once or even before your time is up here on Earth. If you work hard, you'll probably create something fairly early in life, and once it's created it can't be taken away from you, so why wear yourself out trying to do everything? Just do what your identity calls you to do, do it joyfully and do it well, and think about nothing else until it's done.
Have other life obligations in your way? So what? If you decide to, or if you must, work a job of some sort while trying to be a writer, or trying to follow through any other life dream or hobby, then so be it. The advice remains the same: work hard and diligently to create a solid first product, and then slow down after that knowing that you are accomplished. A rested heart will do so much more than a continuously heavy heart.