Why I Feel Great Right Now: A Tiny Bit of Writing Advice

I'm a writer, dammit.jpg

I feel great right now. Big deal, right? That's my business, so why should it concern you? If you're a writer or involved in any other creative pursuit, maybe you'll find this helpful.

Today I went to a day-long meeting with a team of excellent educators who are working to make our high school a trauma informed school. It would take a while to explain what that means, and it's largely beside the point, but one of the activities involved identifying our own stress level and coming up with strategies to cope when we are getting near breaking. It will come as no surprise to anyone that one of my strategies is to write. It calms me, it helps me focus, and, as I was reminded tonight, it gives me a charge of positive energy.

I left the meeting and slipped back into stress mode. I have far too much on my plate, something I'm sure many of you can identify with. I wear too many hats. Besides being a teacher, a job that is always more than full time when done properly, I also am the co-publisher of a small publishing company. We may have bit off more than we can chew, committing to publish nine novels in a single year. We accepted author Kamila Shamsie's challenge to make 2018 "The Year of Publishing Women," and we got so many great submissions by incredibly talented authors that I may have said yes to too many. We'll see if we can pull it off. In the same way I feel a constant pressure to be a better teacher for my students, I also feel an obligation to do right by these authors. Beyond the creation of the books themselves, there's the marketing, and that is a task so daunting it can become paralyzing. I wear other hats, too. I'm very involved in my union, serving on the state board and working as an activist to promote public education in every way I can. The work is really important to me, and I can't say no when I think there's something I can do to help. Oh, yeah, I'm also a dad and a husband who isn't around for my son and wife nearly as much as I'd like.

So I'm carrying around all this stress, and I'm thinking about the coping strategies I articulated earlier in the day but which I do not employ enough, and then, out of the blue, I thought of a line for the next novel I'm writing. Just a phrase, not even a whole sentence. I used to carry around writing implements everywhere for just such an occasion, but now I can just reach into my pocket and connect to the whole world, so I grabbed my notebook-in-the-cloud and started jotting down some notes. Bam! Next thing you know, I've got 1000 words cranked out and edited twice. More importantly, they are mischievous words that make me even more excited to finish the book and put it in people's hands. You know that feeling you get in between playing some practical joke on a friend and the moment when they discover it? That eager and impish anticipation? That's how I feel about this book now. The premise itself may be too big for my powers as a writer. I may fail. I'm learning to not only accept that but aim for it. I want to write something so difficult that I might not be able to pull it off. But this, at least, will be fun as hell to write.

And that brings me to my advice to other writers and creators out there: Fight for the time. Yes, all those other items on the to-do list are still there, looming, and if I think of them I can feel the stress pressing in on my body. But you know what? I'm a writer, dammit. This is one of my hats, just as much a product of my values as my work for my students and my fellow authors and the public school system. And I don't need to feel guilty about the fact that it's also a lot of fun. I can imagine the looks on people's faces as they read my next book. I can justify the time by reminding myself I'm working for my readers, and they deserve something from me, too. But I can ease my stress by reminding myself that I don't need to do this out of obligation to anyone.

I'm a writer. It feels great to acknowledge that. And it feels good to admit it feels great.