I’m discovering that full time writing is an intensely stressful occupation. You get to enjoy everything that’s risky about being an entrepreneur and everything that’s risky about being an artist all at the same time. Screw up on the job as an employee, and you might get a stern talking to and a chance to make things right. Write a lousy book? Fail to prosecute an effective marketing campaign? Say something really stupid in public? Yeah, you’re pretty much done. Worse is the possibility that you could do everything right, write a dynamite novel, be a fascinating person who’s incredibly effective at marketing yourself and you *still* might fail, for having missed the zeitgeist, or falling a victim to industry forces over which you have absolutely no control. And your income depends on this, your quality of life.
So, yeah. Stressful.
And what’s the temptation when you’re stressed? To reach out for support. You call your friends and whine, and they tell you that everything will be all right, and you believe them long enough to get back to work. The Internet is particularly well suited for perpetuating this phenomenon. I see a lot of writers using social media as a giant virtual group therapy session. Go ahead, tweet or update your Facebook status to say you’re having a rough day. I’ll give you 30 seconds before you start getting sympathetic replies.
All to the good. Whatever keeps you on task when you’re frightened or tired or tired of being frightened or frighteningly tired.
But I’m starting to dispense with that. What I’m beginning to realize is that the discomfort is perennial. All remedies are short term. When you choose a life as uncertain as this one, it’s the flavor of the air. You don’t live in the ocean and curse the salt water. There’s a reason people work boring day jobs. That security, that sense of a net underneath you, is a very valuable commodity. People are willing to give up a lot for it.
The key for me, is coming to grips with the fact that there is no remedy. It is much the same as acclimatizing to life in a war zone. Once you accept that nothing can really protect you from indirect fire, you do a lot better in the midst of it. You stop running for the bunker or wasting your time chewing off your nails trying to understand the difference between blast phases and shrapnel scatter patterns. You finally make that cliched but absolutely accurate statement that “when it’s your time, it’s your time,” and you get about your business. It doesn’t completely mitigate the stress, but it helps.
Writing is much the same. I spend a lot of my time in a knot of anguish over whether or not my stuff is good enough, or whether it’ll fall on its face even if it *is* good enough. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a writer say that he felt like a fraud for being successful (it was James Patrick Kelly during a public radio interview). Since then, I’ve heard it dozens of times from the mouths of dozens of different pros. Enough anecdotes makes for a trend.
This is the new normal, and the only thing I can control is the work I do: how much and how well. I try to accept the stress for what it is, an environmental impact, like hot sand to armadillos or cold water to polar bears. I still reach out for support when things get unbearable, but I do it less and less, leaving my friends to their own devices.
I already know what they’ll say. I know they have faith in me. I know they love me. I know they wish me success. And I also know they can’t make the world safer or kinder or gentler for me. Success or failure is entirely on my shoulders, at least what little sliver of it I can control. So I focus on that.
Because, hey, when it’s your time, it’s your time.