Why I put my novel in a drawer.

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Writing fiction is my great passion. Or at least, one of them.

Long ago I gave up visual art so I could focus all my energy on being a novelist. In my mind it was necessary to choose. It was, I thought, the only way to master a craft and complete anything substantial.

Pick your one true passion and focus on it for life.

For almost two years now, I’ve been artistically monogamous with what will be my third book of fiction.

I’ve still been teaching, speaking, and running the school, of course. But before anything else could happen in my writing career, my next novel needed to get done.

I remember hearing about a strict fruitarian who ate monomeals at the office. One day, he’d eat a huge bowl of cherries for lunch. The next day, he’d eat a bunch of bananas. This man had focus.

But… at what cost?

Focus is a choice, and that choice has power. Commitment has magic in it! But sometimes, maybe, a singular focus costs too much.

I felt an aha when I heard this interview with leadership expert Gianpiero Petriglieri. His unconventional take on vision is well summarized in this quote from Harvard Business Review:

“Visions hold our imagination captive, but they rarely have a positive effect on our bodies. In fact, we often end up sacrificing our bodies in the pursuit of different kinds of visions, and celebrating that fact — whether it is by dying for our countries or working ourselves to exhaustion for our companies. Visions work the same way whether mystics or leaders have them: They promise a future and demand our life. In some cases, that sacrifice is worth it. In others, it is not. Just as it can ignite us, a vision can burn us out.”

I had to admit: this was happening with me and my novel.

I had created a dedicated routine to get it done, and the focus was good! But sometimes when I force myself to fixate on a goal like that, I can be punitive.

I was paying so much attention to my vision for completion, I wasn’t in alignment with what made me feel alive anymore. And isn’t that what passion is? Feeling alive?

I was so attached to my vision, it took me out of presence and wonder.

So I let it go for now. It’s not that I’m not capable of completing this vision. It’s that this vision needs me to live more life. It’s asking me to do whatever makes me feel passionate again.

I feel liberated. As I nurture multiple creative projects (writing nonfiction, foraging mugwort for dream tea, knitting a new sweater, and growing shishito peppers in my garden), I feel my passion returning.

I’ve been here before: I’m gathering new material. I know that the new adventures, stories, and conversations I’m having now will ultimately shape my vision in ways I could never think up without living through them.

I’ve given myself permission to spend my time in new ways. To make sure that I am fed, that the people I work with are taken care of, that no one — including myself — suffers because of my focus.

Passion for a vision is like passion in a relationship. It’s not something you grind through at all costs. Love needs care! Passion needs to be nurtured and tended like the fire that it is.

Ultimately, passion is felt in the present. Not in the idea of future accomplishment.

We don’t have to hold fast to our goals just because our culture says that’s the way powerful people achieve success and find meaning in life.

I have to remind myself sometimes: my power source is not my ego (it just thinks it is!).

The power source is the mystery.

To what makes you feel alive,

   


Photo credit: La Partida Eterna on Unsplash.


I’m a hummingbird! Unfocused? Way more alive.
What feels most alive in me.

5 comments

Mary N Taitt

Terrific!!! Kudos!
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Shannon Greene

Sarah, Thank you for this. I put my novel down a couple years ago when my daughter was a newborn. I didn't see a way to give creative life-force to two babies who needed opposite kinds of attention at the exclusion of one another. Now, my daughter is 2.5 years, and I have been at play/work on other ventures (an etsy shop and a podcast). The world and people in my novel whisper (sometimes stomp their feet) now and then to get me back in there. I know I will. It was the hardest thing, accepting that I didn't want to write anymore...not for a while at least. I fantasized about quitting. Because the reality was I had already burned out before the baby came. I related to what you said about being "punitive" to yourself. It's not the energy you really want to channel into your writing, or at least, it's not the energy I want. Thanks for the reassurance and your ALWAYS ALWAYS genuine commentary and insight into life as a writer.
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks, Mary!
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Sarah Selecky

Oh, Shannon - thank you so much for this. <3
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Cindy Bahl

Thank you for this advice. I, too, sometimes get tunnel vision and need to realize that it isn't always helpful. By the way, I appreciate that all of your blog posts are reasonably bite-sized. Too many people, these days, produce posts that are so long that my ADD brain just goes 'nope' and stops reading. Yours? It is obvious you are a fantastic writer in the quality of your writing and how you make every word count. You have no idea how much I and my ADD brain appreciate this. Thank you!
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