We’ve had a crazy past few weeks in our house, but as the dust is settling, germs are gone, and life is (knock on wood) getting back to normal, I found myself thinking again. It happens when I’m scrubbing the house from top to bottom–my body is doing one thing while my brain is bouncing from one topic to another.
This weekend I kept coming back to my writing and where I want it to go. Well, yes, duh, of course I’d love to hit the New York Times Best Sellers list. But that’s not exactly what I meant.
See, I’m at another fork in the road, and I’m trying to decide which path to take. As it is, there are multiple tines of said fork, which doesn’t make the decision any easier. What to do, what to do…?
But then as I was in the middle of this week’s online sermon, I had an ah-ha moment. (Hopefully, the Big Guy Upstairs will forgive me for scribbling writing notes during church…) And that ah-ha centered around:
Now, those closest to me know I’ve always had a guilty conscience. A good thing for keeping me out of trouble (mostly) but not so good for the nerves. I worry too much, and yes, probably too often. But hey, I’m working on it. Promise.
But one of the things I’ve struggled with during my writing journey has been the why. Why was I writing? At first, it was out of boredom. A broken finger during prime gardening and golfing seasons? What else was there to do? (Side note: this was over a decade ago, before Netflix was the binge-worthy site it is today. Probably a good thing, or I may have never attempted that first book!)
So, yes, it started out of boredom and curiosity. As a kid I loved to read; as an adult, I’d recently rediscovered that love. And really, I wondered with one hand in a cast, how hard could writing a book be? (Let me pause to go back in time and smack the begeezus out of my former self for ever thinking that silly, silly thought…*SMACK!*…okay, I feel better now.) In the beginning, it was just me, toying with a story. That grew into a novel. That grew into two. And then…genre shift! I was suddenly chasing happily ever afters’s instead of suspense, and I started feeling…you guessed it: guilty. Not because of the content or the genre–I loved every one of those stories. So why the guilt?
Because I was no longer sure of my purpose.
Why had I continued to write? What purpose did my books serve?
I’ve asked my authors friends over the years for their thoughts on the topic , and received a variety of responses. They enjoyed writing feel-good stories. They loved the challenge of weaving tangled webs of mystery. They loved vampires. They needed an outlet for all the stories running around inside their head.
All valid reasons, all understandable to me. So I tried a few on for size and continued on my way. But every so often, that same, nagging feeling would return. The feeling that my purpose for writing wasn’t…enough.
With everything else going on in the world, were my stories worthy of
stealing capturing someone’s attention for a few hours/days? Did they make readers feel good? Were the plots complex enough? Was the humor as good as I hoped, or was I just laughing at my own jokes? (It happens, not gonna lie. LOL)
Then this past Sunday morning, I had that ah-ha moment. And let me tell you, it was so incredibly…freeing. And so obvious I nearly did a head-to-desk. (But again, I was in mid-sermon and not at my writing desk.) So what was the realization?
It’s that I can be driven by a purpose, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing driving me.
See, I kept measuring myself up to my purpose. My mantra. Everyone’s is different, of course, but after many years of thinking and doing and being, I’ve come to accept that my purpose is to encourage and inspire (and hopefully entertain along the way.) I used to think my purpose was to lead, as I have held leadership roles with modest success. But that success came because I could get people excited about ideas. I could empower them to grow and improve and succeed…by encouraging them and, hopefully, inspiring them. They didn’t necessarily need me to lead them anywhere other than toward believing in themselves and their abilities.
Where the trouble came in was with my writing. If I wasn’t writing a story that I felt was suitably encouraging or inspiring, I’d feel guilty, like I wasn’t staying true to my purpose. Like I was still…missing something.
But then this ah-ha moment came and I realized that pursuing purpose doesn’t have to be an all or nothing affair. What was to say I couldn’t encourage and inspire in some books, and entertain myself and my readers in others?
Nothing! There are no rules that state, “Thou shalt only write purpose-driven books!” It was all me being me, feeling guilty for silly, non-existent reasons. Worse of all, the doubt rattling around in my head was starting to affect my writing. I began to overthink plots, develop reservations about my abilities, question my reason to keep writing. My restless pursuit of this self-perceived “valid” writing purpose was crippling the very vehicle that could help me achieve it on a greater scale.
In other words, I’d been standing in my own damn way.
Needless to say, this ah-ha moment felt exquisite. Like the Universe had just reached down and wrapped a big, fluffy blanket fresh from the dryer around my shoulders and said, “There, there, it’s all going to be just fine. You just keep building those writing chops and you’ll get to where you want to be.”
And this doesn’t just go for writing. All of us were put on this planet for a reason, but that reason doesn’t have to be your one and only focus. Live. Have fun. Go on grand adventures. Stay in and binge on Netflix. Every experience helps to shape us, helps us grow. And who knows? Maybe that growth is exactly what we need to live out our life with purpose.
So that’s what I’m going to do–keep writing, with purpose and for fun. Some books will focus on self-help (in my own, crazy style) and others will continue to be humorous adventures that amuse me (and, hopefully, they’ll continue to amuse you as well). But no more doubting my purpose for writing. It was right here, inside me, all along.
My course is set, my conscience clear, and I have three novels plotted and ready to be written. Some with a moral of the story, and some just plain old entertaining. What I look forward to most is that this spring (so long as 2021 doesn’t prove to be the dumpster fire its younger sister was) I will finally be able to write without worry that I’m not doing it “for the right reason”. I’m cutting myself some slack, and allowing myself room to explore stories for fun and with purpose.
“And“, not “only“. What a freeing concept, indeed.
Here’s to a great week, everyone.