Friday, October 23, 2009

Joy and Worry

By Susan

My 7-year-old daughter is full of joy. She is one of those people who cracks jokes, sees humor in everything, and seems to surf through her uncomplicated life on one big joyous wave. Sometimes it’s completely exhausting, especially when there are soccer practices and laundry and homework and bedtime to worry about. I often worry about all the other things we are not doing, instead of taking a moment and laughing with her. I choose worry because I am her mother and she chooses joy because it’s fun. Motherhood, as Moms know, is fun. But it’s not as fun as being seven years old.
Writing is like being the mother of a joyful seven-year-old. The characters on the page dance off in different directions, spinning and laughing while you try to pull them back so they have meaning and substance. Sometimes it’s like herding cats. You want your protagonist to repent and change, to complete his character arc, yet all he wants to do is continue on his merry little way without apology. Or your antagonist laughs at you because you cannot think of anything clever for him to do next. And so you worry. Just like you worry about your children. When that happens, writing isn’t as fun anymore.

Writing is supposed to be fun, right? We do it because we love it, because we have to, because it frees us. We nurture our characters, and we fret over little details the same way we dress our daughters on picture day. Yet just like our kids, our works in progress take on a life of their own. They start doing their own thing. If I don’t worry about my novel (or so I seem to think), the next thing I know it’ll be sneaking out to ride around with boys who drive convertibles. It’ll be smoking cigarettes and saying dirty words, leaving me alone, waiting up for it, hoping that it comes back to me. All of this, of course, shows up as procrastination or writer’s block or lack of discipline or just plain lazy, bad writing. That’s when it becomes easy to blame the unruly child I have created rather than take ownership for my own habits. That’s when I worry it’s all garbage. That’s when it’s not fun anymore.
Yet our characters are also much different from our children: we make them kill their lovers or run from the law or get caught up in a tangled web that is not of their own doing. We root for them, and we hope our readers will too. We almost always know they will have a happy ending, unless we kill them first. We want to share in their joy. Then we allow worry back onto the page. At the base of it, when we are worrying about them we are actually worrying about ourselves. Will I get an agent? Will this ever be published? Why am I doing this, anyway?

And so I am trying now, quite mindfully, to release my worry about my characters and about myself, and allow the words to take me where they want me to go. In the process of releasing the rules and writing for joy, I’m finding a clearer voice in my narrative. I like my book a lot more. Sure, there are plenty of unforeseen things I could worry about. Or I can just choose the joy and write for the sake of writing. Why not have fun while I’m here? I’ve created a perfect sentence or two. I’ve drawn beautiful landscapes out of phrases. I’ve fallen in love right alongside my characters and been heartbroken when I wrenched the lovers apart. Now that’s having fun. If I push and pull my characters and tweak the story enough, perhaps I can let my worry go and just enjoy the moment.

If you are famous and tortured by your art, it can be hip to talk about the pain of writing, the blood that flows from your pen, the way you agonize over every manuscript. But for me? My family is my life, my work is my passion, and writing is my fun. And so the destination (being published) doesn't matter as much for me anymore. That's what caused my worry to begin with. I’m deciding to enjoy every minute of my writing journey instead and to just have fun. Like they say, life is all about the journey, not the destination. My writing is much more fun now since I left the writing worry behind.

Besides, I’ll need to save the worry for my daughters.


  1. So true, Susan. And the beautiful flow and impact of your words clearly shows you had fun writing this piece. Bravo!


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