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You Should Do Whatever You Want
As much as you can
This might just be me, but for most of my life, I have not done what I wanted to do. I mean, I have done lots of things because I can and because I wanted to, as a white, cis, straight, upper middle class, woman in the US. That gives me tons of leeway and privilege. But I mean on the smaller, day-to-day things. I did a lot of things because I thought I should, not because I wanted to.
I read whatever the hip new book was because of FOMO instead of figuring out what I really wanted to read. (You could not have told 25 year old Kate that 44 year old Kate would be reading several historical novels about the Gilded Age a month.) I carried on with relationships much longer than I should have because maybe I can just convince them to like me. There are probably a hundred more, while not life-altering examples, but ways in which I stuffed down what I wanted to do in favor of something I should do.
I thought of this today on my morning bird walk. (Spring migration is gearing up!!) It was a lovely morning in Prospect Park here in Brooklyn and I saw a Belted Kingfisher and lil cutie Kinglets, very handsome Wood Ducks, the resident Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Yellow-Rumped Warbler (unless it was a Northern Parula—it was pretty high up in a tree and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). All in all, not a particularly exciting bird walk, but a fully enjoyable one. I came to a literal crossroads and I wasn’t done with my walk yet, and I decided to go left at the dog pond and walk along the back of the ballfields. There’s nothing special about this path. It skirts the Quaker Cemetery (which is closed to the public and is where Montgomery Clift is buried!) and it’s not particularly “birdy.” For whatever reason, it’s not a birding hotspot and I don’t go there often when I’m in the park specifically to look at birds. I thought to myself, you should go another way, there will be better birds elsewhere. I felt like I should maximize my birding time, since I don’t get to do it very often and this is the right time of year to see cool birds. But you know? I didn’t want to! I didn’t want to maximize my birding! I just wanted to, yanno, go left.
Maybe it’s vestiges of hustle culture, the idea that one must do the most and best of everything all the time. Maybe I was younger once and now I’m older and I dgaf. Maybe I’m getting better at listening to and trusting and taking care of myself, even in incredibly basic and simple ways like which direction I prefer to walk on a Tuesday morning in April. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Even infinitesimal growth is growth.
What does this have to do with writing and books? You should write the book you want to. I’m sure I’ve said that before. There’s no book you should write except the one you want to write. Now, it’s possible that the book you want to write is not publishable, for any number of different valid and bullshit reasons. Writing the book you want to write doesn’t mean it will also get published. And you should not, I can tell you from experience, write whatever book you think has the best chance to get published when that is not a book you really want to write. It is very hard to separate the desire to be published from the desire to write a specific book and the desire to be published can short circuit our brains and make us think that yes indeed we do want to spend months and years of our lives doing a thing that doesn’t particularly interest us just because someone said they might want to publish it. Maybe that worked for you! Maybe that is a way you will get published! But let me tell you, it’s not that much fun along the way.
I went left and I walked around the ballfields and I didn’t see any other interesting birds, but I enjoyed it and I left the park happy and got on with my day. You can write the thing you want to write regardless of what anyone else says. It might not be something suitable for the publishing industry, which is different from writing, but that’s ok. You get something out of it, even if it doesn’t get published. Even if you don’t see any cool birds.
Last thing—I wanted to share this thing I found with you:
The Daily Good is a 30-second newsletter focused on sustainability and slow living that delivers soothing playlists, recipes, inspiring articles, and more good news every weekday morning. Get inspired to take care of yourself with our quick notes, and see why readers describe our newsletter as “a warm hug from a friend”. They posted this round up of basically the best books about writing. Bird by Bird! The Writing Life! You should check it out. It’s got all my faves.