Friday Speak Out!: Thoughts on Never Making It, Guest Post by Alissa Johnson

Friday, April 26, 2013
I recently opened my email to find a request from the president of a well-established publishing website to set up an interview for a new column on women and writing—specifically, about “women that have made it in the field.” I was sitting at my desk at the local weekly where I have been an associate editor for the past two plus years, and I thought there’d been a mistake.

My website must be really good, I thought. They think I’ve made it.

I agreed to the next step of the process, wondering when they would figure out they’d picked the wrong gal. After all, I haven’t published a book, and I just resigned from my job to launch my own business as a writing coach and consultant. There is so much transition in my life that “making it” feelsvery much like a question underscored by uncertainty (and a little stubbornness, too).

When I biked home that afternoon, the sun was shining and warm, and the tires of my bike kicked up late winter slush. I kicked around ideas, trying to figure out when I would feel like I’d made it.

When I considered my track record from the outside, I could see accomplishments: I’m a newspaper editor (for a couple more weeks, anyway), my writing has won awards, and I’ve been published in the Wall Street Journal. I teach online classes, and they’ve been successful that I’ve launched a whole new website to house them.

And yet I spend more time thinking about the things I haven’t done than thinking about accomplishments: the memoir I haven’t published, the novel I haven’t written, and the still-in-progress essay I want to finish about camping out for a whole summer.

Would I like to get to the point where I can receive a request for an interview without looking over my shoulder for the real writer they meant to contact? Sure. But I realized something as I rode home: I can’t tell you when I’ll have “made it” because that implies a final destination. My goals are always changing.

Three years ago, I wanted to find a job as a writer. Now, I want to launch my business and help other writers achieve their goals. In a year or two, I hope to publish my memoir and finish that novel. I don’t want to work toward a final destination in writing because I don’t want to reach an end.

I think the secret to making it is to not think about making it. To return to the computer or put the pen to the page again and again, just to see what happens next. To let one idea or one piece of writing lead to the next until—from the outside—it looks like success. When really, we’re just driven by a sense exploration and a love for written stories.


Alissa Johnson writes and teaches from 9,000 feet above sea level in Crested Butte, CO. When she’s not writing or coaching, you can find her outside at any time of year, skiing, biking, or climbing.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Margo Dill said...

Alissa: This describes me to a tee. When someone says something about my accomplishments, I always think--yes, but I haven't been published in O, The Oprah Magazine or have a bestseller on Amazon. Why are we so hard on ourselves?:) Plus, I am a mom and a wife and the only daughter of aging parents. I should give myself a break. We should all give ourselves a break! :)

Unknown said...

Such a good and thought-provoking post, Alissa. Anne Lamott says, in essence, that if you think you'll write a book and then will feel like you've "made it", you're mistaken. The insecurities are still there and you start all over again with the next project.

I am slowly learning that writing is a journey and I'm more a vessel or conduit, which means the leading could change direction.

Congratulations on being approached-- obviously the editor saw in you what was needed for their project.

Kim Lehnhoff said...

I see both success and failure in myself, and tend to think of the successes as dumb luck, and the failure to produce more and better stuff is due to my laziness or life getting in the way. I am not kind to myself when I am being my biggest stumbling block.

Without fail, if I put forth my best effort, I find success more often than not. My rejections are NOT failures - they mean that whatever I submitted is not quite right for the publication - not that I am a poor excuse of a writer.

Marcia Peterson said...

I think many women deal with this imposter syndrome, but our achievements are worthy! Best of luck on your goals and the ones that come after. ;)

Alissa Johnson said...

Thanks for all the awesome comments!

@Margo, I don't know why it's so hard to cut ourselves some slack. But I do know that the one thing that's really helped me is connecting with other writers and friends to remind me of my accomplishments and to relax! (Not to mention being reminded that we're not alone).

@Julie. Such a good point. I think that in our culture we like to think of success (and happiness) as an end point. If I just find that perfect relationship or that dream house then I'll be happy. If I just publish that book or get an article in the one magazine, I'll be a writer. It's a good way to spend our whole lives waiting. : )

@Kim. I'm right there with you, rejection is not a sign of being a bad writer. I like to think of pitching as a game of memory, that one where all the cards are face down and you have to find the pairs. At first, there's a lot of misses and then over time you remember where some of the cards are and the odds get better. Same with pitching--you start to figure out what editors want and it's easier to find a match. And then, you get interested in a new topic or new publications, and the game starts all over again. :)

@MP I love that name for it. Impostor syndrome. So perfect!

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