There Are Things I’m Supposed To Be Doing Right Now, Aren’t There?

Life can often feel like a series of things you’re supposed to be doing: Go to college. Get a corporate job. Buy pumps and blazers. Work your way up the corporate ladder. Earn regular-yet-adequately-spaced-out promotions and raises. Get married and have babies. Eventually conquer the corporate world. Die.

Even when you step off that path and do something idiotic like become a freelance writer, there are things that are…well…expected of you. Mostly, they involve building the giant Jenga tower that is your platform, eventually becoming so cool that publishers pay you to write books on the regular, and then—I don’t know—ascending to a higher plane of coolness that involves a lot of literary readings and a-line dresses?

I don’t know how cool I am, but someone is paying me to write a book. Just one. Which is exciting. And even though I spent about seven years feeling unable to look beyond this particular book, I am now contemplating two other books. Which is also exciting.

Still, I sometimes feel as if it doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not I write another book. Sometimes, I feel as if I could be happy just writing short-form essays and articles, chatting up brilliant people, learning interesting things, allowing the majority of my income to come from a stable editing job.

Sometimes, I wonder if this means I lack ambition.

But the other weekend, when I was at HippoCamp (my favorite writing conference), I heard Dinty W. Moore say something that was reassuring. As we all sat there in that conference hall, hugging our five coats around us, clutching our smartphones and notebooks, maybe doing yoga stretches to ease our backs that were aching from three long days of learning, Moore told us that writers have to give themselves permission to not write a book. “Be proud of what you do,” he said, “and make that your primary goal.”


The ramifications of this are huge. I’m just going to make the logical leap here and say that what this means is that all bets are off, and that every time I thought I was Doing It Wrong, I was actually Totally Okay.

So that time I didn’t network with other writers during breakfast at HippoCamp and instead hid in a corner and read a book so I could recover from the onslaught of human contact that is every conference?

Totally Okay.

That time the very next weekend when I only went to the Brooklyn Book Festival for part of one day and legit ninja-dodged a person I knew because I was too tired to still be socializing?

Totally Okay.

(Plus I grabbed lunch with my Writing Life Partner™, which is all that really matters because she lives in Iowa and I never get to see her.)

That time (just last week) when a piece of mine went up on the Rumpus that was totally off-niche and I was proud of it anyway?


Totally. Okay.

Not to say that I’m going to purposefully knock over my carefully-constructed Jenga tower author platform and walk away. As Austin Gilkeson so perfectly conveyed in his essay “Congratulations on Publishing Your First Baby“— “The last thing we wanted, after minutes of sex and months of pregnancy, was for people to say our baby sucked.”

(In this instance, my baby is not just my book, but also my entire writing career.)

So I’m going to continue going to conferences like HippoCamp, where I meet fellow writers and learn new things and get fired up. I’m going to continue going to conferences like the forthcoming National Sex Ed Conference, so I can continue to kick ass in my niche. I’m going to continue attending literary events and teaching writing classes and pitching new stories and submitting stuff to my critique group and tweeting the shit out of life. I’m just not going to give myself an ulcer over all of it.

Because that stuff? It’s still part of building a life I can be proud of.

(image by riNux, via Flickr)

P.S. For those of you who haven’t wandered about the rest of my website lately, I have new photos up on both my About page and my A Dirty Word page. These are just some of the photos the talented Erika Kapin took of me. I highly recommend her services if you’re looking for a photographer.