“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Incorrect definition of insanity aside, I think there’s a greater question. How can you tell if what you’re doing is the same thing as before? What if it’s only different in the most meaningless, superficial way, and underneath is a pattern that’s completely identical?
It’s taken me years to completely remove all vestiges of hope of succeeding as an actor. I’ve moved on. I have few regrets about pursuing it for as long as I did, but also no lingering doubts over whether abandoning this all-consuming dream was the right thing to do.
After stewing in uncertainty for a number of years, I settled in to begin writing a novel. You know, just for fun. Who knew if this would work out? Who knew if I would even finish a first draft? After all, I’d tried this before and didn’t make it past 20,000 words.
This time, however, it stuck. I wrote and wrote until I had a 72,000 word paranormal murder mystery novel on my hands. It was pretty much a piece of shit. But underneath the mundane conversations and trite descriptions of people’s hair colors, there was something interesting. And so I began the rewrite process.
Fast forward to a year later. Suddenly, accidentally, novel writing had become my dream. I’d unpinned my hopes from acting, and simply moved them over and pinned them on novel writing instead. At first, the feeling relief and certainty was overpowering.
I figured it out! I know who I am again! A novelist! I must succeed at this because it is the very definition of who I am. Forget that whole acting thing, writing is my true calling.
Then the pressure began mounting.
When am I going to finish this damn thing? What about all the research I need to do on psych wards and French police procedures? When can I snag a three book deal and quit my stupid day job?
Any day I couldn’t write for whatever reason, the knot in my stomach squeezed tighter. Every morning I woke up with a clenched jaw. Eventually the stress reached fever pitch and I stopped being able to write. Any time I sat down to tinker with the words, the enormity of what I was doing would wash over me, my fingers paralyzed, cold fear gripping my heart.
Then it hit me. This absolutely certain feeling, that I was meant to be a novelist, that it was my soul’s purpose? Almost identical to my delusion that I was meant to succeed as an actor. The question is, where is this all-knowing yet completely unreliable narrator coming from?
Am I a GYPSY, having completely unrealistic expectations of how my life should be because of my Gen Y “you are special” upbringing?
Am I afraid of uncertainty, and so I grasp onto these career titles to give myself a false sense of control?
Am I trying to become successful in only the most competitive, insane arenas, in order to prove something to myself or the world?
It took me a really long time to realize that while I love film and storytelling, the life of an actor doesn’t suit my temperament at all, and I am not that naturally talented at performing. My love of the craft and my ravenous ego blinded me to these facts for years.
I’m trying to be a little more objective this time around. I don’t want to get totally carried away by a Dream with a capital D without examining if it’s even something I like or am good at doing. So let’s break it down.
Am I a good writer?
Obviously debatable. However, over the years, I have gotten more positive feedback about my writing than I ever did about my acting.
When telling a high school classmate that I was going to an acting conservatory instead of college, she responded with surprise. “Oh! I didn’t even know you were interested in acting!” This was after 3 years of trying out for every goddamn high school play and never getting more than a bit part.
Meanwhile, I got my first article published after sending out two hastily written pitch emails. Made $50. I spent thousands pursuing acting and no one ever wanted to pay me for anything. Objectively, the signs are there.
Is the lifestyle of a writer one that suits my temperament?
Let’s go with the absolute best case scenario: I get a 3 book deal. My days would primarily be spent in a home office or coffee shop, writing and researching. I could live anywhere. I could set my own schedule. I would need to be very self-motivated. I would be alone most of the day. Occasionally I’d have to do book tours, interviews, etc. Not super appealing, but it would hopefully be the minority of my time. Overall, does this lifestyle sound appealing to me? Absolutely.
Do I like it?
Sometimes – okay, often – it’s like pulling teeth to get myself to sit down to write. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and boring. Other times I’ll get into a groove and feel like I’m tapping into something greater than myself. Like the words are flowing through me, desperate to be translated to the page. I get excited by the idea that an experience I’m trying to express is universal, and by expressing it, I’m connecting with others and making them feel less alone. I like stretching and pushing my imagination to the limit. I like creating whole worlds out of thin air. At worst, I feel like a talentless hack. At best, it feels like magic.
All right, so I think we can establish that pursuing writing is a better path for me than pursuing acting.
But even so – is it wise to take the same all or nothing approach that I did with acting? Would this be falling right into the so-called insanity trap?
Does it make sense to work 8 hours a day at a job that doesn’t exercise my brain, doesn’t instill any sense of pride in me at all, while I try to write in my free time, with no guarantee that it will lead anywhere? Or would it make more sense to spend some time studying a new field now, one that is a surefire way to more money and freedom, even if it means putting writing on the back burner?
Pressing pause on writing feels as though I’m not betting on myself – that I’m not certain I will succeed as a writer. But writing is hard. Getting a literary agent is hard. Getting a book deal is hard. Pragmatically speaking, the odds are not in my favor.
My goal in life is to be happy, fulfilled, and free. Is it possible that taking a detour will ultimately result in more good days? When does delaying your dream actually make sense?
Or to go a level deeper, should I even be ascribing any meaning to this writing dream? If I find writing satisfying, why can’t I just write? Why does it need to define who I am? What if I just call it a hobby and completely divorce it from the idea of making money or receiving accolades? Will that take some of the pressure off and lead to greater creativity?
What would life look like without a dream? Depressing and meaningless? Or is laughing at your ego the ultimate freedom?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions. I’m hoping that by putting them out into the ether, the universe will neatly organize these disparate thoughts and implant them in my brain as a fully formed map showing me where I’m going, and how to get there. In the meantime, I’ll muddle along.