I recently started on a project that I know for a cold hard fact is going to take me years to finish.
I don’t like this.
I want to jump in and hustle. I want to eat, sleep, and breathe this project. I want to get it done and out in the world now, with the wild and magnificent ferocity it deserves.
But life, and creation, doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes it does, I’m sure. Some artists have seized certain opportunities to dive in full body, mind, and spirit and make something golden and universal in the span of a few months. But I find it doubtful that the productivity gods will smile upon me in such a way with this project. And I really need to accept that.
It’s not like I haven’t had to face this fact with projects before. I handwrote 300 pages of a book in 2015, fully knowing I wouldn’t type or edit the book for a few years. Those pages are still sitting in a fireproof safe waiting to be typed and edited. I can only hope that the cheap ink and paper I used to scribble down my masterpiece aren’t all blotchy and faded by the time I get the chance to finish the book.
But ever since I have started seriously writing and submitting work for publication, over ten years ago now, the name of my game has been faster, more, and now. I wanted to get work out there. I wanted to have more than one release a year. There was that whole 100 rejections in a year thing. Word-count tracker apps. NaNoWriMo. This blog updates Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays. JUST READ MY STUFF, PLEASE.
I hustled but I lost sight of myself and my purpose. I was so concerned with making sure I had regular blog posts, was regularly submitting stories for publication, and always had a next book coming out.
Don’t get me wrong, getting established as a writer requires hustle. I’m really proud of the work I’ve had traditionally published, accepted to anthologies or online publications. And I’ve grown so much working with editors and getting feedback from readers.
My self-published stuff was more hit and miss. I blogged a lot but took most of it down. I self-published several titles. Half of those I’ve had to unpublish, edit, and re-publish. I’m still working through a couple of those to re-release. But all that writing connected me with more opportunities and to more people than I could have ever imagined. So it was worth it.
Going forward, however, I’ve acknowledged I need to slow down and focus on quality over quantity.
The reason for my frantic outpouring of work was twofold: 1. I was broke and 2. I was sick.
The first, being broke. For most of my adult years I have cobbled together part time jobs and freelance work to pay my bills. Writing creatively was still a part of that, but I was really attached to payment that I was getting from my creative endeavors. (AKA no more submitting to lit journals that didn’t pay.) Often even a payment of $50 or $75 would ascend upon me like the Heavens opening up and winged Victories would fly in to deliver my utility bill just in time.
Essentially, I was simply not in place to take three years researching a passion project. It was gimme the clicks or the lights go out. Now, with a full-time Day Job that covers my living expenses and gives me health insurance, I can focus on other things. I’ve decided to make those other things projects that are more creatively meaningful and will take more time to produce.
The second, being sick. I was born with nerve damage (I can’t feel over half my body!) and have to manage multiple chronic conditions as a result. Within the past couple years, I have made tremendous strides in managing my health, mostly because I now have the resources to take care of my body properly. (Working three part time jobs and not having health insurance is a terrible idea if you were born with a major birth defect, in case you were wondering. One star, do not recommend.) But, looking back, living in constant pain sent out this anxious sense of urgency in everything I tried to do. Life is short and fragile. A very breakable glass on the edge of a ridiculously rickety table.
I could never make long term creative plans because I just didn’t have the faith that my health would be sturdy enough to see them through. Short term goals could be met rapid fire, and sometimes they were all I had to keep me going.
I’ve calmed down, greatly because I have better management on my health. I’ve also made peace with the idea that I’d rather die in the middle of working on something I was really passionate about than live to see a hundred smaller, mediocre pieces published. Sounds a little dramatic, but it’s working for me so far.
Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom. One of the reasons I know this new project will take years is because I intend to do all sorts of other things I couldn’t do when I was broke and sick: travel, spend time with people I love, invest in my Day Job career, get a Master’s degree, rest, dream, research, read, and enjoy my life.
And all that stuff is necessary to create. The research and experience and rest. The stuff that takes time. I couldn’t see it before. I didn’t have the tools or the perspective. But now that I do, I have to make the effort to slow down and dig deeper into my creative potential than I ever believed I could.
I lived the starving artist life, sustained on ink, wallowing in pain, and raging against impossible circumstances. And I’m grateful to my past self for every single moment I spent in that hustle.
But life has cast me onto a calmer shore. One where I can meander and reflect and dive deep. It’s a mixed bag of privileges and surrender. But for the first time, I can see into the distance.
Look… Where the horizon dips just there? That’s where I’m heading. And I think I will very much enjoy taking the time to get there. I hope you will, too.