Finding the Joy Again

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past several months — about writing, my health, my outlook on life, the future, the world in general, etc. While these might seem like disparate topics, I realized that I can put them all under the heading of What Makes Me Happy. I made this realization while reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she chronicled her varied efforts to improve her everyday happiness. The book is a New York Times best-seller, and Rubin has a popular blog about the same topic.

I think I’ve come to this point where I’m examining what makes me happy because of a variety of reasons: my age (I just turned 47 this year); some bouts of anxiety which I’m addressing; world events and an unfortunate increase in negativity on what feels like all fronts; changes in the publishing industry, including the closing of my line at Harlequin next summer and a bout with burnout, that have me reexamining how I’ll make a living from my writing the the future; and a desire to make the most out of the rest of my life without putting panic attack-inducing stress on myself. I need and want balance, positivity, and fulfillment.

As I’ve been examining all these aspects of my life, I also realized that I wanted to share thoughts that I hope might also help and inspire others — be they readers, writers or both. I also realized I’ve been woefully neglecting this blog and the opportunity it affords me to share my thoughts and experiences in a form that won’t quickly disappear down someone’s social media feed. So I’m going to do my best to blog a few times a week about things that I hope you find helpful and hopeful.

First, I’d like to talk about a simple action I took last month and am continuing that is helping me find my creativity again. I think because tight deadlines had me writing the same type of book (even though they are all different in terms of plot and characters) for several books in a row, I started suffering burnout and lost any joy I once had in writing. Getting words down each day felt like a slog through thigh-high mud. It got to the point where I did something I never thought I would — renegotiated the delivery dates on the final two books on my current five-book contract. I hated asking for this because I pride myself on always meeting or often beating my deadlines, for being dependable, a go-to author for my publisher. But as soon as they agreed (bless them), the sense of relief was tremendous. Granted, that extension of my deadlines will leave the last book on this contract in an unsure position at the moment. I still have to write it and deliver it, but it’s original release date is past when the line is ending. But in my efforts to focus on the positive, I have to believe that the story will still make it to my readers in some fashion. There’s nothing I can do, so I have to let it go and not worry about it.

Okay, back to creativity. Fellow author Diana Peterfreund posted to a writer’s group I’m in about an idea-generating event she took part in called Storystorm, which began as Picture Book Idea Month by children’s author Tara Lazar several years ago and later underwent a name change. Once Diana explained it, we did a modified version in this group. The idea is very simple and yet very effective. You write down an idea for a story (novel, novella, short story, a catchy title, an interesting character name, etc.) for each day in a month. Some days you might not think of anything, and other days you might have a flurry of ideas. The goal is to end the month with at least 30 new ideas. They don’t have to be fully-formed synopses; that’s the beauty of it. It frees your mind up to just play with snippets of ideas.

This came just when I needed it. So I raided my stash of paper supplies and pulled out a brand new Mary Englebreit notebook and paired it with a cool purple gel pen Sally Kilpatrick gave me for my birthday (Thanks, Awesome Sally!). I came into the challenge late, halfway through the month, but I was so excited that I’d caught up with 15 ideas within a day or two. And I kept it up after the challenge was over and now have 41 ideas in my little notebook. Some are a little more clear in my mind while others are just vague notions; some are no more than a series of connected character names. Another is an idea for how to engage readers more. I find myself looking everywhere for snippets that could turn into story ideas. It’s made me more observant, more excited about my chosen field again. Only now that I’m feeling that excitement again am I fully realizing how much it had left the building.

  • Donna Alward

    TRISH. GIRL I have been there – and have been coming out the other side for the past 8-10 months. I too prided myself on being the girl who delivered on time, and suddenly I wasn’t. Anxiety and depression were kicking my butt. I lost my joy. I had a huge case of the Why Bothers.My income dropped. I had family stress. Money stress (not all those things have gone away, lol). I was behind and felt as if I’d never catch up.

    You can do this. It happens in stages, not all at once, so try not to get frustrated if it feels as if you’re not moving fast enough. Just now I thought to myself… I’m happy. And I am. Not long ago I was lying in bed, not wanting to face the day, and thinking “is this all there is?” I’m starting to feel the physical effects of stress, so I’m making that issue a top priority. I can’t do all the things I have yet to do if I’m not here.

    Msg me anytime. :)

    PS The Happiness Project is on my TBR. I’ve been saving it for the flights to conference.

    • TrishM2013

      Thanks, Donna. I’m feeling considerably better than I was a month ago. So I hope that continues. Stress and anxiety can really wreck havoc on a person’s body if we’re not careful.

  • Kris Fletcher

    OMG yes. I haven’t produced nearly as many books as you have, Trish, but the last six – nine months definitely sapped the joy out of writing. I’m doing a lot of reevaluating and testing ides. One book I’ve found immensely useful is Designing Your Life. It’s drawn from a class the authors teach at Stanford, and it walks you through various steps and exercises to look at your life in different ways and use design principles to approach changes you might want to make. It might be worth a look for you.
    And I LOVE the idea-a-day challenge. Just might need to start one of my own!

    • TrishM2013

      I’ll have to check out that book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • CJN

    I just turned 61 and as I read your post, I remembered some advice about what made me happy as a child and I realized. I remember hiding under my desk as the nun walked up and down the aisles and we prayed no one would drop a bomb on us. Yet at recess we ran and laughed at home we had adventures. I think as children, we know there is nothing we can do about the immediate idiots. So, often this week, I had to stop and ask myself, can you change this? No? Then move on to what makes you smile.

    • TrishM2013

      I’m trying to adopt that attitude of “If I can’t change it, move on” now instead of letting things upset me so much. I don’t want to have my head stuck in the sand, but there’s a balance that I’m trying to find. Good luck with your ideas notebook.