Plugging Into My Outlet

There I was, sharing a cup of hot chocolate at Panera with my friend Graham, relating the challenges a published author faces—I was not whining—when he casually observed, “You need an outlet.”

I hopped into the Wonder Tundra and drove to California and back a couple weeks ago, with his advice ringing in my ears. What did he mean? Six thousand miles later, I have a Clue.

Once upon a time, I was an aspiring musician. I wallowed in music and got a sense of competence and confidence from my increasing skill, and a lot of joy from indulging a personal passion. Then I started supporting myself with my music, and… the game changed. I had to worry about what to play for this ballet class or that class reunion, I had to chop down some repertoire to fit into perfect eight measure phrases, I had to simplify pieces to be able to handle them up tempo, and so on.

Love became tempered by the need to eat.

When I became a mother, I adored my newborn child and got up five times a night to tend to her smallest whimper, and I delighted in doing so. A few years later, love had to be tempered with boundaries, or nobody in the house was going to be functional for very long.

When I rode horses, I did so out of sheer love for the beast, and the saddle was my happy place. I again enjoyed a sense of competence and confidence from growing (though never very impressive) skill, and when I was on my horse, the big, bad world, with its unfairness and bigotry, violence and injustice, did not touch me. I cannot afford to ride like that any more, so alas, that happy place went on hiatus.

But I still had the writing… another happy place, where for hours at a time, I could fashion worthy characters, big challenges, and a reliable Happily Ever After, which I badly needed after a day in court.

Except the writing now has to be tempered too. I need a little thicker skin for when reviews that are not just critical, but downright mean, come raining down on my parade. I need discipline, because deadlines wait for nobody’s mojo. I need marketing savvy, because the publishing industry isn’t merely changing, it’s in outright revolution. The sense of growing confidence and competence I had as an aspiring writer is tempered with caution and humility. Nobody gets published without an entire village behind them, even if it’s the publisher’s village on salary whom you never get to meet face to face.

So…tempering makes things stronger, and I hope as a writer I’m being tempered by wisdom and experience.

And yet, Graham was absolutely right: I need an outlet. A place I go to out of sheer love for the things I can do and experience there. A place free of judgment, and full of good will and the pleasure of growing skill. Maybe I’ll take up knitting, maybe I’ll write some nonfiction, maybe I’ll join… a book club (do not laugh, please).

Or maybe—radical thought!—I’ll open the lid of the piano that has sat silently in my living room for ten years.

What about you? Where’s your happy place, and how did you find it?

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17 comments on “Plugging Into My Outlet

  1. Oh, Grace! Please do find your happy place! I think it would be great to go back to the piano and find some joy and stress-relief. Don’t you dare stop writing, though. Don’t let the negative reviews and/or meanies get you down.

    I have the problem that there are too many things I love and want to do. I love reading, visiting on Facebook, writing, beading (I have your bracelet almost done, by the way) and counted cross-stitch, just to name a few things. Then, silly me, because we like to eat, just took a full-time job in the “real world.”

    I’m betting once you get back to the piano for fun rather than profit, you will feel that ol’ mojo coming back. Do what you love and love what you do.

  2. I can’t imagine a time when I don’t write, Julee, just as I can’t imagine a life without animals in my household. I agree with you four thousand percent: Do what you love. That love shines through and it reflects on everything around us. To me, that is being “in the zone.” It has nothing to do with heart rate, it has to do with passion…

  3. Carolyn, I used to bake A LOT, and made all our bread from scratch, but alas, carbs are not my friend, and fresh bread slathered with sweet cream butter is all too tempting. Just the scent of fresh bread… yes, well.

    In honor of you, I will go play a few finger exercises right now.

    • I’m straining my ears in that direction. I think I hear the fresh norther bringing the notes to me on the winds. Very pretty! I am so NOT musical but I love piano and fiddle music.
      I still make fresh bread when the kids are coming home. If there’s no one here to eat it, well let’s just say it goes to waist!

  4. Do not laugh.
    My happy place is:
    Scrubbing.
    I love to scrub.
    Suds suds sudsy suds suds…
    Give me a rubber duckie and the world’s my oyster.
    I don’t care if it does give me dishpan hands, that’s what all the fancy dancy lotions on my dresser are for.
    A bucket or a sink full of suds, something dirty to scrub, a rag, a brush…
    Just call me Cinderella.

    • Can you come to my house, please. I have all *kinds* of happy places for you! 😉

      Honestly, I agree that loving what you do is at the heart of being satisfied with your life. Right now, I have a job I enjoy and write, paint, and draw for fun. I would like to become a published author, and I know that would make it a job. I would still have my art, though.

  5. Pam, author Alix Rickloff, whose paranormal Regencies I do adore, says doing anything with her hands–the dishes, folding laundry, etc–gets her to that place where Ideas Come To Her. My dad swears by the morning shower, my mom walks. I’m guessing you’ve got some Irish in you if the scrubbing is your happy place.

  6. Eli, you’re smart to channel your creative self-expression in multiple directions. I have a lengthy rant on tap about the absence of motivation in our parenting and educational systems for children to identify and pursue creative self-expression. It’s an afterthought in our culture, not a priority, and we suffer accordingly.

  7. My happy place is in the water. From hot tubs to swimming laps. Grace, I think you shouldn’t read those reviewers who don’t always have nice things to say. All a reader has to do is just read one of your books and we are all hooked. You really are one of the best out there. I am so looking forward the next one.

  8. I agree with you Mindy–one should avoid the gratuitously negative, and especially the plain old mean. Instead I like to go on Amazon and give my keeper authors glowing reviews when their books really work for me.

    It’s odd you mention being happy in the water. I realized as a young adult that I liked anything that dis-engaged me a little from the earth–ice skating, water, jumping on horse back–and yet I loathe and dread flying.

    Glad you’re enjoying the books because I do love writing them.

  9. Sorry I’m a day late, I was baking! LOL
    My happy place is gardening. In the winter that’s pretty hard, so I tend to clean, and read a lot!
    This is a great post,
    Neecy

  10. Neecy, I’m a fall gardener, if I can appropriate that label for somebody whose efforts consist mainly of stuffing bulbs into every corner of a small rural property. They are so easy, and when they come up in spring, such a joy. I’m a big fan of pansies, too–an unfairly maligned flower, considering they weather most winters in style.

  11. Reading one of your books brings me to a “happy place”. Thank you for writing such amazing books! I am reading The Virtuoso now and I love it!

  12. Angela, I consider Loretta Chase, Mary Balogh, and Judith Ivory my kid’s honorary godmothers. Sooooo many nights as a single mom, I’d drag home from work, fetch Beloved Offspring, throw something together for dinner, plough though the homework, housework, whatever, and climb into bed exhausted, only to open a book, and end the whole, stinkin’ miserable day in a lovely place with lovely people. I get the need to read. I really do get it, so from the bottom of my heart, thanks.

  13. My happy place is knitting. I knit everyday at lunch so I don’t wig out on the people at work. It’s very therapeutic even if I drop curse words every now and then 🙂
    I knew publishing was tough but I never realized it was so bad. I hope you find your happy place. Enjoy your weekend 🙂

  14. Jenny, what I like about knitting and quilting is the tactile pleasure of soft fabric of yarn in my hands. My editor is a knitter, and she’s the queen of serene, given what she deals with on a daily basis.