Staying Sane

Yesterday I had the thought that I get sometimes–I think it has to do with being a student of Buddhism. What if I gave up writing? Who would I be? How would I feel? What would fill the vast space writing takes up in my consciousness now?

I started asking myself these questions a few years ago because of my desire to be published. This desire, as every unpublished novelist knows, can lead to suffering in the form of rejection. Desire causes suffering, so take away desire and suffering is also eliminated. Correct? No.

Desire itself is not the problem. In fact, desire is integral to being human. It’s what gets us up in the morning. Handling desire, keeping desire healthy without letting it tip into obsession or addiction, now that’s the tricky part. How to balance the natural desire we all feel, how to keep it from consuming us and making us miserable?

Once I established that I would not be giving up writing–at least in this lifetime, my solution has been to focus on the work and not on the end result. Because I’ve been teaching more than usual,and that has been a problem for me as far as having a regular writing schedule, I’ve been using “getting published” as the perfect solution to my currently unmet need for more writing time. This once again put my focus on “getting published” and I forgot about the joy in just writing.

It’s particularly difficult to hold on loosely to the desire for publication when going through the submission process. Clinging thoughts like “I have to find a good agent” and “I hope they like my proposal enough to request a full” take my desire over the edge into suffering. How could it not?

I have a few solutions that are helping. The first was to start up my morning pages again, so I would have real writing to focus on that has nothing to do with being published. I found an empty journal, a really fat one, and decided to do a private practice, just for me. I’ve been averaging five or six pages a day, sometimes more. I know this writing project is not going anywhere, but it’s keeping me sane while I compile lists of agents and polish my query.

Then yesterday I got another idea for an additional writing project. This one has to do with, so ironic, teaching. I’ll be writing something as a model for my students on a topic dear to my heart, women writers and what it takes to become successful. The idea grew as I reread Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” in preparation for an upcoming lecture.

If, like me, you’re an unpublished novelist looking for a break and want to get off the wheel of suffering around rejection, maybe you too can find other writing projects that have nothing to do with being published. I know this other writing is what’s keeping me sane as I work up my latest proposal.

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  1. Excellent idea, Cindy — and I would love to take that class focusing on women writers! I also find it helps to shift creative gears as opposed to giving up. I usually come back with renewed enthusiasm, and I know you do too …


  2. Hi Cindy!

    I hear you on this one. That is a big reason I do the prompts on WD. It gets me moving mentally and helps me practice. But most importantly, it shifts me away from the “why haven’t I…” questions.

    Good Luck on that other contest!



  3. I guess it’s all about where you put your focus. Your idea (about writing about women writers and what it takes to be successful) sounds fascinating. Good luck!


  4. This is the second reference to “morning pages” I’ve read in two days. Granted, it’s writers who are writing them, but it may help me, too. I am reading “The Artist’s Way” without doing the exercises. I am feeling some of the same angst, Cindy, about what it means to be successful. It wouldn’t hurt to try writing morning pages.


  5. Yeah, morning pages are great. When I’m in the middle of a novel, I don’t write them. Too busy writing the book. And then of course there’s always blogging. Another sanity saver!


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