Happier

While reading the newspaper on my Kindle (and apparently checking out my archives), Al recently remarked that I’d read 100 books since Christmas. Probably way more than that, because for some books, only the real thing, with actual pages to turn, will do, and Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, is one of them. 

Some books I know I’m going to spend time with, studying and underlining and going back to over and over again. This is one of them. And today’s chapter on setting goals seemed so relevant to writers and the pursuit of writing. For example, when we learn “the proper relationship between goal and process, between destination and journey…our goals can lead us to higher levels of well-being.”

In other words, for writers, that means enjoying the process (writing) as well as aiming for the end result (publication). In fact enjoying the process, according to Ben-Shahar, is way more likely to make us happy in the long-term than the short-term joy of getting a book contract or seeing our name in print. I know! It seems hard to believe, but this guy teaches a class on happiness at Harvard;-) so he’s gotta be on to something.

Why does enjoying the process of writing make us happier than getting published? Because everyone has a baseline happiness level and a week or so after a peak experience like signing with an agent, landing a book deal, seeing our name in print, we go back to our same old happiness set point.

Which is why it’s the everyday experiences that we need to work on enriching. Although “striving after goals is…crucial for happiness” Ben-Shahar has found that “for sustained happiness, we have to change the expectations we have of our goals.”

“The goals need to be meaningful and the journey they take us on needs to be pleasurable for them to bring about a significant increase in our happiness.” So, if you want to be a happier writer, make goals that are “interesting and personally important” and center around “growth, connection, and contribution rather than goals that center around money, beauty, and popularity.”  

There’s much more to this book, and with each chapter I feel lighter and lighter, because the burden of being a failure is lifted if happiness is not so much about the end result but way more about the process. If your main goal in life is to be happy. Sometimes I forget that not everybody has that as a main goal.

But if being happy is a high priority to you, and you’re an unhappy, unpublished writer, and a lot of your unhappiness comes from the fact that you are not published, take heart and focus more on the parts of writing that make you happy. For me, it’s words. Just writing words down and making them into sentences. I get such a kick out of that. Still!

Also, I love telling myself stories.  And people fascinate me, so that’s character and motivation and setting. I even like the physical act of clicking my laptop keys or writing in a notebook. I am not as fond of revision, but if I remind myself that I am still playing with words and sentences and characters and story, I like it better.

Also, I’m a huge reader, and revision gets my stories closer to the kind I read and admire. There’s another kind of satisfaction in that.

Subtle Influences

I’ve been studying astrology this summer, learning how to read my birth chart, which I had drawn up  a few years ago at one of those computerized sites. The site spit out a reading along with the chart, but I’ve heard those can be impersonal and not exactly on target. The best person to read a birth chart is the person who was born at the moment those stars were in place.

So I’ve been memorizing glyphs and discovering my planets and houses and aspects and now, finally, I am writing out a full report on what the stars say about me. I’m synthesizing all the information (there is a ton of it) into a big picture. You would not believe how accurately the stars spell out the major events of my life. 

But this is a little bit beside the point I want to make. Which is, why am I doing this? What do I have to gain from it? How will it help my writing project? And before today I had to admit that this little hobby would not influence or help my writing in any way. At least not this story. Maybe in the future I’ll have a character who is an astrologer, but nobody like that is knocking on the door of my imagination right now.

Then, while writing my morning’s 1000 words, I found myself using the language of astrology in a long passage. I usually have trouble with love scenes, but these fresh metaphors allowed the scene to practically write itself. Must be Venus in my fifth house, which, for those of you not into astrology, is the house of joy in creating.

On Thoughts & Thinking

One of the most profound things I read this summer was a little comment about thinking: “You are not your thoughts.”

Understanding that idea freed me from years of needless suffering. Because I always assumed that yes, of course I was my thoughts, and therefore my thoughts reflected who I was and my reality. And why is that bad? Because I think some horrible thoughts sometimes. Especially at three a.m.

Or when I’m in the middle of a first draft.

Some random negative thoughts I’ve had lately about my WIP:

This is crap.

You aren’t a real writer.

You’ll never make it.

You don’t have what it takes.

You’re fucking this up.

Boy are you going to have a lot of revising to do.

This is the shittiest shitty first draft ever.

You will never be able to write to the standards of Harlequin so just quit trying.

And so on.

Before I understood that I am not my thoughts, I would have believed all that stuff. I would have soldiered on, because I have to write no matter what, no matter if I am the worst writer on the planet. But I would have been shaken. I would have doubted myself and this path I have chosen.

But now? I know they’re just thoughts, and I am not my thoughts. Thoughts can be helpful or harmful, and since I am not my thoughts, I can just let the bad ones go. I don’t have to own them any more than I have to keep the dirt of the day on me. I can take a shower. I can change my thoughts.   

In order to believe in the profound logic of “you are not your thoughts” there has to first be a belief that we are more than our physical bodies. I’m not necessarily talking God here, not as the world defines Her anyway. But I believe I have a spirit, a soul, a core light shining inside that is connected to everything else that exists. I believe it it greater and smarter and wiser and kinder and more loving than plain old “me.” I believe it guides me, or tries to when I’m not being stubborn and doing my human thing of making mistakes and suffering and going after fleeting pleasures.

So, there is a sort of faith involved in accepting that I am not my thoughts. That I am especially not my negative thoughts. But that’s okay, because I have faith. And even that’s not something I always had. But after years of meditating and yoga and fine-tuning my intuition, I believe. I have faith.

And faith keeps me writing those 1000 words a day no matter what thoughts pop up to stop me.

imperfect beautiful book

tim.moon

Was pretty simple to upload Paradise Fields into a thumb drive and take it over to Fed Ex. The guy there was so out of his depth with poetry chapbooks. He made me a sample copy and it was, you know, not normal. (Sort of like me.) I could have taken it home and worked on it and fixed all the little things that made it not perfect, but I just got a crazy rush of feeling and said “This is great, thank you. How much for 25 copies?”

And so it was done. For under a hundred bucks. Imperfections, irregularities, and all. This is such a personal little book for me. And I’m so pleased that I went ahead and did it. And I got to use the picture of the moon Tim took last year in Dallas for the back cover, which was especially sweet because Mike’s pic of the African moon is on the front cover.

Art Day

It’s gorgeous and sunny outside. This morning, Al and I sat on the patio and had a cup of coffee for the first time since last fall. I can report that the Kindle is as easy to read in the sun as it is in the house;-)  

I’ve been in such a good mood all day. This morning I realized the scene I accidentally deleted yesterday was too long anyway…rewrote it this morning and lost half the exposition. It’s better now.

Also got arty and made a new story collage. It’s hanging right above my desk and I am in love with it. Got some new story info, too.