When I read (well, listened through Audible) to Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote one quotation stuck out to me more than any other. “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work,” so said Chuck Close from Inside the Painter’s Studio. I shared this quotation with a good friend of mine while I was giving her a ride to work and in her typical fashion she neatly flipped it into
“Losers have no discipline.”
As someone who does not like to classify themselves as a “loser,” I realized early on in this process that there’s more to writing than just saying I was going to do it. Sure, I had already resigned from my tenured job as an associate professor because I wanted to be a writer (amongst other reasons), but I was still in what I consider the “contemplation” stage. I know the transtheoretical states of change model (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance) are more related to health behaviors than habits, in general, but I think there’s something to it, especially for my transition into a writer’s life.
If we start with the first stage of the model, the precontemplation phase, this is when I was still buying into the notion that salary, benefits, and accumulation of goods was how I should be living my life. It felt safe and secure, and so I continued ignoring my ever-growing list of professional and personal dissatisfactions.
It wasn’t until I was getting ready for my sabbatical that I considered a different way of life. I was moving to NC from IL and I had to decide what to do with all my stuff. I had a rental house full of furniture, media, and knickknacks and other than a few nice things, most of my belongings had been with me since my school days.
I decided to get rid of it all, look for a furnished apartment in Chapel Hill, and then invest in high quality home goods once I returned from my sabbatical. But once I started selling, donating, and giving away my belongings, I couldn’t stop. It felt so freeing! Things I thought I could never part with (like favorite books and clothes), I now gave away with complete joy and abandon. It got to the point where one of my colleagues jokingly asked if I was dying, that’s how much of my belongings I gave away.
So while I was free and unencumbered of stuff on my sabbatical, I realized I could shed the dead weight of my professional life, too. More than anything else, what I had enjoyed with my career in recent years was writing. I began to meditate on what a life like that would be like and thus I fully entered the contemplation stage of the transtheoretical model.
Up first – where I would earn income from? As I’ve already written about, I knew full well that writing can be a challenging field professionally. But being a writer, especially of children’s books, was now my life’s goal, and I wasn’t going to let fear stand in my way.
Up next, where I would live? My heart has always belonged to Chapel Hill and I feel very much at home there. But then I woke in the middle of the night and it came to me – I could be a professional house/pet sitter in the meantime. I thought this would be perfect, considering I love animals, and I had already dabbled in this with family and friends. As an added bonus – I wouldn’t have to buy any stuff again. EVER!
So I had a plan for my basic necessities to be covered and without having rent or utilities to pay, earning a substantial amount of money would no longer be a necessity. Now I was ready to prepare to be a writer. I continued NOT buying anything I would have to tote around with (some clothes being the rare exception), resigned from my job, bought a new computer, gathered up all my notebooks, and started writing (a little bit). I didn’t write every day, even though many days I could see stories in my mind. I had a hard time prioritizing it, especially when my narcolepsy wasn’t as under control as I would like.
I dabbled in writing challenges and prompts, miserably failing at NANOWRIMO in November, but occasionally I would be able to crank out a short story or children’s story. I had completely stopped working on my YA novel for reasons I couldn’t explain. I got sidetracked by meeting my husband (coincidentally enough, we met after I attend a writers’ group in Naperville) and eloping in Nashville. But then it hit me, one day in the spring when I was thinking about writing, I realized
I WAS BEING A LOSER AT WRITING!
And I didn’t want to be a loser (even though I had already come to terms that “failure” would be okay). I wanted to win!
I immediately started a writing practice – a minimum of 500 words every day. I favorited a list of writing blogs and online resources to pursue on a regular basis. I listened to the Great Courses How to Publish a Book. I brought a notebook with me everywhere to jot down story ideas. I started submitting stories to contests, publishes, and agents. At first, it was scary and hard, especially the unknown processes of finding publishers and agents, but once I got into the swing of things, I found it energizing and exciting. I was now full swing in the action stage of the theoretical model. So all that’s left is for me to maintain, now. And I think I will because as I told my friend that day in her car, “I DON’T WANT TO BE A LOSER!” It just took me a little bit longer to get there.