One of my most popular posts in 2012 was titled “I’m Not an Aspiring Novelist.” To recap, a regular reader of this blog asked my advice about keeping up an engaging site while working on a novel. She wondered if the blog got in the way of the fiction, how there was time for both (especially since I have four kids), and how I managed to flip back and forth between the two types of writing while keeping up with the social media element of the blogging community.
Once I was able to say aloud that I wasn’t actually a wizard of balancing, that I was, frankly, not working on a novel anymore, I was able to take the words “aspiring novelist” off my mental bio line. I eliminated the words from my blog, too. My new goal for the rest of 2012 was to keep my blog growing steadily and to continue getting my work into new venues.
Changing my career goal mindset was incredibly liberating and rewarding in exactly the ways Gretchen Rubin describes in The Happiness Project when she encourages letting go of certain hobbies and aspirations to make room for what you really enjoy. A few months after I changed my mindset from “aspiring novelist” to “blogger,” I had an essay accepted at Kveller.com, a well-respected parenting site with a Jewish twist that fits my writing style and interests perfectly. Then I was invited to write a monthly Twitter advice column for WriterUnboxed.com. Next I was asked to help lead a new book review site GreatNewBooks.org, and weeks later I had an essay included in an anthology called Living Jewishly. It seemed that after a year and a half of randomly blogging about what interests me most these days (parenting, Judaism, reading, and Twitter), I had earned the opportunity to write about each of those topics for a wider audience.
My husband often uses the expression “this is what it looks like” every time I report a new writing or blogging milestone. It’s not that each step has come easily. It hasn’t. Just ask Bryan what I was like during the year I was trying to get a literary agent with one of the books. But each positive step has felt like a natural outcome of the efforts and passion I have put forth. The novel-writing was certainly a goal I took seriously, but the roadblocks were endless. What Bryan means when he says “this is what it looks like” is “this is what it looks like when you’re on the right path.”
I’m hoping to keep moving forward on the right path. For 2013, I would like to continue finding new outlets for my work. I’ve started thinking of myself as a freelance writer, adding the words “freelance writer” to my social media bios as an extra push in the right direction. At first I felt a little silly doing so, but when I look at the “Published Writing” tab in my blog’s menu, I see that I’ve amassed a respectable collection of writing credits. My hope is that adding the words freelance writer to my mental (and literal) bio will have the same effect as eliminating the words aspiring novelist. It’s less about making an announcement to the world and more about keeping myself honest and aware of my personal intentions.
I know that letting go of an image you had for yourself or one you think others have for you can feel insurmountable. I experienced this during my senior year in college. For most of college I was on a pre-law track. I spent a summer in Washington DC interning at the Equal Employment Opportunity Center with that goal in mind, as well as a semester in Santiago researching women’s roles in the (then) new democratic government of Chile. Then I came back from Chile for my senior year of college fifteen pounds heavier and depressed. I dreaded writing the senior thesis that I’d spent a semester researching. I was dreading studying for the LSAT. I hated the political science and higher-level Spanish classes I had to complete for my majors, and the only class I loved was a memoir writing class that I’d chosen on a whim. It would be years before I would call myself a writer, but deciding not to go to law school was definitely a major step that led me on the right path.
I don’t really believe that there are “wrong” paths since each step in the wrong direction could be the thing that leads you in the right one eventually. I do think, however, that we can spend too much time worrying about we’re supposed to do because we once said we wanted to or because it’s what we think others want for us. We can spend too much time trying to bang down locked doors when the unlocked door might be two steps to the left if we’re only willing to try something else.
I would love to hear about a goal you have in mind for 2013. Is it possible that letting go of a previous goal could be the key to your success?