Listening by Johanna Harness

15 Aug

In my last post, I opened my heart and talked about all the ways I’ve been boxing myself in as a writer.

Too often, we see our available choices as a series of either/or options.  I either do this or I do that.  I’m either moving forward in my career or I’m moving backward.  I’m either on a traditional publishing path or an independent one.  I’m either obsessing over writing all the time or I’m not a writer at all.


Also: bah.

We have so many more options than our dichotomies allow. In fact, the world is just bursting with choruses of YES.

After my last post, more than one reader reminded me that I can still be a writer while putting my personal life first.  “In fact,” one friendly voice whispered, “you will probably be a better author if you do.”

Two more sage and respected readers pointed out that my writing will always be with me, but this time with my mom is fleeting.

At LeakyCon this week, an agent I admire very much told me that she hears this all the time.  A writer says, “but my agent needs this now.”  She shook her head.  “Your agent—your editor—no one needs your work so much that you don’t have time to take care of yourself.”

Another agent said, “No one is going to judge the quality of your work based on how quickly it was published.  No one ever mentions speed of publishing in a book review. You have time.”

The gentle advice always makes me cry.

Tell me to write through the pain, to suck it up, to keep a punishing schedule—and I set my jaw and go.  But tell me to take care of myself?  To trust my writing voice? To be faithful to myself?

Well, to be honest, I usually ignore the gentle voices.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I’m tough. I can handle it.

Maybe it’s an Idaho thing.  I remember—years ago—my dad coming in the house from working on his truck, a viscous red trail forming behind him.  Woozy at the sight of so much blood, I told him I’d drive him to the hospital. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Then, brow furrowed, he lifted the balled-up shirt from his hand. I know damn well he saw the glint of white bone as clearly as I did—before he jammed the shirt back down.  “Just needs a bandaid,” he said.

Throughout my life, I’ve settled for bandaids in all kinds of situations, physical and emotional, choosing to be tough over all else.

So I suppose it’s as big a surprise to me as it is to you that I’m actually listening this time.

This time, I’m NOT doing the all-or-nothing thing.

I’m rearranging my schedule with flexibility in mind.  Yes. I still plan to write every day, but I give myself permission to ignore the 5AM alarm if I’ve been up all night.  Yes. I still plan to blog on my personal site, but this will be my last regularly-scheduled post for Gem State Writers. Yes. There will continue to be an #amwriting site, but changes are afoot.

It’s funny.  I thought pulling back would feel like giving up, but it doesn’t.  It feels very much like learning how to breathe again—like I’m fulfilling an essential step in moving forward.

Gem State Writers, I will miss you, but I know good things are in store for all of you.  I wish you the very best.


Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Idaho, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

31 responses to “Listening by Johanna Harness

  1. Zehra Cranmer (@ZehraCranmer)

    August 15, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    I felt emotional reading this, but it’s so true, the only pressure on us is what we put upon ourselves. It’s time that we took those steps back, and be mindful of each moment we have ; take care of ourselves better & spend the right time with the ones we love. We’re all with you on this Johanna, you’re doing the right thing! You’re not quitting, your living and your dad is totally cool & so much like mine!

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 6:28 AM

      Thank you, Zehra. The pressure I put on myself is always the worst and the hardest to ignore. The support of friends and family means so much. Without the insight of others, I never would have realized my options—so humbling.

  2. JC Rosen

    August 15, 2012 at 5:35 AM

    You’re a remarkable woman and author, Johanna. Your taking steps in a fresh way is inspiring. Taking care of yourself and your family, sharing time with one another and building a cache of memories – these are the things which matter most. You’re a fantastic author whose voice I’m convinced the world will hear when the timing is right for you.

    Take care,

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 6:30 AM

      Thanks so much, Jess. Knowing you’ve read and believe in my books means the world to me.

  3. Tante Willemijn

    August 15, 2012 at 6:07 AM

    It’s always so good to see if someone decides to walk their own path instead of taking the route designated by others. The path is usually covered with stones and obstacles others throw before your feet, but much worth walking. And as you progress along it, you’ll find it easier to stick to it. Wow, I so did not want to make a spiritual reading of this…Stick to it. It’s your life. You’re the only one who knows how it should be lived.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 6:35 AM

      I know what you mean. Those spiritual insights often help us to make decisions that go against the flow. Thanks so much for your support.

  4. April Brown (@AprilBrownWrite)

    August 15, 2012 at 6:16 AM

    Hi Johanna,

    I posted a response an hour ago. It took a long time to write, and got ate by cyberspace. Let me see if I can recreate it.

    I went through something similar once. I was a true work-a-holic. Worked 12 + hours per day, and barely had eight hours to sleep – no time to eat during the week because of working.

    Not sure why I thought that was life. No time for anything – not even food.

    During a year of bed rest to recover and try to gain weight, 90 pounds is NOT recommended for a five foot and three inch tall woman, I began to realize I had forgotten what life was.

    I had forgotten how to read – too busy working. I had forgotten how to write – even basic sentence structure eluded me. I had forgotten how to cook – not good at all. I had forgotten how to sew and knit. I had forgotten how to make friends.

    All my favorite pastimes – cooking, writing, reading, making clothes, and even building had been pushed aside for what society considered adult past times – working myself into the grave.

    Sure, you can have a busy day or two with your writing.

    A single goal to the exclusion of all else is not a life. Life should be filled with family, friends, cooking, eating, sleeping, creating and maintaining your home space, however you choose to do it.

    Best wishes on developing a more well rounded life, with writing as a relaxing pastime, not a stressful life reducer!

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 6:39 AM

      April–thank you so much for taking the time to rewrite this. I know your eyesight only allows you so much screen time and you’ve given some of that time to me. Such an awesome gift.

      Balance is always such a struggle, isn’t it? As the needs of our lives change, it’s so much easier to cling to the familiar.

      Your journey is inspiring. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Charlene Ann Baumbich

    August 15, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Good on YOU! I’ll be out here cheering, wishing you well, sending you peace and love and refreshment, energy and patience and joy. You will know when it’s time … for WHATEVER. Yes, listen. Be. Scribble now and then.

    I, too, was raised with a “Just get back on that horse again!” spirit and model. Yes, there is a time and a place for that kind of grit, but not when one is bleeding out. There is also a time and a place for the wisdom of humility and sanity that says, “Not this time.”

    I send you hugs and a round of applause. You are not caving in: you are stepping up, doing what is best–for everyone, including you. XO

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:32 PM

      Thank you, Charlene. You’ve influenced me more than you know–all for the good. *hugs*

  6. Liz Fredericks

    August 15, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    Well my friend, I’m so torn into emotional chunks on your final REGULAR (but NOT last) post with GSW . . . so proud of you for making what I know was a challenging decision for an Idaho gal . . . ‘take care of yourself’ is what we tell friends, but not self. You make such a difference to other people and I’m so looking forward to seeing you and catching up over unpalatable cafe ole food and margaritas.

    “We have so many more options than our dichotomies allow.” Classic

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:38 PM

      Bring on the margaritas! See you soon. 🙂

  7. Peggy Staggs

    August 15, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    Johanna, I wish you luck and peace. And I know we’ll see you again on our blog.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:40 PM

      Thank you so much, Peggy. My experience here has been wonderful. It means so much to me that I’m welcome to come back for guest posts. 🙂

  8. ValRoberts

    August 15, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Hugs, Johanna, and thanks for the link to your personal blog. We’ll be here when you get back. ❤

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      Thank you so much, Val. Love your insights. Coping Beans FTW!

  9. kristina

    August 15, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Perhaps it’s because I just flew, but I am reminded that in case of an emergency, you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.

    Good for you – seeing that you need to breathe better before doing the next thing. I hope you find your way to better balance, easier breathing, and your dreams. {hug}

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:45 PM

      Thank you, Kristina. You are made of awesome. *hugs*

  10. Allie Pleiter

    August 15, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    I’ll never forget the time I called my agent to beg off a deadline in the middle of a dire health crisis with my son. She said, quite simply, quite wisely, “You don’t have a deadline. You have a son.”. It is always the wiser choice, and you’re the wiser for making it. Godspeed!

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:54 PM

      That makes me tear up. Awesome agent. Thanks so much for telling me.

  11. maryvine

    August 15, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I will so miss you. I took five years off from writing anything when I got a divorce and rebuilt my life. God bless you and your family.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:55 PM

      I’ll miss you too, Mary. Thanks so much for all your support.

  12. Meredith Conner

    August 15, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    “The choruses of yes” await you Johanna. I wish you the best of luck. You will be missed.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      Oh that does sound nice. Thanks so much, Mer. I will miss you.

  13. Lynn Mapp

    August 15, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    You have learned the most important life lesson. Taking care of yourself isn’t a bad thing. Do it.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 2:57 PM

      When I think of you, I always feel loved. Thank you, Lynn.

  14. Angela Myers

    August 15, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    I am so relieved you’ve decided to do this. I worried about your health every time I read that you’d gotten up at 5 a.m. to write after being up late the night before. As important as writing is to us, if we wind up killing ourselves doing it, who is going to tell all the stories trapped inside us? I know I’m a bad example, having wait so long to pursue being a published author, but when I talked to my middle-aged daughter the other day about things I’d done while she was growing up, she said, “All I remember is that you were always there.” You know, that’s the most important thing we can do for our kids–be there. I still managed to get my degree and start my novel, but apparently I managed to balance everything. I glad you’ve decided to balance. I’m sure you’ve made the right decision.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 10:40 PM

      Thank you, Angela.Your words are very reassuring to me. I am taking them to heart.

  15. Stephanie Berget

    August 15, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Johanna, getting to know you has been a treat. I’ve worried about you while reading your last few posts. Take care of yourself. I check in on the blog. Take care.

    • johannaharness

      August 15, 2012 at 10:41 PM

      Thanks so much, Stephanie. I will still be blogging at my author site, just not on schedule. I’ll be sure to tweet when I do. 🙂

  16. Clarissa Southwick

    August 19, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Johanna, we will miss your blogs at GSW, but please know that we are always here for you. Don’t forget to call us if there’s anything we can do.


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