Writing can take more out of you than you realise. Not just the writing itself, but all the thinking about it, all the agonising over whether you’re good enough, all the comparison with famous writers and the self-loathing that inevitably follows. It’s exhausting. And it makes it harder than ever to stay positive – which, I’ve learnt the hard way, is the only way one can hope for a sustained writing career.
Sure, we all have our bits of fun throughout the day. A particularly well-brewed coffee, an unexpected plot idea that strikes you while you’re showering, a phone call with your best friend. But those are just spikes of emotion. Being happy is more all-encompassing than that. Happiness transcends what you’re doing (or not doing) and focuses on what you are. Are you emotionally stable on the whole? Do you have more positive thoughts and responses than negative ones? Do you smile/laugh at least once every day? That’s what being happy means, even if your coffee is the crappiest to ever come out of a percolator (though that’s a sore trial, I grant you).
Happiness means different things to different people. But for me the answer’s simple – love is all I need to stay happy. I’m not saying I was unhappy earlier, but my life has changed completely ever since I met my boyfriend. We met and fell in love just before the Covid-19 lockdown began, so we could start living together right from the start. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is. Being surrounded by unconditional, demonstrative love gives me a sense of security, comfort and optimism like nothing I’ve ever experienced. As if that weren’t wonderful enough, he understands my love for writing like no one else, and that’s because he used to be a writer himself. He’s shelved his prose for now, but he’s still being the most supportive partner in every way, from recommending new books to critiquing my writing to sharing his own experiences as a novelist. (He still has his drafts, and I’m strongly tempted to steal them and get them published on his behalf, because he’s amazing and deserves to have his name out there, but that’s a story for another day.)
Under his guidance I’ve also taken up something I never thought I would – exercise! From five minutes of ineffectual hopping about and frantically invoking every deity’s name, I’ve worked my way up to about one hour of strength training every day. I’m still not perfect, and I do pause in between to catch my breath or correct my form, but I already feel so much healthier and fitter. Plus, exercise has given my routine what it sorely needed – a fixed point. Now that I know I have to exercise every morning after tea and before breakfast, I plan out my time so that I can read awhile and get some cuddles in before the weights and yoga mats come out. I’m trying to extend this discipline to the rest of my day as well for max productivity. Oh, and guess what – all those things they say about exercise making you happier? They’re all true. There’s absolutely nothing like a good workout to drive away the morning blues and get you raring for the day ahead.
And to keep the literary soul in me happy even on the days I can’t write a line, I feed it with an omnivorous diet of reading material. I know I’m supposed to be a discerning reader in order to write better (my boyfriend certainly thinks so), but reading for me has always been about joy and I just don’t want to take that away from myself. I used to read multiple novels at a time, but lately I’ve been more about focusing on one book. We have a glorious library set up at home (more on that in a later post), and it’s so satisfying to be able to browse through the shelves and pick a book and know it’ll be good (we’re both highly particular about the books we buy, mostly literary fiction). And the act of reading itself can spark a whole new set of ideas – some of which might form themselves into good stories when I work on them.
I run the risk of sounding preachy by saying this, but being happy really is about what you have already and what you make of it. I can choose to be unhappy that I started my writing career so late and am nowhere near close to being published even in minor forums – or I can choose to be happy that I am a writer at all and that I have the perfect set of conditions to become a better writer in. Yes, it isn’t always easy to remind myself of this, and more than once I have spiralled into a place of gloom from which escape seems impossible. But on more days than not, love keeps me going strong regardless of what my productivity is. And when that’s not enough, there’s lunges. And when that’s not enough, there’s literary exploration.
And if none of them seem to be working, I order the flat white from my favourite cafe.