It's not everyday that I get to have a brilliant, eloquent, creative writer sit down in my office, and then write about her experience, but check out this guest post from the amazing Jackie!
Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash
Let me set the scene. It’s May 2018, early morning. I’m doing what I do every day after I drop off the twins at school. I’m sitting in my car, writing. I have four hours before I have to pick them up again.
This is my writing time.
At the moment, I’m trying to finish up a manuscript so I can send it out to agents, get a contract, and begin my career as a novelist. There are few things I want more in life than to have a career as a writer.
The problem is, I’m stuck in an endless cycle of revisions. Thirteen to be exact. I’ve read and edited the manuscript twelve times in a span of two years, and I’m very close to going insane.
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash
I’m also very frustrated. And angry. I can’t believe I’m still working on the same manuscript that I started over two years ago. How can I have a career as a writer if I can’t finish my manuscript and send it out?
My writing time ends too soon. It always ends too soon. I’m annoyed that I have to stop my work and go pick up the kids. I often stay in a bad mood through the afternoon and into the evening. I don’t like acting like this — I mean, who likes feeling bad? — but it’s like I have a dark cloud hanging over me that I can’t seem to shake. This cloud has many names. Failure. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. And it follows me everywhere I go.
I’m not the most pleasant person to be around when this is happening. My interactions with my kids and my husband suffer. I’m present with them, but not really. My thoughts are elsewhere, on what I haven’t finished, on what I have yet to become.
I don’t like the way I’m acting. Or the way I’m feeling.
But I don’t know how to stop feeling like a failure. I don’t know how to stop feeling frustrated. What have I accomplished these past two years? Just a heavily edited manuscript that only two people have seen (me and the editor). That’s it.
I need to do something, I realize. I don’t want this to be my life.
But what do I do? What kind of help do I need?
A psychologist? I don’t think so. I’ve been to therapists before, and I didn’t want to see a psychologist for this particular issue.
A writing coach? This is getting closer, but it isn’t quite right, either.
The protagonist in my manuscript is a life coach, I remember ironically. I start reading about life coaches to see if this is a good option for me. After doing a lot of research, I decide, yes, this is the direction I want to go in.
I find a free service online that connects people with life coaches. After filling out a short assessment form, the company emails me three life coaches that might be a good fit for me. I set up a phone interview with two of them, as well as a third that I find on my own.
I click with one of the life coaches. He gives me a complimentary first session, and everything is going great until we’re wrapping up the call and he gets too pushy for me to sign up with him. This turns me off, so I cross him off my list.
In the end, I don’t pick any of the life coaches. None of them feel like a good match for me.
I go back to revising the manuscript. But I tell myself this is absolutely the last round of edits. By this point, I’ve started waking up at 4:45a.m. on the weekends to work on the manuscript.
In August, I begin sending out query letters to agents. I research them meticulously first, then I personalize each query with a tidbit I learn about the agent.
The rejections start trickling in.
I tinker with the manuscript some more, edit the query letter again, send it out to more agents.
I get more rejections.
I do this through the end of summer, into the fall, past Halloween, past Thanksgiving, and into the Christmas holidays.
Not one agent asks for more pages.
To say that I’m devastated is putting it mildly.
I’ve spent three years working on this manuscript — seven days a week these last few months — and I have nothing to show for it.
Three years of my life, wasted.
Am I a better writer? Who knows.
But I have no agent. No contract.
I know rejection is part of this industry, almost a rite of passage, but come on. Not one request for additional pages? This is my second novel. I’ve been writing with the goal of publication since 2008. I thought by now I’d gotten good enough for an agent to request at least a partial.
I start to get depressed. Now, I’m not prone to depression. Anxiety, yes, but not this torrent of sadness and failure that completely consumes me.
I’m sad all the time.
I’m sad with my husband. I’m sad with my kids.
This is not me.
I’m a funny girl. A kind girl. I’m a nice person. And though there are glimpses of this version of me, the other version is much more present.
What can I do to get out of this? I ask myself because I’m a proactive person and I can’t wallow for long.
I start listening to motivational videos.
They help. A little.
One piece of advice that resonates with me is Tony Robbins’ suggestion that if my strategy isn’t working, then I need to try a different strategy.
So I force myself to start a new story. The problem is, no story ideas come to me. The harder I try to write, the more I can’t.
I grow more frustrated and sink deeper into my depression.
While browsing Barnes and Noble one day, I spot the book The Artist’s Way. I buy it and start reading it. I do the Morning Pages. I go on the Artist Dates. This also helps a little. But I’m still sad. I still feel like a failure. I’m no closer to having a career as a writer than I was two novels ago/ten years ago.
By January, I’m just going through the motions. I get up, get dressed, get my kids ready for school, make dinner. But my spark is gone. And so is my creativity.
Photo by Liset Verhaar on Unsplash
One Saturday morning, we take the kids to the park. Across from the park is the ocean. The water is a sparkling aqua. The sky is a gorgeous blue. The twins are laughing and playing in the playground, and I’m sitting on a bench next to my husband with sad tears in my eyes.
This is ridiculous, I think. I can’t go on like this.
When we get back to the car, I take out my phone and look for life coaches near me. I find one that’s less than thirty minutes from my house. In full disclosure, this life coach turned up in my search the year before when I first started looking for life coaches. I had even sent her an email back then. But I figured she couldn’t be that good if she lived so close to me, so I never followed up with her.
Yes, I realize now how irrational this sounds.
Her online calendar informs me that the first available appointment is on Friday, almost a week away. I want so badly to go today even though it’s Saturday, even though she’s closed. I’m not sure I can wait six days. But I have no choice.
I look at her rates, say screw it, and book the appointment right there in the parking lot.
I’ll be honest. My depression didn’t disappear when I hit confirm. But it did lift a little.
Now I had hope.
The days pass excruciatingly slow. I keep going through the motions because sometimes that’s all a person can do.
Finally — finally — Friday arrives.
I head north on the highway filled with a strange mix of excitement and trepidation. What am I getting into? Is this woman really going to help me?
I pull into her driveway, then walk through her lush garden to her door. She greets me warmly. She is dressed in flowy clothes and beaded jewelry. Her office is small but sufficient, stark white, and smells like lemons.
Photo by Nargis Cross
We dive right in. I tell her everything I’ve been going through. She listens. It’s a relief to finally be talking to someone, a professional, about what’s been happening.
Towards the end of our appointment, she tells me what I can expect from my sessions with her. She also tells me that if I want to move forward, I need to be sure I’m ready to go on this journey, really ready. I need to be sure that I’m ready and willing to do the work that will be necessary of me. I tell her yes, I’m so ready.
We wrap up the session with me saying I’ll get back to her on whether I’m going to sign up. I want to, but I need to check with my husband. Life coaching isn’t cheap and we only have one income. I don’t tell her that part, that’s just between you and me.
I leave her office and drive back home full of hope and possibility.
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
Three days later, I email her saying yes, I want to sign up.
Now, two weeks into May, I’m a couple of sessions shy of finishing a twelve-week program with her. During my appointments, there have been many difficult talks — the kind we usually avoid having (what’s my purpose, how do I untangle my worth from my outcomes) — many tears, and many insights.
I still have a lot of work left. I’m a work in progress, like we all are. But I’m learning to be gentler with myself. I’m learning to set goals with my heart, not only with my mind.
I can say, without a doubt, that working with a life coach has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
(Originally posted on Medium, May 9, 2019.)