My biggest ambition for 2018 is to write. More specifically, it’s to finish the novel I’m writing. And by finish we really mean finish the start, start the middle and finish the end. Then it’s going in a virtual reality drawer for several months before I even start to think about editing it. I know roughly where I’m going with it, even if over the course of December the prologue got itself tangled up in knots, and it’s a story I’m enjoying, a daydream I’m writing down, 500 words at a time. On week days I write for as long as I can in the morning before the children wake up or it’s time to go to work, and then I write in the evening for as long as it takes for the word count to tick over. And then I stop.
It isn’t the traditional picture of someone following their dreams is it? If you read any newspaper article on keeping your New Year’s resolutions, or pick up the vast majority of personal development books they all seem to subscribe to one model, one construct of a success. Scrolling through Pinterest the other day I saw a quote that summed it up:
“Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week to avoid a 40 hour work week!”
Conventional wisdom would tell you that if you are really serious, if you have the drive and the passion and the tenacity that will see you reach your goals, climb your mountain and push past every obstacle, then you’ll throw everything you have at it. You will not stop, you will not rest, you will not let go until the prize is within your grasp. You will sacrifice everything possible to follow your dreams and to live your best life. And if you say “but I can’t” then you’re obviously letting the fear of failure block your path, not opening up yourself to the life you could be having.
I know there is truth in there, and I know that for some people the only way to get to where they want to be is to take an enormous crash-or-burn leap, but when you look at it all written down in little black and white letters it strikes me that it’s actually a very linear approach and, dare I say it, an inherently masculine approach; “me see big stag! me take!”.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is absolutely a time and a place for selfishness and singular focus, particularly as it pertains to your life’s best work, but I don’t think it’s the only way; just the one that gets the most noise.
If I were writing a book with that level of wholehearted breathtaking whirlwind intensity, I should be writing every moment I get; I should write before dawn, head out to do the day job and write on the train, write at lunchtime and on the way home, and then I should write on into the wee small hours of the morning before it all starts again. Better yet, I should give up the day job and ‘take a chance’ on myself to be discovered as the next JK Rowling.
Believe me there are times when holing myself up in a hermitage to simply create sounds incredibly tempting, but I’m a 37-year old working mother of three, and that’s just not an option for me. I can’t throw in the day job, because we have bills to pay. I can’t spend my every waking moment writing because I want my children to remember me as more than a big pile of paper. I can’t entirely neglect my husband and expect my marriage to thrive.
And yet my biggest fear is that this tiptoeing towards a goal in tiny increments, somehow means that I’m lazy, or that I don’t want this or any other goal ‘enough’, or that I’m not as driven as I think I am. My head whispers it to me in the middle of the afternoon when all of my get up and go has got up and gone, an invidious thought, curling softly through my thoughts like smoke from a blown candle.
But my life is not made up of one single thread that runs through me that says “Writer” down the middle like a stick of rock. My life has so many threads I lose count, all tangled tightly together so that to pull on one snarls up the rest.
I am a Writer, and a Writer with goals and dreams and ambition and drive, and I am also a lawyer who wants to advance in her career as far as possible and help to shift a few preconceptions about working mothers along the way. I am a Wife, a Mother, a Daughter, a Sister, and Aunt and a Niece, a Knitter, a Crocheter, a Quilter, a Reader, a Singer and a follower of Jesus, and every one of those is precious to me.
I know that I will finish this novel. I know that I will write more short stories, and I have faith in myself that one day I will finish a novel that I think is good enough for proper publication. But I’m not prepared to miss out on my life in the meantime.
So I think there needs to be another model; one that doesn’t require sacrifices that are too high a price to pay, and one that doesn’t involve boiling back our lives to the bare minimum either. One that says that we can live our best lives now, and be chasing down our goals. One that recognises that I’m following my dreams; slowly.