Message in a bottle… After almost two years of struggle with the vicissitudes of Indie writing and publishing, I have, I believe, come up with a solution to all that has been vexing me, and keeping me from reaching the goals I have been working so hard to achieve, and all that has annihilated the joy to be found in the journey.
With the new lease on life I got after my return from New Zealand, I have been focused mostly on getting my health back, but also in increasing and maintaining the momentum in my career, which I didn’t want to lose. I’ve invested so much in it.
But I had convinced myself that I had to be a Type A personality in order to keep up with everyone else and have a chance in the Indie authoring and publishing world. As Shakespeare’s King Lear said, “Oh, that way, madness lies.” I hyperfocused on being the sole employee of my own company, and doing the work of 10 or 20 people, constantly chastising myself for not keeping up; for not being able to do it all up to a standard I hold dear. And all the while, I was forced to ignore everything else in my life. All the personal business, other creative pursuits, all the domestic trivia, my relationship with my wife. I wanted to enjoy the NOW, rather than living only for what comes next,
Yesterday, I was struck by a lightning bolt of revelation, when I was refilling my coffee cup, and Melissa drew up beside me and said, “Hey, I need a hug,” and as my arms wrapped around her, my first thought was, “I don’t have time for this.” And then I heard Dorothy Parker’s words “What fresh hell is this?” What had I let my mind make me into, when I allowed that niggling little dictator in my head to tell me that I had no time to hug my wife?
So this morning, when I woke, that part of myself was hovering in the scurrilous recesses of my mind, her heartbeat echoing through the labyrinthine corridors, ignored, again. I wanted to just write something. Anything, no matter what it was–still trying to find that creative space I used to enjoy. I sat down at the computer, and just started jotting down some ideas about a story I had been toying with for several years: Behind the Left: Authoring the Apocalypse. After 700 words of notes, I sat back and thought about it. Thinking of how I should have been working on the next in one of my series. And then i didn’t feel like writing anymore. And I wondered if there was irony in it–if maybe I was authoring my own apocalypse. What was it, that was keeping me from enjoying my writing these days? The answer was immediate.
The pressures of the business side of writing.
The constant battle of keeping up with everyone else in advertising, promotions, production, spreadsheets…and everything else that goes along with being an Indie author and publisher. The problem was, the business side was sucking all my energy and tainting the very thing it’s all supposed to be about. The writing. The story. The creativity.
In years past, I used to write some, then work on music projects; writing songs, recording and producing them, then abstract painting or playing in the clay, firing, glazing, enjoying that process and the result, go somewhere, take pictures, read someone else’s book, and then I’d swing back around to writing again. And I got just as much done, though I didn’t release a book every month or two, because back then, there weren’t as many other Indie writers saturating the Amazon lists. Once I began to enjoy bestseller status, I had to work even harder to maintain that position. But more importantly, I ceased to enjoy every minute of it, as I had before. I had lost the joy, the satisfaction. Writing had become a means to an end, rather than a self-contained delight that began and ended with the creative process. Now, I suffer from anhedonia–exacerbated by the machinations of menopause, and the need to rebuild that broken life I found myself in after my almost three years in New Zealand, and the fallout from an ill-fated love.
But my frenetic work ethic only served to taint that beautiful process. I had painted myself into a sinister corner.
While I worked 15 hour days, 7 days a week, I was missing out on the now. Missing out on my life as it unfolded, in favor of the life I believed was on the horizon. Always just out of reach. Out there, somewhere. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” And that’s exactly the quagmire I found myself in. With everything that has happened in my recent past, and with my health, and our presidential election season, and how much it sucked out of me, and the potential for devastation that is likely to occur, I had lost my way.
I had to ask myself what was most important. What must matter, aside from all those societal issues and the ideals we hold dear, is those we love, and the very real preciousness of life as we live it, not life as we will one day live it, maybe, if we work hard enough, often enough, and with as much single-minded focus as we can muster.
Over coffee, Melissa and I sat in my office this morning discussing this; our goal to move to the Northwoods at some point, in order to have the life we want, and to feel safe and secure again; and discussing what I thought I must do to correct course with my career, and our lives together. I had spent a year and half regaining a good deal of my health, and I didn’t want to wind up relapsing. More than that, I simply didn’t want to see hugging her as in interruption of my precious schedule. She deserves so much better than that. And so do I.
Knowing what those things are that allow me to thrive, I had to wonder why I had wandered so far off my path. What was the one thing that kept me from happily–joyfully– pursuing my goals? One answer was: deadlines. Those often self-imposed limits we place on ourselves. For me, it was painfully obvious but I had chosen to ignore this Screaming Ugly. I don’t like deadlines. I never have. It’s one reason I became an Indie author and publisher. I want to do what I do, the way I want to do it, in the timeframe of my choosing, and to hell with the marketplace and with what others expected. “I love deadlines,” author Douglas Adams said. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” It was time for me to get back to myself. The self I liked. The life I enjoyed.
So, here’s the plan. I am taking a sabbatical. I will spend an undetermined amount of time–perhaps six months, let’s say tentatively–just being in my life and writing what I want to write, when I want to write it, with no deadlines. No publication dates. I will then have time to address all aspects of my life; take pictures, play in the clay, do some music, write, sleep enough, pay attention to my health, get some of those things crossed off the list that I have let go, not the least of which is paying more attention to my relationship and my wife. After this block of time, if I have books done and ready to publish, I will publish them incrementally, focusing on just that part of it, and after that, return to sabbatical mode.
It is, I believe, the only way I can regain that self who enjoys each day, and relishes the peace and creativity again. I hope my readers will be there when I emerge and offer the fruits of my retreat, but I can no longer live each day and measure each breath by how well my books are doing on the charts. Living my life is more important, enjoying my moments is more important, and certainly, appreciating my wife to the degree she deserves, is more important.