It’s this time of the year again – well, in Canada. In my family, we celebrate it much like our southern neighbours with a family reunion and a hearty supper composed of traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
I also take this time to reflect on the past year and the good things that happened.
This year, I have much to be thankful for. I have come a long way in my quest for happiness, which I could also call coming to peace with who I am, or even finding who I am.
In February, I gave up writing. My job and my husband’s work schedule making me feel like a single mother were draining me. Also, after 14 years of trying to write a novel and never being able to cross the threshold of the first 30,000 words of any of my novels, I had lost my confidence. I thought something in my personality was inherently working against me in my writing endeavors. If that sounds depressing, well it might be because I had stopped taking my antidepressants not long before that.
Ironically, I lost my job on March 1st. I say ironically, but being a bit of a believer in signs, it felt like life’s way of telling me I had gone astray and needed a push to go back on the right path. The job loss was ok. I had employment insurance benefits and desperately needed a break. We had moved in our house the preceding summer and it had been a mess ever since. So with all my new free time, I first did a lot of cleaning in the house and I planted flowers and vegetables in my backyard. I admit, though, that I also indulged in Netflix binge-watching.
Then I reflected on what I was going to do with my life. I am a translator and there aren’t as many teleworking opportunities as you might think. I could have tried to go back to freelance, but I desperately lack the marketing skills.
I wandered. I wanted to focus on my career, to find my calling. I have a bachelor’s degree in translation, but I have a love-hate relationship with that career. The salary is decent, but the job opportunities in the closest city are rare, and working from home makes me lonely after a while. And I’m not even talking about the 60-hour work weeks in February and March.
I studied different things. I even registered for university classes thinking I might like to become a speech therapist. I also fantasized about running away and start over with a blank slate. During all that time I wanted to write, and I thought about writing, and I played my stories in my head, but I felt it was a waste of time. It wasn’t taking me any closer to a good career. Writers who can make a living of writing are superhumans, or so I’ve been led to believe.
I had already given up on writing, and it had been so hard and soul-crushing that retracing my steps sounded like a bad thing to do. But had I really completely given up? Why did it make me feel so bitter? Why did I suddenly, for the first time since I healed from depression, feel like I had no purpose in life? I was such a bad mother. Such a bad wife. It’d be better if I just disappeared.
But I wasn’t clinically depressed then so “disappearing” didn’t mean death; it meant running away. I could move to another country, get a stress-free job and live alone. Living alone, I’d have all the time in the world to… write. I wanted to write. I needed to write. It’s encoded in my DNA: I’m a writer.
I realized that for me, writing was its own reward. It didn’t have to be a potential job, jobs aren’t fun anyway. It’s already my favourite hobby and my most effective form of therapy. I think that’s enough for a single activity.
It was an awakening. If I didn’t aim at publishing, my books didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t have to have “performance anxiety”. I could just write for the sake of it. I dusted my favourite work in progress (I’ll code name it Daffodil because the idea for this book sparked while I was playing with daffodils with my niece) and started to address its structural deficiencies. Suddenly, it hit me. I don’t know how that could have escaped my grasp for so long: structure was my definite weakness.
I knew the basics, but that was it. So I googled how-to books on structure and purchased Story Engineering and Save the Cat! If like me you think Story Engineering‘s cover is plain-borderline-ugly, know that it represents well the writing it contains, BUT the content was helpful for me. I haven’t read Save the Cat! yet, but I vetted it heavily. I’m sure it will be helpful too. I also stumbled upon Jami Gold’s useful beat sheets.
Using that new knowledge, I started to try organizing Daffodil. After a few days of hard work and little to show for it, it struck that starting to use my new and untried novel-organization skills on a series of 5 books wasn’t exactly the best educational approach (and I won’t even mention all the other reasons making this project my most complicated so far). I filed Daffodil again and dusted another project: let’s code name it Guilty Pleasure for obvious reasons.
Guilty Pleasure is a standalone romance written in English. Standalone means easier to organize and less complicated plot. Romance means no complicated world building or journey and also out of my “main” genre, which is fantasy. Written in English means I can’t stress on the prose too much because I don’t master English nearly as well as I do French. Finally, the plot is so very cliché that I just can’t hope it is eventually going to become a masterpiece.
During online research, I also found the Twitter Monthly Challenges: write 500 words a day every day. It seemed doable, so I signed up for Twitter to join the challenges. I received a warm welcome from the participants and I started interacting with many of them on Twitter. It’s motivating to see everybody’s word count. It reminds me of those days when I worked in an office and how the sound of other translators typing on their keyboard kept me motivated.
All of these life events, lessons learned and tools combined made me much closer to reaching my goal of finishing a first draft at last. So I’m thankful for all of them – layoff included even though it is rather inconvenient in itself.
Of course I’m also thankful for having a healthy daughter, a loving husband and a comfortable home, but I don’t have to take one day towards the end of the year to be thankful for that; that’s more of a daily activity.
Alright now, enough talking about my life! Next week I will share my thoughts on the skills necessary to write good fiction.
Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
– Oprah Winfrey