Here are three radical statements:
1. You don’t have to be miserable to write.
2. The term “happy writer” is not an oxymoron.
3. Being happy is not only possible for writers, it actually helps them write better.
So many blogs and books about writing focus on the challenges—what to do when you get stuck, how to keep going when times get difficult, how not to be discouraged, how to keep your voice from being lost in the cacophony of competing works—it’s easy to forget that the writing life can be pleasant, enjoyable, and fun. I don’t mean only that it can be joyful in a sublime sense—which of course, it can—but that it can be simply satisfying and full of contentment. It’s strange how many writers don’t seem to know that
Happiness eludes a lot of us writers—if you doubt that, just take a look at a few bios of the greats and count the number of suicides and substance-abusers—but that doesn’t mean the writing life has to be miserable or sad. The supposed connection between despair and greatness is a false one. Unhappiness is more likely to block creativity than stimulate it, and those great depressives and alcoholics who fill our library shelves wrote despite their addictions and melancholia.
As happiness researchers know well, happiness isn’t something that descends on you by magic or the blessings of the gods. It is a choice. It can be cultivated. Writers can create happiness for themselves. There are simple steps you can take right now to make yourself a happy writer.
1. Write what you want.
Don’t write to the market. Don’t try to figure out what is going to make you rich and famous. Above all, don’t write what you imagine editors or publishers want, because you have no way of knowing that. Even editors and publishers aren’t sure what they want until they see it.
How do you write something marketable? By writing with passion and delight and a full commitment to your work. You can only do that if you write what you want to write.
Write what makes your heart sing. Write what makes you laugh. Write what makes your pulse race a little. Imagine picking up a book from a bookstore shelf, reading the first paragraph, and being so swept away that you have to buy it that very minute. Now write that book.
2. Shift your focus away from numbers.
Sure, it’s tempting to check your blog stats, book sales, and Amazon rank, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping abreast of how your work is doing, but it’s also easy to get so focused on the numbers that they take over your life.
If you absolutely must check the number of “likes” on your Facebook author’s page, or the number of people who’ve tweeted your post, keep it down to once a day--or even once a week--then forget about it. If it starts to feel like the be-all and end-all of your writing life, don’t do it at all.
Instead, focus on your writing. Focus on the scene, the paragraph, the sentence, the word you’re writing this minute. That is the only thing that truly counts.
3. Stay healthy.
When I was a morose teenager imagining my future life as a writer, I saw myself typing through the night on my Smith Corona, while sucking on cigarettes and swigging whisky from a shot glass. All very strange, since I didn’t smoke and hated the taste of whisky. Still, there was something about the image of the dissolute writer pounding out brilliant, dark prose that was very captivating to this small-town daughter of an apricot farmer.
Fortunately, I never became that writer. I became a treadmill walking vegan who never has more than a single glass of wine with dinner and gets a check-up every year.
Nothing can have as negative an impact on your happiness as poor health. All that stuff they tell us to do? The exercising, the eating right, the watching our blood pressure. Do all that. Feel as good as you can. Be as healthy as you can be. See what it does for your writing.
4. Get enough sleep.
The dumbest advice ever given to writers is to get up a half hour early to get in your writing time. Although getting enough sleep could be a corollary to # 3 above, I'm giving it its own slot because we've all been told at one time or other to cut back on sleep in order to write.
Writing time means nothing if your brain is struggling to get by on insufficient sleep. Cutting back on sleep to find time for writing or anything else is only going to come back and bite you. In the meantime, that irritability and depression you’re feeling may simply be your body’s way of begging for rest.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
When I feel a nudge of jealousy over some other writer’s success (or a bit of schadenfreude over their failure), I remind myself of these basic facts:
a. There is ALWAYS going someone who is doing better than you.
b. Writers who are not as good as you are will sometimes be more successful than you. Sometimes those writers will not just be poor writers, but appalling writers. (Think Fifty Shades of Gray).
c. Success comes when it comes and doesn’t come when it doesn’t. You never know when it will arrive at your door. You can help it along, but it pretty much operates on its own schedule and sometimes stops for a pint on the way.
The sooner you get used to these three statements and stop measuring your worth as a writer against others' successes and failures, the sooner you will find yourself smiling at the keyboard.
At the root of many writers’ misery is stress. Writers are almost perpetually stressed about how much they’re producing, whether their work is any good, whether their agent is going to dump them or their novel will get some awful reviews. There are just dozens and dozens of things to feel anxious about in the writing life.
Most of this tension is pointless. Worrying about your writing doesn’t make it better. Stressing over whether your book is going to get published will not make it more likely to get published. Anxiety not only makes you miserable, it can block your creativity—which can then make you more stressed, setting up a vicious cycle.
There are a million and one ways to deal with stress, and everyone seems to have their favorite. Deep breathing? Yoga? Meditation? Walking? Listening to music? Find yours. Use it. Relax.
7. Buy into the Value of Happiness
Some writers seem to think they should be unhappy. That misery comes with the territory and depression is an occupational hazard. This idea has deep roots in our culture and in our thinking about the writing life, and it can be surprisingly tenacious.
Pull those roots out. Buy into the value of being happy. Acknowledge the importance of happiness to yourself, your art, and those around you. Recognize that happiness is something you can attain—and that, far from inhibiting your writing, it can set it free.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...