It’s March 4th, and for the past several years this day has taken on a new meaning for me, as not just a date but a rallying cry: March forth! Keep marching onward, continue moving forward and work toward your goals. While I do make New Year’s resolutions each year, this time of year feels like the true beginning. The days are longer, the mornings brighter, and spring finally feels near.
Four years ago in March, I started writing the novel that had been bouncing around my head for years. Since then, each year on March 4thI have reevaluated my goals and progress. Basically, I decide if I’m going to re-up as a writer. Am I willing to continue this journey, despite the rejections, the unpredictability, the lack of any sort of guarantee? Each year, through March of 2019, I’ve said yes. I will continue.
But in December of 2019, I thought I was done.
I’d just been through a pretty crushing writing defeat, and it seemed like a clear sign from the universe that I was never going to “make it” as a writer. I felt like a failure and an embarrassment. I’d lost all confidence in myself, my writing voice, and my creative intuition. I couldn’t face any more rejection, and I had no interest in writing a new novel, either. But because I always finish what I start, I decided to revise my current manuscript so my agent could take it back out on submission for one last round. After that, I’d be done. Time to move on and focus on something that could give me tangible results. Maybe I’d take up crochet. Everyone likes scarves, right?
But even though I couldn’t imagine continuing to write, I knew I needed to address the dysfunctional thoughts that were causing such overwhelming feelings of failure. At the bare minimum, I wanted to feel proud of what I’d accomplished and confident in my path moving forward. For the next few weeks, I grappled with this. I listened to podcasts and read books and journaled and meditated and had long, angsty conversations with my critique partner, my other writing friends, and my husband. They all deserve medals for that, by the way. I was a mess.
Then one day I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Brooke Castillo, a master life coach, said in a podcast, “The only reason we want anything is because of how we think it will make us feel.”
My first reaction, quite frankly, was that this was bullshit. It had nothing to do with my writing aspirations. Back when I was querying, I didn’t want an agent so I could feel good about myself, I wanted an agent so I could get a book deal. And after I signed with my agent, I wanted a book deal that would launch a long and successful writing career. “Feelings” had nothing to do with it. I had objective, measurable goals, and this woo-woo emotional crap wasn’t going to help me at all.
But then I did more listening, more reading, more journaling and thought work. And I realized this statement is absolutely correct. Most of us aren’t good at identifying the reasons behind our goals, especially the deeper emotional ones, but when you boil it all down, we want to achieve these goals because we think they will make us feel a certain way. Example: when I was querying, I wanted to sign with an agent because I wanted the feeling of confidence that I believed would come from knowing that someone in the business believed in me as a writer and that I was one step closer to being published.
Once I accepted this, I got to work. I started by making a list of my writing goals, hopes, and dreams. Then I asked myself why I wanted to achieve them and wrote down the first answer that came to mind. Then I asked myself why I wanted that. I kept asking and answering that same question until I figured out the feeling I was searching for.
Here are a few examples:
- I want to see my book in actual, brick-and-mortar bookstores. Why? Because it will mean I’ve “made it.” Why do I want that? So people will respect me as a writer. Why do I want people to respect me? What emotionam I after? Well, I want to feel respected, and if my book is in bookstores, I believe that I will.
- I want to make X amount of money as a writer. Why? Because then I won’t feel guilty for all those hours I spent alone in my makeshift office, ignoring the laundry and the dirty kitchen floor. Writing will be a real job and not simply a hobby. Therefore, I believe that if I can make X amount of money as a writer, I will feel justifiedin spending time and energy on this creative pursuit.
- You know what? I don’t even care if my book sells very many copies. I just want it to be published and read by someone. Why do I want that? So I can know that my story is out in the world. Why is that important? Because I believe that it can help people. If someone out there is reading my book, I will feel satisfiedknowing that my writing has touched other people.
Then came the interesting part. I asked myself what was stopping me from feeling this way now. What if all these feelings were available right now, right where I am in my writing journey, even without achieving any of those goals? Even more mind-blowing: what if those feelings have been available to me all along? Even when I was writing my first draft of my very first “practice” novel, even while deep in the query trenches, even after receiving feedback from a dozen editors that my book was good but not good enough.
I can choose to believe that if my book never publishes, there is no way I can feel respected as a writer, or fulfilled creatively, or proud of myself. But what if it waspossible? Maybe there are other paths I could take, other goals I could work toward. What might that look like?
I can’t control if anyone else respects me—even if my book garnered a seven-figure advance, that doesn’t guarantee respect—but I can respect myselfas a writer. I can structure my days to include time for creative pursuits while also balancing my other responsibilities. And as for reaching people through my writing? I can do that in lots of ways besides a traditionally published novel.
This year on March 4th, I am happy to say that I’m re-upping, though it isn’t with the bright-eyed optimism of the first couple years or even the steely determination of last year. This year, I’m choosing to continue this writing journey knowing that nothing is guaranteed. All I can control is my own experience, my own thoughts and feelings, my own response to the doubts that crop up at one o’clock in the morning and whisper that my writing is boring and derivative, that none of it matters, that I should stop embarrassing myself and quit already.
But guess what? Even if I do end up with a book deal, even if I sell a million copies or become a #1 New York Times bestseller for fifty-seven weeks in a row, I will still have to face my own demons and insecurities—and, let’s be honest, there will be certainly be more pressure. No matter where my path as a writer leads, I will still have to make the decision, every day, to sit down at my desk and face the blank page. To keep marching forth.