The Safety of Insurance.

My phone sat beside me on my desk in its usual place.  I was waiting for an email, yet the familiar vibrate-ding sound startled me.  I looked like a teenager waiting for a call from a cute boy the way I jumped, then reached out to grab the phone.  I felt like one too, giddy with anticipation.

But the email wasn’t the one I was hoping for.  
The email I received was a new blog post by a writer I admire about a new milestone she’d hit and her upcoming plans which all included more excellent writing things.  I’d read about a half-dozen such posts from various writers in the last week or so.  But this one was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I sighed deeply as I shut off my phone and turned my attention back to the work I was supposed to be doing in the first place.  I pulled up the rates of the various New Jersey insurance carriers and began selecting plans.
You shouldn’t have looked at your phone.  You need to pay attention to your work.  Your REAL work, the work that pays the bills.  Not this writer pipe dream of yours.

“That’s it exactly,” I agreed with myself out loud. “I’m not a writer, I’m a dreamer.”
I grabbed a tissue, blotted my eyes, blew my nose and got back to work.  I tried to focus, but my mind was way off on its own, dragging me down.
The story is all there, I lived it for crying out loud.  The time is there, when I choose not to waste it.  There are many excuses for why I don’t have a first draft of my memoir, but only one real reason.
I’m afraid, damn it.
I’m afraid I’ll never finish it.  I told everyone I was writing it and now there’s still barely anything to show for it.  I shuffle pages around, rework the same damn paragraphs over and over again, but I get nowhere.
I’m afraid if I do finish it, I’ll find out it’s terrible.  I’m afraid I’ll learn that all that time was wasted telling a story no one cares about because, after all, I’m just a person who took care of one sick parent and whose other sick parent was absent.  This story has been told before, better than I can tell it.  I’m sure I’m as unoriginal as they come.
I’m afraid when I finish it, I’ll find out I am a horrible daughter who has disrespected her parents by airing our dirty laundry.  I’m afraid I won’t be a sympathetic character in my own life story.  And what do I even want?  To be pitied?  To be told by others they are proud of me?  Is there a point or am I just another attention whore?
Does owning my fears and sharing them alleviate their intensity at all?
I don’t know.  Not yet.
I pushed it out of my mind.  I focused on my work.  Another day with nothing written. 
Insurance is safer, after all.

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47 Responses to “The Safety of Insurance.”

  1. Vanessa D says:

    You are a gifted writer. When it’s done it will be spectacular.

    I’m looking forward to the day I get to read the whole story from start to now.

  2. Dana says:

    It’s not a pipe dream. Take it from another person who is in a very similar boat as you. Fear is crippling and I battle it every day, especially recently (as you can tell by my absence on YW). I personally can’t wait to read your memoir… <3

  3. I go through this ALL THE DAMN TIME. I think that’s the hardest part of writing – the self-doubt, the lack of external forces telling us, “Here, this is what you should do.” I wish I had something to offer you other than you ARE a great writer, with a strong, unique voice. What helps me out of it is to (try) to ignore others’ accomplishments, as I tend to measure myself against them – keep your eyes on your own plate, or something like that.
    Better advice? Just keep writing. You’re doing something right.

  4. psychochef says:

    Michelle, I love your writing, and I think you have a unique voice. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Embrace the process of writing, and honor that part of you that loves to write. There’s way less pressure that way, and you might even generate more work because you aren’t being so judgmental about the outcome. In the end, you’ll have a big pile of work to go back to that you can edit and turn into a book. xo

  5. Just reading the stories you write on this blog about the younger you, and what you went through growing up makes me want to read your memoir, and badly. You are such a talented writer, and you tell those stories so incredibly well. When it’s done, it will be beautiful.

  6. Peach says:

    Remember what I said about being your cheerleader? It counts here too. xo

  7. everyone needs the chance to talk and tell their story. go for it! :)

  8. This is how I feel about law!!! It’s scary scary scary.

  9. Zoe Byrd says:

    I hope to finish the process you mention by the end of this month. The thing that helped me the most regarding getting myself to write it was when a friend suggested I should write it for myself and then decide what to do with it. Now that I am at the end of the line I have a huge decision but the process of writing helped with all the doubts and questions you mentioned. Do it for yourself and worry about the rest later was the best advice I ever got on this subject. Good Luck! You dont need me to tell you because there is enough evidence but you are a very talented writer who has a real story to share. Its never been told like yours!

    • I didn’t get into it here, but the what’s next part scares me too. Of course, that’s silly because I’m getting way ahead of myself. There is no next if I don’t actually write. But I like the idea to write it for me and then see where I am. Much better perspective. Thanks for the encouraging comment.

    • Zoe Byrd says:

      The great thing about writing it for yourself is you have already met the goal once its written and anything you do after that is just icing on the cake!

  10. well, it is insurance, it’s supposed to be safer right? but you’re a wonderful writer with a story to tell. that’s what all writer’s are. just do it. honestly, if a novel doesn’t feel right after awhile, try attacking it another way. just keep writing it and it will eventually come together. you’re too good and you love it too much not to

    • Funny how my safety career is all about future safety, isn’t it.

      I don’t know why I feel stuck with the original idea and why I don’t give myself permission to change things around. I could explore different angles and see if that helps.

      I appreciate the suggestion!

  11. Mamarific says:

    I bet even established writers have these same fears…what if the next book isn’t as good as the first one, etc. Each of us has a unique voice and a story to tell, and from what I’ve read here on your blog, I would welcome the chance to read yours in print. Keep plugging away!

    • Part of me feels like if I became established, I’d be happy with it, but I know that’s not true. I supposed most have those thoughts of what’s next and how do we keep going. Thank you for putting it in perspective and for the encouraging words.

  12. Kristin says:

    (Okay, I just re-read this post and realize I’m slightly off topic here. But I’m leaving it, dammit!)

    I’m just going to point out, having known a few “professional” writers* in my day, that most of them hold “regular” jobs. In fact, that’s where so much material comes from. Celebrating the every day, the joys of routine, the quirky aspects of community and hanging out and eating lunch while people watching.

    And it’s a very modern idea that we were all MEANT to be Artistes of some sort. Most of the actors, writers, musicians, painters, performance artists in the middle of the pyramid (i.e.: not Tom Cruise or Bon Jovi) cobble together lots of little jobs to make it work.

    What I’m trying to say is: You’re in excellent company. And art can be what makes life worth living as opposed to what we live for.

    * and with the advent of on-line publishing, the middle-list writers get screwed even more. It’s kind of like a sick lotto. The major houses can’t afford to mentor and sponsor the middle-list as it used to because it has to court the high-earners at the top of the pyramid. Therefore, the middle of the pyramid (most of us) doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in purgatory of landing a contract without first making an on-line splash. And so the cycle continues.

    • You may be off-topic on the post itself, but not at all off-topic in relation to me. This is definitely part of it. (Obligatory note that I have no intention of leaving my job or in putting in less effort there.) The struggling to get off the ground and out of the bottom when I, quite frankly, haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing, is very frustrating. And part of what holds me back sometimes are the thoughts that I will put forth all this effort and nothing will come of it because, as you said, the middle of the pyramid thing. Of course, that’s assuming I’m even in the middle. I’m at the bottom with the book that isn’t even a book yet and with this blog. I’m stuck. So very stuck.

  13. Kenja says:

    I think that one of the most important jobs a writer can do is show people in similar situations that they are not alone. One post, one story, can make all the difference to someone out there going through their own personal Hell. Someone to say, “I’ve been there and come out on the other side, you can too.”

    Just write. Don’t edit, just write. You can do it. And when you do, it will find the audience that needs it. Believe in yourself!

    • For some reason I can’t stop editing what I’ve written so far and yet I hate editing everything else! What you said though hits home – I did feel very alone as a teenager/adult taking care of my mom. Being able to reach someone would make me happy.

      Thank you for the supportive comment!

  14. Stacie says:

    I love your writing! And the pieces of your memoir you share on the blog are terrific. Did you ever read the Glass Castle? Your memoir will be even better.

  15. Oh, sweet girl. I relate to every word of this. You will and will soar. I have not a doubt in my mind. Whenever you need a pep talk, email me. I’m already a fan.

  16. I can also totally relate to this. Thanks so much for writing about it! I did not write for many years because I was afraid that I would somehow do it wrong and ruin everything. Recently, I just stopped listening to that particular fear. Some days I write better than others, but it feels so good to be doing it instead of living in fear.

    • Living in fear is definitely not fun and truly doesn’t help anyone. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t try, but I can’t always shake the feeling that I might regret it if I do. I suppose though that it really is a risk I should take.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I enjoy your writing so much, and I can relate to your fears. They are mine, too. Of course, you already ARE a writer. And i don’t think you can be a writer without insulting a few people along the way. Telling the truth is difficult work, and you do it beautifully.

    -Blogging Bibliophile

    • Sorry I didn’t comment back right away! It makes me feel more normal to hear that others have the same fears I do, so thank you for that. Telling the truth really is difficult work!

  18. Meg says:

    I totally relate to what you have written. Over the years I have put aside graduate school, relocation, creative endeavors, and even better paying jobs that had less security or fewer benefits. Once we had kids it became ingrained, because you cant trade security for risk when there are kids relying on you. At this point, I will be eligible for retirement by the time I get the last kid off to college, and maybe then will finally get to catch some of that other stuff caught up. In the meantime, blogging suits my available time and resources and inability to stick with one topic for too long when so much else is going on. I wish you good luck with you great project.

    • Thanks so much Meg, I’m sorry I didn’t respond right away.

      I agree that when kids are in the picture it really is that much harder to pursue anything that doesn’t feel absolutely necessary.

  19. I am so there. It’s really hard to have the confidence and put a non-paying, possibly non-ever-coming-to-fruition desire ahead of things like life insurance plans, or cleaning the kitchen. I think that your drive will keep you going, and you need to channel that part of you that believes in the dream and that it’s not JUST a dream. Love your writing, and there are really no original stories–it’s all in the telling. :)

    • Thanks so much Kirsten – and (again) sorry I missed these comments earlier. It so often feels like so many other things come first like paying bills and general chores. Then, at the end of the day when there’s time, there’s no energy left. But I suppose it’s all about what we choose to make priorities on any given day.

  20. IASoupMama says:

    Michelle, there is no timeline for releasing a memoir because you are still living the life about which you would be writing, right? And the scariest things in life offer the opportunity for the most growth — at least that’s what I’m telling myself…

    • Sorry I didn’t reply sooner! Yes, with risk of failure comes growth. Because very little follows a straight line to success. And like you said, I’m still living, life is still going on. There is still time to pursue a dream.

  21. Esther says:

    Felt this! When I feel this way, I tell myself to just go with my gut. Then if I don’t, I say it louder… GO WITH YOUR GUT. Because when I start asking questions about the big picture, or about the future, or about other people’s reception, or about relevance, it’s impossible to get any work done. Instead, following my gut from one minute to the next is what puts words on the page. Best of— not luck; I’ll say spirits, best spirits to you as you continue to work on your memoir.

    • Thank you so much Esther for this very insightful comment. I agree, if we analyze everything we will most certainly find reasons not to do whatever the thing is. I like the gut approach.

  22. You have to write it. I am desperate to read it. And as for dirty laundry, your Dad aired plenty of that for all to see when you guys were kids. He wasn’t a quiet guy when he got going.

    • I can’t picture my father ever reading it, so I’m less concerned about his opinion. I suppose Jim could get angry, but again, I’m not sure I care. I think I’m most concerned about what my mother would think, but that’s impossible to sort out and quite possibly just an excuse.

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