As I sit here and contemplate my goals as a writer (something I do on a near daily basis), I come back to this thought: I could not have done it without your support. I’ve thought about pursuing traditional publication but every time it feels like the wrong path for me, one where I have to be far more prolific than I am, and perhaps compromise my ideals. I sometimes fret that maybe I’ll only write a handful of books because it takes me so long, but then I remember that I enjoy the whole process, and I’m not under any pressure to produce other than by the deadlines I set. I may not ever be known or remembered outside a limited sphere but but is that really the important bit?
I’ve spoken with enough writers who entered this even later in life than I have, ones that worked their entire careers only to retire and then approach it full force. I’ve spoken with writers than were fortunate enough to author dozens of books — but you probably don’t know who they are… writers that have written and taught for decades but still only self-publish.
The truth is, there isn’t just one end goal for writing and/or illustrating. It’s kind of amazing how easy it is to forget that. The pressure to be one of those writers who manages to do it for a living is omnipresent and insidious, and while there are definitely many who achieve that, it’s not the only way.
I constantly have to remind myself that it’s enough to simply write, draw and do it at my own pace. I’ve had to make many adjustments to my time in order to achieve that. I constantly have to remind myself to stop minimizing what I have accomplished; it’s frightening easy to forget that as well. Could I be more prolific? Maybe. Would that make me happier? I don’t necessarily think so. Like many things it’s not so simple. Merely having more books under my belt isn’t what I’m after. More likes, more followers… I get it and yet I don’t get it.
I’ll tell you what makes me keep going: Not the money, or widespread notoriety. All that would be grand, I suppose — easy to dismiss it when I don’t have it — but I’ve been just trying to get back to loving the process. I played piano for almost 20 years, and then suddenly realized I don’t want to perform. But that didn’t take away my desire to want to play like the six-year old that sat and got lost in the joy of figuring out music I heard or making up music of my own. The idea of making it a career of any destroyed that joy. I don’t regret any of those years of study and competition , however, because they made me the player that I am.
The good news is that I’ve sat down at the piano in recent months and felt a calmness that I vaguely remember. The fact that perhaps I could have made more out of it no longer really bothers me. I’m happy to sit and learn Beethoven Sonatas for no one but myself, playing them at whatever tempo makes music. I’ll play old corny jazz standards like Autumn leaves alone or with any group of players who just want to jam. There is no pressure to compete, or perform, or play at the tempo that the one playing in the next room is playing (which was, of course, really fast) The irony is, when that anxiety is gone, I find I can actually play better and faster than I think. It’s all that mental distraction that has gotten in my way, and I’ve begun to reclaim my serenity.
In this path of writing and illustrating, the temptation to turn it into a career or side hustle is palpable. I keep coming back to the thought that I don’t want any of that, I don’t want it to take away my joy again. I want to sit at the keyboard, or have my pen in hand and just enjoy what I’m doing, and really be internally proud of what I make — not seek out the mostly empty likes and follows.
In the end, when I’m don here on this earth, none of that is going to matter to me. What will matter is whether or not I laid down my pen or stopped playing the piano, or never wrote that book simply because I couldn’t deal with the external pressures. Whether I end up writing 2 books or 100, I’ll be happy that I simply did them all, not whether I sold a million copies.
Are those two things mutually exclusive? of course not. But I don’t pretend that the latter comes easy. And maybe it is as simple as I’m not willing to make the sacrifices or compromises necessary to achieve those kinds of goals. But what does happen as a result is that I enjoy what I’m doing, don’t have to worry about outside opinions too much, and produce something I’m truly proud of.
It is never lost on me that I couldn’t have done that without everyone who believed in what I was making.