Writing had consumed every aspect of my life. When I wasn’t teaching English during the day or sleeping at night, I was sitting at my desk, logged into my laptop—and logged out of my life. But what choice did I have? I was a new author chasing the dream, and the dream takes hustle. I love the dream. I love to write. But I hated what it was doing to me.
I had many masters, and I tried to serve them all: Facebook groups, writing blogs, reading blogs, my own blog, Twitter, book launch teams, agents to beg, a publisher to please, a platform to build, a book to market, ARCs to read, reviews to post, endorsements to write, contests to judge, writing friends to promote, reading friends to meet, workshops to present, new writers to mentor, a work-in-progress…
And the list of so many good things goes on. But, oh the craziness!
I had what my youngest daughter diagnosed as FOMO—fear of missing out. I was afraid to miss the next Tweet or the next article or the next professional connection that would move me one step farther down “the write road.” I feared missing out on the one magic thing I should be doing—whatever it was—and was in constant search of it.
The pressures of being a debut author had skewed my perspective. For most of 2016 and 2017, I was so busy trying to write, publish, and promote a story, I missed out on too much of my own story. If a friend asked to meet at the coffee shop, I’d calculate how much writing time it would cost me. If I watched a movie with my family, the plot I was most interested in was the one I was writing in my head.
Living my life was like reading a book by skimming the chapters, or sometimes just the opening and closing paragraphs, or maybe skipping a chapter entirely. You get the gist of the story, but you don’t fully experience it. That was me.
Until life pounded at my door. Correction: It busted through like a SWAT team and refused to be neglected anymore.
I was in the midst of my debut’s first year, still deep into building relationships, trying to find my place in the writing community and my way into readers’ hands. And then my mom’s health started a rapid decline. The doctor recommended hospice, and she wished to spend her last days at home, so I wrote sub plans, cashed in my sick days, and moved in for a few months.
From a writing standpoint, the first two weeks were the hardest. I had little time to engage on social media or to read and comment on blogs. I missed my writing friends, and I truly think I suffered withdrawal symptoms. I had to break promises to promote book releases and cancel workshops I had committed to teach. I struggled to fulfill my volunteer role in a writing organization, and I couldn’t post on my blog. Nothing was more important than the privilege of caring for my mom, but I feared how quickly I would lose the relationships I cherished and the connections I had worked so hard to make.
But soon, my real life came back into focus.
I rediscovered the person I once was who had become lost in the writer I wanted to be. Becoming reacquainted with myself allowed me to fully engage in the joy and grief of caring for my mom until she passed in June. In that time, my oldest daughter graduated from college, moved out, and started her career. The rest of summer passed, a new school year began, and I was busy preparing for my daughter’s November wedding. The holiday season followed, and now here I am, looking back at 2018. I can’t say I was much of a writer last year, but I’m proud to say I was a devoted daughter and an involved wife, mother, and friend.
And here’s the amazing part. My writing community didn’t forget me. Before the end of 2018, I was invited to participate in author events, teach workshops, and guest post. My book sales had a little boost in time for Christmas, and occasionally a reader will ask when my next book will be out. I’m on faculty for the 2019 Missouri Writers Guild Conference, and I’ve booked my first out-of-state speaking engagement at a fundraiser for a children’s hospital. The astounding thing is I solicited none of these invitations. In spite of my fear of missing out, my writing community opened their arms wide and said, “Welcome back.” My heart is so full!
The past ten months replaced my FOMO with JOMO—the joy of missing out. I remembered how to enjoy life away from my laptop. Now, as I turn my daughter’s old bedroom into my new office, I better understand how to balance the two worlds that are so important to me. I’ve evaluated how I spend my time in the writing world. I’ve identified where I find authentic relationships, important information, valuable partnerships, and personal progress. That’s where you’ll find me. Everything else is clutter. I’ve set writing goals—and writing limits. When it’s time for me to be a writer, I’ll fully be a writer…guilt free. And when it’s time for me to be a wife, a mom, or a friend, I’ll fully be that as well…frustration free.
In 2019, I’m going to spend less time writing more, and more time living well.
Writing Prompt: FOMO produces clutter. Clutter steals precious writing time, family time, and energy. Make a list of clutter in your writing life. What can be eliminated to make room for more productivity and joy in both of your worlds?
Karen Sargent is a recovering writing-aholic who does not miss the burning shoulder, lower backache, and 15 pounds that disappeared in 2018 when she ended a long-term relationship with her laptop. Armed with a new 2019 planner, she has scheduled joy back into her life, sprinkled with a moderate dose of writing her WIP, a little bit of blogging, and an occasional workshop presentation. Karen’s debut novel, Waiting for Butterflies, was named the 2017 IAN Book of the Year and received the Foreword Reviews Gold for Christian fiction. Visit her at KarenSargentBooks.com.