I remember reading an interview with Jane Pauley, former host of The Today Show, several years ago in which she said that she realized quite early in her career that in terms of a family, a career, and a social life, she could do only two of those things really well. She chose family and career, and she happily bowed out of the busy New York social scene. In a different interview for TIME she said that cooking wasn’t a high priority for her family, and she rarely watched television for pleasure. The point is that she made choices based on what was important to her. Others might choose a career and social life, foregoing a family, or they might focus on family and social life while their children are at home, then pursue an active, intense career.
And there might be some people who can do all three well, with energy to spare, but I’m not one of them.
What is my writing worth to me? What am I willing to trade?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately. At first I phrased the second question as What am I willing to sacrifice? However, sacrifice isn’t quite the right word. It’s not as though I want to feel I am suffering, or that I am killing a goat so as to enter the kingdom of novelist’s heaven.
The idea of trading works better, at least for me. We have only so much time, so much energy, so many roads we can explore in one lifetime. Yet, especially for people who are more generalist than specialist (and I assume this is true for most writers), today’s world offers so many opportunities and sources of information that, the more we do, the more aware we are than ever of what we are missing out on. And when we are missing out on something that is important to us, we need to trade something else for it.
What are you willing to trade for your writing time and energy?
- Made-from-scratch meals?
- Clothes that need to be ironed?
- Unlimited texting?
- An unfulfilling hobby?
How many extra minutes can we trade for more writing time? And what do we trade for those minutes?
Sometimes we trade money. While it is true that writing is a fairly inexpensive vocation, if you are working in insufficient light or on a laptop with a dead battery, buying yourself a good lamp or a new, affordable laptop might help you to feel more professional and be more efficient.
Most of all, though, I think we trade choices. I am reminded of one of my favorite TED talks, “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz, in which he argues that, sometimes, giving ourselves fewer choices–putting ourselves in a kind of fishbowl–makes us happier:
I am beginning to understand that my most valuable trading is done not with activities or events or money, but with my own thoughts and the choices I make every day in my mind.
- When I trade fuming over some perceived or real slight or an old grievance, I gain valuable mental space and emotional energy to channel into my writing.
- When I trade worry over future events that may or may not happen, I gain “now focus” to give to the page in front of me.
- When I trade regret for past mistakes or lost time, I gain courage and hope for today and tomorrow.
- When I trade wishing I could control the actions or words of others, I gain control over my own decisions and words.
- When I trade obsessing over what others may or may not think about my writing, I gain confidence in my work.
What is your writing worth to you? What are you willing to trade?