A few days ago, a writer in an online group I’m part of confessed to her anxieties about writing: about having a book flop, about running out of ideas, about failing.
I share those fears–and judging by the lengthy comment train that followed, lots of other writers do too.
Writing is a funny profession in some ways: it connects us to our deepest fears and joys and desires, it exhilarates us, and yet it makes us vulnerable at the same time. For many of us, our identity as a writer is also intrinsically connected to who we are as human beings.
In some ways, this is a very good thing: it means that we’re doing something we’re both passionate about and good at–and if we’re lucky, we might get paid to do it.
But the very fact that we care so much also opens us up to anxiety and heartache and crippling fear of failure. After all, if we’re not succeeding and writers and writer is central to our core identity as people–does that mean we’re not succeeding as people?
When I was a graduate student, my advisor made an observation that rocked me (in a good way). As a student, I often felt like I was an imposter, not simply because I was convinced I wasn’t as smart as most of the other students, but because I had a life outside of graduate school. I was married, active in my church, and I had my first child before I finished my degree. But I always felt like maybe these external foci distracted me from the real work of an academic. And maybe, to some, it did. (I remember one professor who described having children as “tying a millstone around your neck,” but that’s a story for another day).
But my advisor said she found that students like me were often better students for those outside interests: they were more grounded, more mentally stable. My life outside graduate school meant that I didn’t put all of my self worth into whether I succeeded as a student, whether I found that perfect tenure-track job after school.
The same is true for writers.
There are some writers–a very few–who have the financial luxury that allows them to devote everything to their art. But most of us don’t have that luxury. Most of us have family and work responsibilities, maybe even other hobbies.
I think that’s a very good thing.
Having other things of value in my life help me keep my writing in perspective. I might be a writer, but that is not all I am–I’m also a mother, wife, sister, friend, teacher, cook, and so much more. If a single writing project fails, I can move on because I am more than the sum of my words.
The other day I looked at my youngest son (nearly three) and thought, even if my writing never takes off, I have still been part of creating something splendid.
My work is not my life. My life is not (solely) my work.
And while I love writing, I love the community of writers I am part of, and I will continue to tell stories as long as I can, I find this realization liberating.
I can write. I can do hard things. But my identity does not have to be defined by a single book, or literary award, or even a string of books and awards.
As people, our worth and value goes far beyond the letters we put on a page. This wonderful depth and complexity is part of what makes telling stories about the characters in our head so rewarding.
What things in your life provide value outside of writing? How do you deal with fears of failure?
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming Fall 2016 from Knopf. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.