I’ve read a lot of writing advice over the last year which focuses on putting writing before everything else, if you want to be successful that is. I suppose it’s like everything else which requires time, patience and hours of practice: you have to be committed to the end goal whatever it might be. You have to be passionate about your craft and exclusive in your focus. And to a certain extent I agree that to achieve a goal or a life dream requires the kind of dedication which you can sustain over what can be a very long time: my fist novel took me 22 years to write. But…
I find myself getting increasingly frustrated with the kind of advice which suggests that we should pursue our dreams at the cost of all else. For example;
“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” (Jordan Belfort)
Really? What about real life, the practical day to day considerations which, far from being empty excuses, are the very factors we need to prioritise; family, health, earning a wage, for starters. I’m in absolutely no doubt that those three elements of my life are, and always will be (at least until I retire and earning a wage shifts to collecting a pension) my priorities.
My family will always matter more to me than anything else and time with them will always be more precious to me than time spent at the keyboard. I would be lying if I said otherwise. They are my reason for being. They are my oxygen. They are also, as it happens, my biggest supporters when it comes to my writing. They keep me sane and they keep me grounded.
My health and wellbeing, having lost it once, is also something which I put above the dreams and goals I nurture. I have learned the need to factor in down-time across my week, to rest when I’m tired, to pay attention to my body’s warning signs and to invest in planning and prepping a healthy diet and lifestyle. If I fail to do these things, I cannot be the best version of myself, which means I cannot give the best of myself to my family, my day job or the dreams and goals I need the energy to sustain over time. At the moment, my day job is so exhausting that when I come home I rest up for a couple of hours instead of heading straight to my laptop. I have no mental energy left, I often can’t think straight and I know I need to recharge (my migraines tell me loud and clear): it’s the end of the school term and I’ve learned to roll with the energy ups and downs the academic year can bring. I’m fine with this — holiday periods give me clear runs at writing with a less stressed head.
Which brings me on to my actual day job…. My teaching life may well be exhausting at times but it’s the job which pays my salary and allows me to live in the house I love not far from the river with my partner, my cats and all the writing tools and research opportunities I need to pursue my goals and dreams as a writer. My day job is what makes it possible for me to have the quality time with my family; the trips away together, the shared experiences, the moments when we make the memories which will sustain us in the days and years to come. My job is much more than just the payer of bills though. My job, my vocation, is also how I add value to the world. Working with young people who have additional support needs, whose lives are chaotic, often tragic, is a job in which there can be no half measures: you’re either all in with these kids or you’re all out. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, it’s a job that matters. I can’t be present in body while my mind is off on a literary adventure. It’s why quotes like this grate on me so much:
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” (Kenneth Blanchard)
I am committed to my writing, but not more committed than I am towards my family, my health and my work with young people who rely on me being ‘all in.’
For years, as I raised my son as a single parent and taught full time in challenging environments, struggling to hold on to my health at times, I would feel like I had failed because I couldn’t focus more on my writing. I would read motivational quotes about not making excuses and about how goals and dreams were only ever goals and dreams if you gave them your all, pushing yourself, sacrificing other areas of your life in what felt like the ultimate endurance test. It has taken me a long time to accept that this simply isn’t the case. It is possible to quietly work away at a long held dream and continue to nurture ambitions for the future without compromising what I believe should always be our life priorities. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
No matter how committed I am to my writing, to my goals of finishing book 2 and to my dreams of writing books 3 and 4 and so on, it will never come at the cost of my family, my health or my job. Does that make me a bad writer? A half-hearted one? An ‘all talk’ dreamer? No. I don’t believe it does. I think it makes me an even more committed writer. It means that I hold on to those goals and dreams in the midst of life, never giving up, keeping my faith that I’ll get there and focusing on all the things which will support me to get there in my way and in my time. I find it hard to believe, when I hear anyone say ‘writing is the most important thing in my life’ that it really is. But just in case there are any writers out there who believe this to be the case, I offer this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”
There are, I believe, aspects of our lives which should never take second place to our goals and our dreams.