I’ve been struggling for several months now with my late-in-life career change. Writing has stopped bringing me joy. Mostly that’s because I stopped writing when my parents’ dementias demanded a whole new level of caregiving. It’s hard to find joy in something you’re not doing.
But this has led me to some introspection. Do I even enjoy writing? The answer took a while to find, buried beneath layers of gunk and expectations. To quote a popular idea, does writing “spark joy” for me? Does what you do spark joy for you?
Does that even matter?
Considering joy in a career choice is something only people in first-world countries wrestle with. The majority of people around the globe do whatever work they can to provide for their basic needs. As a Westerner, I think I’m entitled to enjoy fulfilling work.
I believe that if I find something to do that fulfills me and that I’m good at, it will never feel like work. Writing guru Stephen King writes, “If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” I agree with that statement. Writing, along with any creative endeavor, springs up from an internal reservoir. If the reservoir is empty, so is your creativity. It’s hard to fake it.
But there’s another aspect of joy. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). That’s a different picture of joy than an organizing whiz who throws out everything in her home or wardrobe that doesn’t make her happy. From Jesus’ example, I learn the process doesn’t need to be fun; in fact, it may be agonizing. The end result can provide joy enough to keep going.
So, back to my question: Do I enjoy writing?
I remember my first ever writers’ conference. I hated the emphasis on finding out what the market wants and building social media platforms and search engine optimization, all for promotion and publicity that should lead to increased sales. (Picture me sticking my finger down my throat.) I’d paid for the conference so I was determined to stay, but I seriously was ready to hang up this crazy idea.
Then came my last seminar. It was led by someone who loved writing. She loved the beauty of words, loved telling a story, and it showed. I sat, I listened, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Years later, in my master’s degree class, I started writing One Degree of Freedom. I kept going with the story because I loved it. The words flew off the page. Chapters piled up. I enjoyed creating the characters; they became my friends. I felt invigorated when I wrote that novel. I thought, Writing fiction is fun!
Then came the release of the book last November, the worst possible time to launch a new book. In the middle of a global pandemic. On the heels of a contentious election. During the time both my parents were both diagnosed with dementia.
How was I to drum up the energy to try to get the word out and market and sell my book with all that going on? The short answer: I didn’t. I haven’t done one thing since my last book signing in April. The marketing hustle stole my joy and killed my creativity. I stink at it.
My question morphed from do I enjoy writing to should I give it up. Should I say enough is enough and retire from writing?
My edits came back for the sequel novel at the same time we were pursuing a long-term care home for my dad. I didn’t know how or if I should continue. I voiced this question to my awesome editor, Rylie Fine. She talked me off the proverbial ledge with these wise words:
“Put this book aside for a while. Give yourself some time to breathe. Focus on taking care of your parents and yourself. Pray through these concerns and ask God to guide you. We all go through tough seasons. Let yourself go through this one without putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.”
I followed her advice. I stopped writing. Stopped hustling. I breathed.
A few weeks after we put Dad safely in his new home, I started s l o w l y coming back to life again. I don’t have my questions fully answered yet, but this much I know: My main calling right now is Caregiver, not Writer. I do the rest of what I do around the edges of that.
For me, following God in my current season of life is mostly drudgery. I’ve been blessed with years of exciting seasons and at times, a large life. This is not one of those seasons. Now I have a small life.
But in this small life, around the edges of caregiving, I find moments of light. Moments where I see God clearly and feel His presence and know He’s at work. As I’ve started, bit by bit, to revise the sequel novel, I’ve remembered.
I do love writing for writing’s sake. Whether anyone reads it or not. I’m not quitting. Not yet. But I’m taking it slow.