Today I am exhausted. Last night my agent called me and we talked through the issues with a new manuscript. Big issues. Big, fixable issues, but fixes that will take (a lot of) time and energy and determination. I hung up the phone at 10.30 at night – we are not in the same country or timezone – and went to bed with thoughts and worries firing off like misdirected arrows. ‘Don’t think too much about it.’ Matt advised. So I didn’t and went straight to sleep (OF COURSE I DIDN’T).
This morning I have other things to tackle. Specifically – another manuscript. One with a deadline and a structural edit report many pages long. One of the to-do’s is re-writing a chapter and when I look to outsource that particularly gnarly job there is no-one else to do it for me. There is never anyone else to do it for me. There is just me and my deadline and eyes that feel like they’ve been rubbed with sand. Insert Expletive. I am so tired. I am so tired just thinking about it all. I want to go to bed. I start working on a tiny piece of the manuscript, trying to fool my brain into thinking we don’t have to think about The Big Picture, that we can just work one tiny little sliver at a time. I work so slowly it’s painful. It feels like dental surgery.
On days like these I want to go to work in an office. Or rake leaves in a park. Or become a security guard in an art gallery. I want to seek out the easiest, dullest job on the planet and do that. I want to do something that requires zero skills, talent or effort. I want to go to the movies. Mainly, I want to run away. I do not want this great job that I love, that feels so precious. I do not want to work hard. I do not want to strive and succeed. I want to give up. I want to not try.
Of course, this was not in my plan. When I sought out the work that would make me whole and complete and happy, I thought it would do just that. You know, All The Time. I believed that when I found the right work I would be happy and fulfilled and, I don’t know, somehow rested, like lying on a tropical beach with a Mojito in hand. I would be sorted. I would be content. It would be easy.
As it turns out, the work I love to do, the work I am supposed to do, only feels easy very, very rarely. Almost as rarely, disappointingly, as the work I don’t love to do. What is that about??! My work doesn’t feel at all like lying on a tropical beach with a mojito. It isn’t easy. And that rubbish about “find the work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?”. Um, yeah, no. Writing feels like work to me. And right now – hard, physical work like shifting bricks one by one. In the rain. With someone yelling at me.
But, I am having a bad day. This work isn’t always so miserable. On good days writing is hard but rewarding like a good, effortful run through tree-lined streets. I might ache, I might get tired, but it feels good. It feels right. On good days I am productive and satisfied, pausing every now and again to feel a pinch of pity for my past self, who had to dress up and go to an office, had to sit, bored, in board rooms or fire people.
I am grateful for this work. More grateful than I can properly express, and truly relieved and excited when I get a book deal. It does feel like a prize to get to do this job, keep doing this job, when I regularly feel so inadequate and novice and unworthy. I am usually very happy to get up and out of bed on a Monday and often bummed when Wednesday, my final work day, draws to a close. I feel an electric buzz of pride when author copies of my book arrive in the post, am thrilled to have my name on something so tangible and so full of my hopes, tears and efforts. This work, this not-easy, sometimes-very-hard, work, I would like to keep doing for the rest of my life. Like a deranged masochist.
So perhaps what I am trying to say, if you happen to be looking for a dream job, or have one in the palm of your hand, and hope it will feel dreamy and wonderful every day, is that I am obliged to report this will not be the case. Apparently it’s the same case for a number of things – love, family, marriage, parenting, wealth, travel….having All The Things. As the great and wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert says “…every single pursuit—no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem—comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects. (But) if you love and want something enough—whatever it is—then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.”
True that, Liz.