March 17, 2011

Do You Know What Will Make You Happy?

Smiling sunburst

Yes, it’s cheesy, but that picture is me right now because today is my last day in the deadline cave.  Yay!

As I’m finishing up my final push to the finish, I wanted to share this post from last summer.  I think it’s still relevant today, maybe even more so.

I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices along with my family through these last couple weeks of no sleep, poor eating habits, etc.  And it’s good to know what our goals, expectations, and measures of success are before embarking on that level of upheaval.


My blog-home-away-home, Edittorrent, had another thought-provoking post yesterday.  You really should go read it, but if you don’t have the time, their point boils down to this: Know what will make you feel like a success as a writer.  I think this same idea can apply to just about anyone—not just writers.

Know what will make you happy

If you assume money will make you happy (first of all, don’t become a writer, because fame and fortune are beyond rare), then you’ll do things that you think will bring you money.  You’ll write stories that feel shallow to you to chase the “blockbuster” dream.  You’ll take the job with the horrendously long commute that pays better.  But what if your assumptions are wrong?

What if what will really make you happy is to make it home from work in time for dinner with your kids every night?  What if what will really make you happy is to write stories with deeper meaning that will end up on someone’s keeper shelf?  Wouldn’t knowing this about yourself change how you approach life?  If you don’t know what will make you happy, then even if you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself, you might still not be happy.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing

I have it easy, as I know I’m not in this for the money.  I wouldn’t turn it down, mind you, but that’s not my goal.  I write because I have characters in my head who nag me until I write their story.  Because I have movies playing my mind that I think others would enjoy.  And because in the end, I just want to affect someone (hopefully, in a positive way) with my work.

My talented critique partner (who surprisingly hasn’t killed me for my perfectionism yet), Murphy, eloquently defined her reasons for writing this way:

I write because I want to.
Because I have to.
Because no matter what successes and/or failures came before in my life – the desire to create through words is the only artistic outlet that does it for me.

Working towards self-fulfillment is very different from working toward a huge paycheck.  Understanding yourself, knowing your big picture, can change your perspective.

Let your supporters know what your reasons are

Now, here’s the hard part.  Once you understand yourself, you owe it to your loved ones to make sure they know your goals too.  Why?  Because from a selfish perspective, they’ll provide better support if you’re all on the same page.  And because from a selfless perspective, if they’re making sacrifices to be supportive, they deserve to know the reasons why.

This can be hard.  Many of us keep our dreams a secret.  If we share them, it can feel like we’re exposing them, making them vulnerable to disappointment and failure.  But we need to take that risk to share our goals.

At the RWA RITA awards (imagine the Oscars, but for the romance writing community—all it was missing was the paparazzi and red carpet), virtually every winner thanked their family during their acceptance speech.  Their thanks were usually along the lines of “Thank you, kids, for letting me feed you peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches more often than is healthy” and “Thanks to my husband, who kept our house clean.”  In other words, our supporters make sacrifices for us too.  So don’t they deserve to know our end game?

If they’re thinking of fame and fortune, and you’re thinking of a single fan letter, you might lose their support just when you’re expecting congratulations.  Make your supporters a partner to your goals, have a discussion about what you want and your reasons for that.  If they buy in to your vision, you’ll end up with a better supporter in the end.  Trust me.  I have a partner and some days, it can make all the difference.

Have you shared your goals with your supporters?  Do your family and friends know why you’re doing what you’re doing?  Are they partners to your dreams?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Michele Shaw

So true, Jami. A very wise friend said to me recently that often many small goals become a larger one. I love that, because while it’s good to have a “big picture” goal, there are so many steps to getting there. We have to take one at a time and acknowledge each one as an accomplishment. Otherwise we wind up berating ourselves for never reaching the gold medal. We might get there, we might not, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t attained anything or our efforts have no worth.


Man, it seems like such a long time ago – doesn’t it? Timeless post, Jami!
And hey, it’s nice to see your pasty face – get some sun, girl! You’ve been buried for so long – I hardly recognize you. 🙂


Lisa Gail Green

As always a beautiful post. Yes, we write because we have to. And other things (like the giant laundry monster towering in the other room) go to the wayside. My family knows me, and I’m glad they take me as I am.

Gene Lempp
Gene Lempp

If you see your shadow after coming out of the revision cave does that mean spring is here 🙂
Fortunately, my wife (and best friend) is also a writer. This helps a great deal as we understand each others trials and give support. This doesn’t always help with the housework, but we have talked through goals, dreams and division of labor so it all gets done eventually. Oh, and kids, should learn to do their own laundry, vacuum and cook…while I’m off writing you (the kid) are learning to survive, just be glad it isn’t the “old days” when this was done in the woods with hungry bears and wolves chasing you for muddying their drinking water with grungy clothing.
Thanks for the post Jami, glad to see you made it through!

Kerry Meacham
Kerry Meacham

You’re probably out of the cave by now Jami, so congrats on what I know has been a rough few weeks.

I think you’re absolutely correct on knowing what you want, not only in writing but other areas of life too. I wouldn’t head out of St. Louis wanting to go to the beach and say,”Hey, I’m in the middle of the country so any direction east or west will get me to the ocean.” I’d determine if I wanted white sands (Destin, FL), surfing (SoCal), party time (South Padre Island), old towns with history to explore (Cape Cod), etc. Then I’d get a map, figure out the best way to get there, and look for certain milestones or markers along the way. It’s the same with writing or any other goal. Decide what you want, figure out what has to be done between here and there, and do it. I’m not going to remember the exact quote, or even the person that said it, but the general premise is – You can have anything you want in life if you’re willing to figure out what it is you want, determine what price has to be paid (in time, effort, sacrifice, etc.) to achieve it, and pay the price.

Congrats again on reaching the “Out of the Cave” milestone.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Fantastic post Jami. It made me smile throughout, because not only was it very apptly put, but it was like watching one of those feel good movies…when I was finished reading, all I could do was grin and feel warm inside. Cheesy, yes, but a huge dose of medicine for the soul as well.
Thank you for your wisdom and words.
Have a wonderful weekend!!!

Piper Bayard

Coming up for air today from the deadline cave, myself, and really relating to this. I simply couldn’t write without my family. When I reached a point of realizing just how much time and dedication this was going to take, I told them what they would have to sacrifice for my dreams, and I asked their permission. They didn’t hesitate. “Go for it, Mom!” Now, when I’m in the zone, I sit and write, and they leave me alone to my mind and my computer, occasionally leaving gifts of food and water, as well. I didn’t know that committing to my writing would renew my love and committment to my family, too. Thanks for the great post.

M.E. Anders
M.E. Anders

Glad to hear all is going well for you with those deadlines…

Thanks for re-posting this blog, since we are each on a quest for what truly makes us happy as writers and human beings.


Cheryl Reifsnyder

Thanks for this post, Jami. It’s such a valuable question to ask!



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