For most of my life, I never felt like a very successful person, and for a long time, that was a source of deep-seated shame. Several friends and acquaintances of mine feel like we all lost our twenties to depression and post-cult trauma after spending time as interns for the now-defunct Teen Mania Ministries.
Feeling as if you squandered an entire decade of your life in despair is not an easy thing to live with. Digging yourself out of that type of ditch in your thirties takes plenty of work and often, more than one setback.
When I became a mother back in 2014, I had to dig myself out of a new ditch as a single mom without any real prospects. I decided back then to find a way to write for a living.
I wound up in social media marketing.
There were lots of ups and downs for the first few years, and there was always a twinge of disappointment that I couldn’t seem to find time to write for myself.
Losing my standing at the agency I worked with was one of the best and worst things to happen for me. It was terribly stressful to find myself moved down to part-time work, but it finally gave me time to write for myself.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve now been writing for myself for over a year.
Not only that… but writing over this past year finally made me feel like I could succeed at something. Don’t get me wrong — I am not a hotshot writer. I’m not getting book deals (well, I blew one chance) and the Today Show is clearly not calling me.
But why would they? I have only been doing this thing for a short while. I have no expectations for where this will take me. Not in 18 more months or 5 years.
The truth about writing for yourself is that there’s no big plan beyond writing. There’s no road map. No checklist. There’s just your writing and the outcome so far.
Some people get so bent out shape that their writing hasn’t taken them to new heights in 2, 3, or 10 years. They are so busy looking at where they want to be that they can’t see where they are right now. And they can’t appreciate that place.
Right now, I get to don’t just get to do something that I love every single day. I enjoyt a unique set of freedoms too. There aren’t a ton of rules. And I get to go at my own pace and schedule.
A year ago, making a great income doing what I love was nothing but a dream. Today it’s a reality — I’m supporting my daughter with work that makes me proud. And I know that makes me incredibly lucky as a writer. I also know that doesn’t make me the best by any means.
It simply means that I have tried and am so far successful in my own way.
Of course, one of the caveats to that success is that I put in very long hours. Writing is not passive income. And to be honest, I have worked myself like crazy for more than a year.
From April 2018 through June 2019, I worked harder than ever to reach some personal goals. Not because I had to, and not because I feel competitive with other writers. The truth is that I wanted to prove to myself that I could reach a few milestones.
But one of the complications of goal-reaching? It can be addictive. We all have that inner voice that would like to earn more money every single month. It isn’t bad, but it can mean that we put too much pressure on ourselves.
I’ve never had the opportunity to earn much money… until recently. These days, I’m building a savings account to cover the cost of a car, a move, and taxes. Not to mention a simple safety cushion.
As a single mom without adequate transportation, improving our quality of life is a very big deal. I’ve never had a car and will need driving lessons. Money for fuel and car maintenance. It’s exciting and scary all at once, and it’s extremely hard to not want to hit it with everything I’ve got and make as much money as possible every month to reach those goals.
The pressure to provide for my daughter is already intense. The pressure to make the most of this opportunity to squirrel money away while I can?
Off. The. Fucking. Charts.
Because I know — life comes with zero guarantees. Maybe this opportunity will end tomorrow. So I’d better do my best.
And it’s easy to do all of this with zero work-life balance, because I have always told myself that this extreme hard work is temporary. I tell myself the long hours aren’t forever. And that I’ll relax when I reach a certain level of growth.
Well, now I’m not so sure. The urge to work even harder to do what I love is pretty damn intense. And I see that sometimes, it’s to my own detriment. But I’ve realized that it’s okay to take a breather — even when you plan to keep on growing.
If we’re honest, we know that every writer has limits. I have now brushed right up against mine several times. I went through some pretty heavy stuff where my emotional and work life intersected in a very bad way. I felt my mental health slipping, and old suicidal ideas began piling up.
As a person with borderline, I also felt my defenses rising up and the intensity of those emotions engaged my symptoms.
It finally occurred to me that I have nothing to prove to anybody else. In fact, maybe it’s time to quit competing against myself and acknowledge that it’s alright to slow down and breathe. You might need to hear this too.
When you are striving to earn your living as a professional, full-time writer, you have to write a lot. There’s no way around that.
But just because you have to write a lot, that doesn’t mean you have to keep up a certain pace for anybody else. This is your journey. You set the pace.
It’s easy to feel like taking a breather by slowing down is somehow proving critics right.
But I think it’s more important to feel good about your choices instead of worrying what anyone else thinks. There will always be people to tell you that writing isn’t a plausible career choice or that you aren’t good enough.
Successful writing requires you to keep going, but you can’t keep going if you don’t take care of your health too.
It can be tempting to feel the need to prove ourselves to every type of critic. But writing to prove others wrong isn’t helpful — it’s a headache.
It’s much better to go ahead and build up your body of work. Everyone can see it and decide for themselves what kind of writer you are. And sure, not everybody will like you.
But your true fans will see what you do and appreciate your consistency and authenticity. So in other words? You do you.
I know this is hard because we feel like those stats are the be all and end all which tell us how well we’re doing.
But they don’t give us the whole picture. They don’t tell us how many people were truly moved by a story. They don’t tell us how somebody feels after reading our work.
Besides, for the most part, all we can do is look at those stats. There’s not much we can do to influence those numbers… except to write and do our best.
I am notorious for not taking even 5 minute breaks when I write. I’ll put off going to the bathroom or eating just because I want to finish whatever piece I’m working on.
But guess what? The work isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard when you’re trying to do well and keep growing, but it’s also important for your health to take the breaks you need to get up, stretch, enjoy a meal, and simply be good to yourself.
I am so grateful to my writing friends who have been there for me lately. My burnout could have been so much worse if I had no one to turn to who could also relate in some way.
My friends have been able to reframe some of my recent challenges, and I am a better person — and better writer — as a result.
It can feel difficult to let others in and reveal your fearful, lonely, or disappointed side, but it is so important for all of us to let someone in to help bear some of the burdens.
Over the past month or so, I’ve taken a pretty heavy breather from my writing. Instead, I’ve been focused on cleaning my place (my home needed complete overhaul) and dealing with my mother’s illness.
My daughter also started preschool.
There’s a lor of stuff on my plate, but I’m learning that I still need to carve out more time for fun.
Unless you lived here with me for a week, I don’t think you could really understand how many hours I typically work. It’s absurd, and like I said, it’s all about the pressure I feel as a single mom to get out of this pit.
But I’m doing that. Now that I’m getting somewhere, I have to remember to enjoy myself without working for a little bit of time too.
In fact, this whole lull in my writing life is a goal in and of itself. My writing has afforded me the opportunity to take time off and get my house in order.
A year ago, I was facing homelessness… again.
Today, I’m building the life I want and making more money than I ever earned as a full-time social media writer. Despite taking this break.
As much as I wish I could say that success only feels good, that’s not true. It feels good… and awkward. It’s pretty damn weird, actually.
You worry about it not being the right kind of success. You worry about it going away. Worry is pretty much everywhere, and it feels a lot like survivor’s guilt.
From what I’ve experienced, you have to give yourself explicit permission to enjoy success. And permission to define that success however you see fit. It’s your life. Your work. You get to decide what everything means.
If you’ve been busting your ass trying to make it as a writer, I hope you remember to breathe. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself healthy, or pursue greater wellness starting now.
Take steps to protect yourself. Employ office hours. Make exercise a priority. Spend time with friends. Redecorate your home. Once you feel healthier and refreshed, you can get back to the climbing again.
I know I will.