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Passion, drive or something sinister?

May 21, 2017

Find your passion, make it your job, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. You’ve heard that quote or similar. But can that passion go too far and become something more? Something that resembles an addiction?

 

Nine years ago, blessedly (and, at times, not so blessedly), I did find my passion.

 

Writing.

 

Although, in retrospect, that passion started when I was four or five—I would make up stories in my head before falling asleep at night.

 

Then at twelve or thirteen, I started writing those stories down in a slap shod fashion.

 

But, the real drive to write and make it my career didn’t strike again until fifteen years later when I was twenty-eight.  That was when I wrote my first full-length novel (later published after myriad rewrites as Unstitched).

 

Not until writing that first novel did I even know that I could. I recall spending nearly every waking moment writing, sometimes well into the early hours of the morning, completely lost in the characters and settings and story line. It was the most fantastic, amazing, breath-stealing experience, and I was instantly in love with the process.

 

 

 

Then I gave that first book to others to read, and I experienced something even greater than what I felt while writing – the joy I could have from others reading and enjoying what I had written.

 

I had to write three more stories and wait four years before finding a publisher. But once published, writing lifted to another level. Now I got to see a professional cover and have people all over the world read my book. With publication came reviews and rankings and advertising and best-seller statuses.

 

I was hooked.

 

Nine years on from that first novel, I have now written eleven novels and published eight so far. And the process of writing nearly every single novel has been the same—feverish.  

 

Let explain what I mean by feverish.

 

Most books follow a similar pattern:

 

1.    A story idea hits me

 

2.    I plot the story

 

3.    I start writing the story, but the concept is still not completely formed in my brain so it feels a little like hard work

 

4.   I hate the story, I put it aside and I procrastinate (sometimes for months).

 

5.   I go back to the story and write the remaining majority (usually ) as though my life depends upon it.

 

Not until I reach number five do I even consider myself productive, let alone feverish.

 

During point five, I get into a frame of mind (I’ve heard athletes label it The Zone) that I call ‘lost’.

 

And when I’m lost, I truly am. I am gone, living inside this world of pretense that is transpiring upon the page via my quickly typing fingers, and I live there until the end.

 

Everything else falls away if I let it. I barely eat. Barely sleep. I can work at my laptop for twelve to fourteen hours a day, especially the last 20 – 30 thousand words. I don’t call anyone. I think about my story in the shower, while driving, while walking. I don’t read. I don’t watch T.V.

 

I am lost.

 

And then I finish the story, and I take a little breath, but I usually dive straight in for edits and rewrites, then send the story to beta readers for feedback.

 

But, I’ve seen the downside of this writing fever. The downside of allowing myself to become lost. I put on weight. My body’s health suffered (because I wouldn’t exercise during this time, instead was hunched over a computer). My home duties were somewhat neglected. My friendships and social life were almost non-existent.

 

It took many years to realise this though. After writing Catch Me a Cowboy-- that book was everything and when I finished writing it, I sat down and cried from exhaustion and physical pain--I felt like I had run a marathon, mentally and physically.

 

Could this type of behavior be considered an addiction? Obsession? Or when writing becomes my entire world, is it drive or passion or merely getting in the zone?

 

I don’t know the answer to that. And I hope I never do. Because like an addict, I don't want to stop writing. Ever.

 

But I had to change my writing behavior. For the next two stories I wrote after Catch Me a Cowboy, yes, I did become lost again. But I set strict hours in which I was allowed to get lost—school hours. And I made sure I ate healthily and exercised.

 

With those restrictions, I still managed to complete the stories while also maintaining my health, marriage and social life. It’s a lesson I will carry forward with me from now on.

 

I know this isn’t only an issue with writers. Do you find yourself lost in your profession?

 

 

 

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Jacquie Underdown 2018