happy as you are

I’ve been preparing for questions about what my book title (If You’re Happy) means. Though the title comes from one of the stories, I also like the phrase because it lingers in possibility. Are you happy? What is happiness? Is it even something we should aim to achieve? Should we try to make others happy, too?

I’ve always wanted to make people happy (see pic of me with two childhood pals). It’s part of being human, I think, and helps us all get along. But at times I’ve cared too much about pleasing others.

I remember myself as an awkward, try-hard kid, wearing my heart on my sleeve. At uni, some of my college friends called me ‘the little mother’, since I would fuss over anyone sick or sad. Even now I sometimes tie myself in knots attempting to console, or trying to engage with people who aren’t keen on becoming friends.

I think some of this stems from childhood, from struggling to say and do the right thing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better at deciding, I’ll do all I can to consider that person, but how they react is their business, not mine. Easy to decide of course, not so easy to feel. That child seeking approval is still curled inside.

The path to publication, while exciting on many levels, has intensified these people-pleasing traits. I fret that others are annoyed with me. I stress over small things, wonder if my tweets are silly, hope my Instagram posts aren’t lame. I imagine readers sneering at my book, pronouncing it not literary enough, too sentimental. And of course life is never smooth so there are other distractions and worries.

I’m reading The Daily Stoic* at the moment, and every morning I read the relevant piece for that date (the entries are around half a page, for each day of the year). While much of it is the type of wisdom I’ve read before, I find it soothing. It amazes me to realise these ideas were being considered and expressed thousands of years ago. The words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca remind us to only concern ourselves with what we can control – our own judgements, expectations and behaviour.

I’ve written a book and it’s the best book I knew how to write. I worked hard on each of the stories. Not everyone will like them, and those that like the book may not like every story. These things are none of my concern.

I’ll probably always be a bit too invested in the happiness of others, always overly concerned about pleasing family, friends and colleagues. (And of course I’ll be hoping plenty of people do like If You’re Happy – I can’t change my personality altogether!) But remembering to choose my words and actions with care, then take a step back, helps maintain peace of mind.

May you be free from chasing validation. May you find peace of mind. May you be happy as you are.

* The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, 2016 (Portfolio).

sending words into the world

If writers want to be published, we have to submit work. And yet sending out work is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. I’ve been submitting work for six years (writing for longer), and I still find it hard to do. Sometimes I’m tempted to avoid it. After all (I tell myself )—statistically, rejection is the most likely result.

I recently submitted something I’ve spent a lot of time on, and sending it triggered all the usual crazy, mixed feelings. I thought I’d try to order my thoughts, in case this helps another writer.

Reflections on submitting:

  1. It must be done. If we want to share our writing with others, there’s no escaping this. Yet submitting can be terrifying. We have to steel ourselves and send our work anyway. (We may not want to send our very first efforts. But if a writer has been creating work for more than a year, and wants to be published, it’s probably time to start submitting!)
  2. Timing is everything. Too early and our work is clumsy, full of holes, rough around the edges. Too late and we may fall behind, not make deadlines, or put off submitting forever. How to tell if it’s too early or too late? No one seems to know! We make our best guess and then send.
  3. It’s normal to feel strange emotions after sending. I often feel uneasy. Sometimes I feel hopeful (tempered with common sense—this submission may not be successful, but the next one may be). You may feel a whole range of other emotions. (To avoid feeling overwhelming regret, my advice is to avoid looking at your submitted piece or manuscript after sending. Whenever I do this, I find something I hate!)
  4. Multiple submissions make sense (if allowed). Some journals hang on to work for months, even years. I once had a story with a US literary journal for 14 months, and I’ve heard tales of much longer waits. If the journal or competition allows simultaneous submissions, it’s worth improving the odds by submitting to at least one other market (in my opinion).
  5. Destinations are important. Except in the case of a freaky genius, it’s probably best to send the first submitted poem to a smaller magazine, rather than the Paris Review. There’s no point sending a sci-fi/Western story to a snooty literary magazine that doesn’t publish genre fiction. And it may be unwise to send a literary novel manuscript to an agent who specialises in fantasy and YA. Choosing where we send our words improves the chance of being chosen.

I’m sure there are other aspects to submitting I haven’t considered. After all, I write short fiction only.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.