Is Time Running Out?

Is Time Running Out?

Does anyone else feel like they are constantly on a deadline? I’m not talking about work deadlines, publishing deadlines, or application deadlines. I’m talking about self-imposed deadlines for life.

I want to be married by the time I’m 28.
Own a house by the time I’m 30.
Kids by the time I’m 32.
A major publishing deal by the time I’m 35.
A movie deal by the time I’m 40.
A non-deadline for retirement because I’ll love what I do and be making loads of money doing it.

While the personal milestones (marriage, kids, etc.) were never something I paid much attention to, my professional aspirations as a writer have always weighed heavily on me. And with each year that goes by, I feel as though my time to become a successful, traditionally published author (the dream) is running out.

It’s as if a giant hourglass is perpetually suspended over me, reminding me of the passage of time.

No wonder I have trouble relaxing! Trying to ease my mind by binge watching "The Real Housewives" proves difficult when I can hear each grain of sand slipping through as a brutal reminder that my life is passing by without having achieved my goal.

After I graduated undergrad in 2013, I wrote my first book. It was a YA dystopic fantasy that was a mix between The Hunger Games and X-Men. It was full of every trope you could think of, and I’m sure every agent I sent it out to rolled their eyes at yet another iteration of the trends they were seeing over and over in their inboxes. Besides the fact that I had no business querying such an underdeveloped story, I was convinced that this book would catapult me into the ranks of Victoria Aveyard and Veronica Roth. (My naïveté was cringeworthy … I know).

By the time I was querying, I had already been accepted to a Screenwriting MFA program, yet had the audacity to think that if I got a major publishing deal, I wouldn’t need to go. Of course, that never happened, and thank goodness, because I learned so much throughout my MFA program.

But even though I was progressing as a writer, it wasn’t happening fast enough. I was impatient to graduate, to get a film deal or a book deal—something that would prove that I had made the right decision to pursue a creative writing career.

And while I received some accolades for my writing, placed in a few contests, and even got a literary agent, I wasn’t there yet. I hadn’t been able to post a screenshot of my Publisher’s Marketplace announcement to social media, or go on book tour, or attend my swanky book launch party. The countdown of my life was ticking louder and louder each day. Even when I received a publishing deal from a small indie press, it felt more like a minor steppingstone to something I had yet to achieve.

My debut novel, Awakened, released in September 2021, and while I was extremely proud, it was difficult for me to fully appreciate that moment and celebrate my success. Instead, I felt as though I needed to capitalize on the book’s release, write something new, get a top-tier literary agent (I had since parted ways with my old agent), and get a book deal from one of the "Big 5" publishing houses.

I often asked myself why I felt such pressure to achieve ASAP.

Maybe it was because I read a lot of books by young writers and followed their incredible successes via social media. This, of course, would inevitably lead to me comparing myself to them. I would try and make myself feel better by reminding myself that Toni Morrison didn’t publish The Bluest Eye until she was nearly 40. JRR Tolkien didn’t find success with The Lord of the Rings series until he was 45. JK Rowling didn’t publish Harry Potter until she was 31 (which is less comforting now that I’m 32). I would tell myself that success wasn’t limited to a certain age, but for some reason, to this day, that ticking clock continues to persist.

Especially once I discovered that I was pregnant.

My husband and I are so delighted to be having our first child together in 2023. I have always wanted children, and I am beyond excited to become a mother. But with this, of course, the ticking clock only got louder.

After I had time to digest the amazing and life-changing news that I would become a mom, I instantly felt the urge to write one more book before the baby is born. And while being a mom will come with a whole new slew of responsibilities and challenges, the thought that I will never be able to write again is completely irrational.

Yet … I can’t seem to shake the feeling that time is running out.  

Upon further examination and discussions with other writers, I found that the passage of time is linked to some of my internal fears:

What if I become discouraged with constant rejection? What if my imposter syndrome takes over? What if I come to the realization that I simply shouldn’t keep writing? That I’m wasting my time pursuing something that will never yield results or somehow provide for me and my family? What if mom guilt prevents me from ever writing again?

Despite the amazing amount of positive validation I have received from my writing career, the fear is that the more time that goes by without attaining my goal of becoming a traditionally published author, the closer I might be to throwing in the towel.

But in reality, I can recognize this as more irrational thinking.

I am passionate about storytelling and have built my professional life around it. My love for creating stories and the writing process is thoroughly ingrained within me. Even if I never become a traditionally published author, my life would feel empty without creating. Not to mention that I own an editing business that helps other writers bring their own stories to life—something I find extremely rewarding.

In fact, the more time that goes by, the better writer I become.

The passage of time comes with personal growth and expanded horizons. The more life experience I gain, the more I will enrich my writing, perspective, outlook, etc.

Even if someone gains success at a young age, there is always room to grow and deepen their understanding of varying subjects and people in general. And even though becoming a mom might come with its own unique challenges, it will allow me a new perspective I never otherwise would have had.

It will also force me to better improve my time management skills!

So, even if that taunting hourglass never ceases to prey on my fears, I am making the conscious decision to view the passage of time as a blessing, not a burden.

*Feature Image: "Twist Your Time" by Cristina Bernazzani (Adobe)

Ciara Duggan is an author/screenwriter who received her MFA from Boston University. Her debut novel, Awakened, was released in Fall 2021, and she runs her own business, Ciara Duggan Editorial.
More posts by Ciara Duggan.
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