Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Home » Cheryl St. Johns , Historical Romance , the writing life » Holding it All Together by Cheryl St. John
My own four children are all grown now, though my youngest daughter and two children live with us. There have been only tiny windows in my life when I’ve had no children to care for. I even took in my first grandchild while my daughter worked, and I was still raising two children at home, and working 40 plus hours a week evenings at my real job.
But at the time I was unpublished, I was determined not to work at that job for the rest of my life. I became determined to make enough money writing to support my family. I wrote every available minute. When I was writing my (first published) book Rain Shadow, I was working crazy hours. Whenever I wasn’t at work, I was in front of my computer. My children took turns fixing supper, and they quickly learned to leave me alone while I was working. My husband, who’d never turned on the washer in his life, learned to do laundry. I wasn’t always happy with the results, but he did it and I appreciated it. For nearly a year, I barely attended any family gatherings.
My family was a big help, but I know plenty of single moms who have set priorities and placed writing near the top, too. It can be done. We have good examples and bad examples all around us, and we should learn from them. We’ve all learned that successful people set goals, write them down, refer to them regularly, and re-evaluate when necessary. Writers need attainable short-term and long-term goals. Write long terms goals on separate sheets of paper and list underneath each, the steps it will take to reach it. Then take those steps.
Looking at my goals to quit my job and make enough money to support my family, I considered the steps it would take to get there. Obviously, I would have to sell books. And to do that I would have to write them. And to do that I would have to give up a lot of other things. A lot. So I missed my friends, but my writer associates became my friends and still are. I missed having a clean house, but most of my friends who now come over are other writers, and they’re all in the same boat. The sacrifices paid off in the long run.
You can tell how serious a writer is by how selfish they become with their time. Let me put it bluntly: If you still have a life, you’re probably not a serious writer—you have a hobby that may or
may not pay off.
There was a time between all those early rejections and that first sale that I felt pretty low. I clearly remember the overwhelming frustration. I remember saying to my husband, but more to myself: “Why can’t I be satisfied to do nice little needlepoint crafts like all the *normal* women I know?” This was a burning question in my heart. Why didn’t the same things that made every other woman in the country content, make me content? I wondered over and over again if I was doing the right thing. Was this what I should be devoting all my time and energy to when I had no guarantee of a payoff?
There were times when I didn’t feel as though I fit in anywhere anymore. At a gathering someone would ask me what I’d been doing or how the writing was going, and when I started to tell them their eyes glazed over. Next thing I knew, they'd changed the subject back to their dog or kids. I felt like I could hardly talk to people anymore.
We can’t stop ourselves from sharing the most exciting thing happening in our life . . . but later, the admission comes back to haunt us: “Sold that book yet?” “When can I buy that book of yours?” “Got an interview on Letterman yet?” And then you wish you’d never told anyone.
At same time that thoughts of throwing in the towel crept into my head, I knew in my heart I would never be happy with myself if I didn’t give this thing every last ounce of energy I had. I couldn’t quit. And what if I had? What if I’d given up after the first seven rejections? Those were only rejections for ONE BOOK. I’d been rejected regularly on other projects for years before that. But what if I’d given up? What if I’d decided I didn’t have the stamina it took to absorb all that rejection and still feel like a writer? What if I hadn’t been willing to listen to the advice of writers and editors more experienced than I?
Well, then I’d never have known that all that rejection was only the beginning, that from there on, I’d be ranked and graded and critiqued by reviewers and contest judges and readers. That editors would still find fault with my work, and I could either improve it or be far less likely to sell the next time. When
I turned in my first contemporary, my editor told me she cried at all the right parts. She also told me she hated the ending. The whole last chapter.
I asked what she’d like to see happen, rewrote it and faxed it to her the same day. See, way back then, realizing that words are only words, that they’re not pure genius engraved in stone, and that my head is full of billions more words, was a well-learned lesson. You just have to keep trying. And you’ve got to be positive.
Surround yourself with positive people. You know how good it feels being with someone who’s really up and positive? You can feel good being the positive one, too. I use visual affirmations in the form of book covers, photographs, best seller lists, etc.. Combine your self-talk with your faith. Take workshops on goal-setting or how to handle rejection.
Consciously listen to yourself and the thoughts that come out of your mouth. “I’ll never learn all this.” “I don’t have what it takes to juggle a job, kids, a house, a husband, and write, too.” “I’m too tired to get up early and write five pages.” “I’ll never sell this because I met that editor and she didn’t like me.” “I’m brain dead today.” Those are self-defeating attitudes and words.
Oh, I did my share of whining and crying and feeling sorry for myself. But once I really heard myself, I changed that for good. When I was working those horrible early morning hours and getting the kids off to school and handling all that life as a
mom entails, I can remember dragging out of bed first thing in the morning. It was still dark, and I’d barely slept enough hours to combat exhaustion. My feet still hurt from being on them all day the day before, and as they’d touch the floor, the first words that came to mind were, “This job is killing me.”
Once I really heard my own thinking, and realized what that negativity was doing to me, I was able to change it. The situation didn’t change overnight. But instead of thinking “This job is killing me” when I got out of bed, I would say OUT LOUD, “This day gets me one day closer to my goal. I can do it. I can make the best of it. I’m not going to be doing this much longer.”
I changed my confession, and with it I changed my thinking. Each time I sit down to my computer, I read something inspirational to get started. And I tell myself, “I’m writing a RITA winner.” Do I feel silly saying things like that out loud? Not at all. Too many of them have come to pass.
Do I still have doubts? Every time I get a particularly ugly line edit. Every time I get to the middle of my current book. Every time I stretch my writing a step further. Every time I have a proposal rejected. But every accomplishment is a confidence builder.
Deal with feelings. Take thoughts and emotions under control. I heard somewhere that if a computer were built to have the capacity of the human mind itwould take the space of the Empire State Building to house it. And yet we use only 10% of our brains. We live in a society that believes we’re all victims; nobody’s responsible for their actions or feelings or thoughts. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m responsible for me. I may not be able to change my past or other people, but I can change how I feel and how I react to situations. You can too.
There is no one rule or schedule that works for every mom. Unfortunately you have to figure out this stuff by trial and error. But I hope it’s reassuring to know there are other women who understand what you’re dealing with as a busy wife, mother, writer--and maybe even breadwinner. Many of us have been there and survived. You will too.
What positive thing can you say about yourself and your writing dream right now?
Cheryl St.John’s fortieth book: The Wedding Journey, April Love Inspired Historical.