Justine: At a Crossroads

writing, writer, eight ladies writing, justine covington, keep writing. stop writingAs 2014 vanishes in the dust, I’m sitting back and reflecting on what has happened in the past year (or not happened, as it were) and what may come in 2015. I’ve spent a lot of time inside my head, wondering what I’m doing, wondering if my family can survive this path to publication I’m on, wondering if I’ll ever escape this yet-to-finish-the-first-book hell. As a result, I find myself at an uncomfortable and confusing crossroads in my writing career.

Should I continue writing?

The answer isn’t easy, or straightforward. My heart says yes. Like many things, though, the heart is overruled by logic, reason, or logistics. Usually all three.

I won’t talk about the feelings of chaos, unworthiness, or general craziness I’ve experienced the last few months, but the Ladies can vouch for some of the air-headedness that’s resulted from it. I sometimes feel writing is taking over me, but not in a good, can’t-stop-creating-my-story way. More like now-what-am-I-trying-to-do?

What I find myself coming back to is why I’m thinking of postponing my writing career. I’ve concluded it comes down to three things:

  • Family
  • Chaos
  • Fear

Family

I have two little kids and a husband who works more than full-time and travels a lot. I’m the “do-er” around the house. Housekeeper, part-time gardener, laundress, cook, butler, footman, valet, maid…you get the idea. It’s how it’s always been, and I don’t see it changing much, but it means that if someone is sick, or needs to go to football practice, or has something after school, I’m the one caring, taking, or doing.

I schedule dedicated writing time on my calendar, but it’s often usurped by that thing called LIFE. Doctor appointments, tae kwon do, carpool, carpet cleanings, volunteering at school, picking up dry cleaning. Heck, you’re likely juggling those things, too!

Lately, though, I’m wondering if there’s too much going on in my family’s life right now for me to be trying to build a career writing. The courageous, driven, you-can-do-anything side of me says that yes, I can do it. The more pragmatic side of me is starting to think that I can do it, sure…but at the expense of my family’s peace and happiness, not to mention my own. That brings me to…

Chaos

More and more, I feel like life is moving about 1,000 miles per hour and I’m not keeping up. Meanwhile, things whiz by me left and right and I don’t even have enough time to see if they affect me or not. If they do, I don’t have time to address it.

Family contributes to this. So does my participation in my local RWA chapter (I just suggested we have a new contest for romance writers this spring and the board agreed – and it starts now! More things for me to do! What was I thinking?!?).

As with any family/job that has lots of moving parts, my calendar is chock-full of things I have to do, and the resulting chaos means I screw up (like I did with last week’s blog post). I don’t like screwing up, especially if it negatively affects others. It’s one thing for me to not write a post on my own site, but when I forget on Eight Ladies, I’m letting them down. I begin to wonder what the world’s perception of me really is, which leads me to…

Fear

I think fear is what’s at the root of all of this, although I’m not quite sure what it is I fear. Success and the work that will inevitably come with it? Failure and the disappointment it brings? The uncertainty of my writing future?

My family has sacrificed a lot for me to write in the form of time and money and attention. If I succeed at writing, will they be forced to sacrifice more? What if I fail? Will all of that been for naught? Will everyone say, “Yeah, didn’t think she’d stick to it?”

So What’s Next?

That’s the $50,000 question. My husband, who is absolutely amazing, has told me that until I finish this first book, I have to keep on course. The analogies he’s used are hilarious:

  • “You’re at the 1 yard line!”
  • “You’re almost over the hill!”
  • “You’re at the 25-mile mark!” (can you tell he used to run marathons?)

He’s right, of course. He’s reassured me that yes, it’s been hard on the whole family sometimes, but good things often are. The kids, he says, aren’t delinquents and don’t have to see therapists because they’re being neglected. He thinks it’s important that the kids see me as a mom, but also as an independent woman with her own interests and goals. After all, he married me because I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom AND a career woman (preferably one after the other).

Therefore, I have to see this book through. I have to shop it around and try to sell it. Perhaps even self-publish. I have to finish the cycle, he says. If, after doing that, it seems that writing is taking over my life and ruining our family, then I should revisit my career goals.

Until then, keep writing.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Finish the book. Try to get it traditionally published. And figure out if writing is sustainable right now, or if it needs to be put on temporary hold. Time will tell, I suppose.

Have you found yourself at a writing crossroads? What did you do?

18 thoughts on “Justine: At a Crossroads

  1. Oh, Justine, this sounds so familiar. You have a wonderful husband, and I think he’s giving you good support.

    And you aren’t letting anybody down when crap and chaos happens . . . we’re all there at one point or another.

    I think it’s a good plan to finish the book. (-: Not everyone finishes a book, after all. I think the marketing stuff is a good idea, too, but it can get overwhelming to think of everything at once. At least, I know for me that it’s easy to slip into daydreams of my retirement when I still have two and a half acts to finish on the book. That’s too much to keep in my head. Today my plan is to fill my head with the stuff for *this one scene* and finish it. No worrying about the 50 scenes that I’ve already got outlined but come next.

    You really are on the tipping point. Give a couple of more pushes, birth this baby, and then see what you can do about getting it into Publishing Kindergarten so it can play with the other new books out there . . . .

    • Going one scene at a time is sound advice. I tend to look at the tidal wave of things in front of me, when I really need to be focusing on what needs my attention RIGHT NOW. Perhaps that “back off” perspective will help me. Thanks!

      • Tidal wave is the perfect word for That Feeling. I get it all the time, when writing, when cleaning (oh god), and once in a while when I’m teaching. The thing about teaching is that the kids can tell when I’m not in the moment, and they call me on it (by not paying attention themselves or by acting up). Staying in the moment gives me a lot of good experience, and then when it’s time for the Big Planning, I can apply that experience to my plans.

        Not good to stay in the moment all the time, but it’s not good to stay in the ocean tossed by waves for long periods either. Hypothermia sucks all the energy out.

  2. I’ve never really hit a crossroads in the way you’re describing, because I don’t have young kids. But you deserve to have time for your own pursuits. So although you didn’t ask for advice, I have some for you, anyway (and since you get what you pay for, you know what it’s worth! 🙂 ): stop volunteering. Let someone else do it. Don’t even go to your chapter meetings, or go to only every other one. Drive to the library and work instead. Figure out how much time you spend at your school and for your chapter, and make that your writing time. Don’t let the carpool or something else suck it up.

    Fear is big, though, probably for everybody. I don’t know how to fight it, either. But I figure, what are my options? I can do my best, or I can watch TV. That usually gets me back to my desk.

    • My husband admonished me for taking too much on and spreading myself thin. I’ve already told him I’m ratcheting back the school stuff. There are plenty of other moms to help out. As for RWA, I like going to the meetings and connecting with the other writers, so I likely won’t give that up. I’ll just have to pick and choose the other things I do, thinking carefully about what else I have going on. I suspect that will help a lot. (I’m notorious for overbooking myself!)

  3. Nightmare, Justine! I’ve been in this situation a few times in the past, though it was about finding a balance between my job and my home life. The most important thing I learned was that it’s not a good idea to make big decisions when you’re in the eye of the storm, overwhelmed, tired and stressed.

    It sounds as though you’re gettting great support and advice from your husband, and I think finishing the book is a good plan. You’ve put so much of yourself into it, and you’re so close, it would be a shame not to get there. Then you can celebrate, take a breather, and decide what to do next. Good luck!

    • You’re right about being in the eye of the storm, stressed, and overwhelmed. The kids went back to school (like 20 minutes ago!) and I’m amazed at how quiet the house is. It hasn’t been like this since Dec 15th!

  4. Many writers have families and full-time jobs and still find time to write. Are they writing 40 hours a week? No (well, most probably not – I know I’m not). I would love to quit my job and write full time, but the budget can’t handle that. I can tell you that as the kids get older, you still spend a boat load of time on them, you’re just doing different stuff with/for them so that won’t go away. If you want to write, write. Let yourself off the hook of writing as a full-time job, finishing the book NOW, publishing tomorrow, etc. Few people have the luxury of being able to write full time and the great fortune of getting published first time out of the gate. If you had everything on your Christmas Wish List, you would have more time to write, but you don’t. So I repeat, let yourself off the hook, stretch our your timeline to finish your projects and enjoy the ride. It took Christina Dodd 10 years and 3 manuscripts to get published.

    Here’s what Janet Evanovich said about it: “If being a writer is important to you, keep at it, keep improving, and don’t give up. I wrote three books that were never published. I sent the first one out to everybody. I went through every agent and publisher in New York, twice. The only positive letter that I got back was from an agent, but it was written in purple crayon on a bar napkin, so I didn’t follow up on it. Then, presto, ten years later I was a published author.”

    Presto – 10 years later. I would probably follow up on the purple crayon/bar napkin.

  5. I think you left out one of the things that’s contributing to your current crisis of faith in yourself–the holidays. When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why Christmas made my parents so stressed out. As an adult, I completely get it. Christmas generates an incredible amount of work that exists at no other time of the year–shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, sending out cards, getting together with people you only see once a year. It’s enough to make anyone freak out.

    Hoping that, as we move into the long and blessedly dull days of winter, things calm down enough that you can lift your head above the surface and see that you’re on the right path. You have a lot of talent, you have a genuine love of writing, and you’re willing to stick for the hard stuff. You’ll get there.

    • You’re totally right about the holidays. See my comment above to Jilly. Everyone is finally out of the house. I hope life settles into a bit of a routine and things calm down enough for me to see straight.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  6. I’ve had some of these same feelings, Justine, and so have most of the writers I know at one point or another. That’s not to diminish what you’re going through at all. As someone who had a front row seat to your life for a week, I can definitely attest to the challenges you face and when I think of all you’ve accomplished, I’m dazzled. You handle everything with so much grace.

    Now here’s a story I have to tell you. Do with it what you will:

    When I was much younger, I used to go riding (horses) every weekend with my sibs and friends. We went so often that we got to know the owner of the stable, Charlie, extremely well. He’d let us pick our horse (we always picked the same one), saddle it, and then he’d turn us loose on our own (unheard of today).

    We were all young beginners and what we didn’t know skill-wise we made up for in sheer guts. We were wild on the trail, daring each other, racing each other at full gallop at every opportunity, and generally attempting stuff we didn’t know how to do. During a particularly wild run, I felt my saddle slipping. First I tried to hold on with my knees which is impossible at full gallop with a slipping saddle. Next I tried to pull my horse up but he was as crazy as his rider and was determined to be shed of me so he could go back to the barn and munch hay. Yes, I ended up on my ass watching as he galloped away with the saddle on sideways (probably laughing his ass off ). I came to my feet, took stock of my bruises, and began my humiliating trek back to the barn. Half-way there, one of the stable hands met me (riding bareback, the show-off) on the trail. I asked about my horse; she asked about my health, and then she said this as she laughed: “Congratulations.” I thought this an odd (and unkind) thing to say to someone who had just taken a tumble, and told her so. She told me that a rider can’t officially consider themselves anything but a beginner until they fall off. She pulled me up behind her on her mount and took me back to the stable where we re-saddled my horse. I went back out.

    This is an absolutely true story that I’ve often thought of when my writing hasn’t gone well. And it proves that old adage. Falling off the horse is part of riding, just as having doubt and fear is part of writing. Getting back on is the important part.

    So when it gets hard or scary, just remember: The saddle might be hanging sideways as your life seems to be galloping off without you, but we’re here to give you a hand up.

  7. Reading these comments reminds me how smart (and wonderful!) all the Ladies are. Great advice all around, and I concur – give up any extraneous things you’re doing for others and give some of that time back to yourself for writing, and get through this book and the follow-through before you make any long-term decisions.

    That being said, don’t be afraid if you realize you want or need to take a break at some point. Yes, there are writers out there who’ve written through everything and never given up and never taken a break. I just don’t know many of them, and the ones I do know never had small children, or at least didn’t have them while trying to start (or continue) a writing career.

    I’ve personally told writing, “I wish I could quit you” more times than I can remember. And I did quit for a few months at a time here and there when my family and/or sanity really needed it. And then there was the big break-up. Our family suffered a series of unexpected and tragic (and unrelated) deaths of people we loved in a few months’ time. My daughter was in crisis over it. My husband and I were so beside ourselves with worry over her we couldn’t even really grieve until years later. And on some level, I was numb. Too numb to write. For nine months.When I finally started writing again, I spent another nine months writing absolute dreck. It was so bad that when I finally came out of the funk and wrote something decent, I went back to the dreck and deleted every word. Scrubbed it from my hard drive and backups.

    But wait, there’s a HEA coming! After that 18 months in the wilderness, writing and I reconciled. If it’s in you, it’s in you, and it will come back. A year after ‘getting my groove back’, I published one book and had an offer on a second one (I didn’t take it, which broke my heart but the publisher was a terrible fit for me). I finally took the leap into ‘formalized’ writing training and joined the McDaniel program and have written a new-to-me kind of book and am really proud of it. And this year, I have so many ideas and plans for books, they’re sprouting out my ears.

    TLDR: Tough times happen. Bad things can derail a writing career. But if you really are a writer at heart (and I truly believe you are!), you’ll either find a way to write through it, or will find your way back to writing when the time is right for you. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always an oncoming train :-). Good luck, and we’re all here for you!

    • Excellent words of wisdom, Nancy. In all my musings over this, I don’t think I ever thought I’d give it up entirely. I enjoy it far too much. In fact, I was talking with my mom yesterday and telling her about my post and some of the comments I’d received, including Kay’s suggestion to give up some of my RWA commitments. I told my mom that I got such joy and inspiration being around other writers (we have the most kick-ass local chapter…I love our Desert Rose ladies!), giving up the monthly meetings would be the last thing I do. I have no qualms about letting the other moms volunteer in the classroom in my place, because I’m not passionate about that, but I love, love, love hanging with my writing girls and talking story!

      Everyone’s kind words and comments have inspired me greatly and I look forward to sitting down and writing. Even Finishing the Damn Book! Thank you, ladies!

  8. Oh, you just described my life, and my own dilemmas. Thank you for that. I’m finding it increasingly hard to be perfect – the perfect mother, the perfect worker, the perfect writer, the perfect household manager, the perfect friend…

    I say, let’s both make a pact right now to stick to our writing. Someone once said to me: “What would you rather have on your epitaph: ‘She kept a clean house’ or ‘She was a brilliant writer’?

    Your kids will turn out wonderfully from having a mother who cares for them and enables them as well as you evidently do. And don’t discount how important it is for them to see you pursue your dreams – see you try hard, perhaps fail occasionally, but stick to it and put your guts into it. And one day, when you succeed, they’ll be as proud of you as you are of them. For God’s sake, write, for all your sakes.

    • Thank you, Bronwyn. I was pretty sure there are others out there like me, struggling through the same things. Still, it’s a validation to hear that you’re going through it, too.

      Your perspective regarding how I wish to be remembered is apt. I’d definitely rather be remembered as a good writer.

      You can definitely count me on on that pact! I’m writing. 🙂 Yesterday (the first day back for the kids) was actually a good writing day. Here’s to many more, for all of us!

  9. What a great post, Justine. I know exactly how you feel. I think one of the hardest things is the fact that I know I am making my family’s life worse in the short term by writing because I am basically trying to add a second, brand new, career to the first one I already have. And that takes time that has to come from somewhere.

    Sometimes it feels like ‘driven’ and ‘selfish’ are pretty interchangeable. I won’t give up but sometimes I think it’s okay to slow down for a while. Last year, I was incredibly driven (aka selfish) but that’s not permanently sustainable, so I’m accepting that I have to slow down a bit for a while. But, as long as I keep inching forward, I think that sort-of works for me.

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