Contemporary champions of independent writing and publishing, or even the broader gig economy, often talk about having fun, enjoying the process of creating, and keeping it all fun and play to ensure that we're able to play this game for a long time.
I've already written about how long-term is actually far longer than we can possibly contemplate.
But today I wanted to talk about the short-term. The day-to-day reality of the creative life.
I don't wake up every single day, feeling excited about my life and my work. I do have great days like that, true, when I'm eager to write the next scene, check off some pending tasks on the never-ending list of publishing and marketing.
But I also have days when I dread getting up and facing the tasks that lie ahead. There are days when I wish to do nothing but lie in bed and not think about how long this long-term thing really is.
Heck, on days like that I can't even fathom getting past that day alone, let alone a decade of writing and publishing.
In this day and age of constant positivity, I think it's important to put this out there and not romanticize the struggle and heartache, the anxiety and dread that often accompanies our creative work.
The Truth About Difficult Days
Today is one such day.
I woke up in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. Who can tell what caused it?
Perhaps it is because yesterday I received some author copies I had ordered and I was happy with all but one, so my head is buzzing with all the things I need to do in order to rectify that. And once again I start to feel I wish I had more time to do all that needs to be done in this solo operation.
Perhaps it's the exhaustion of driving up and down 80 km in all in a day to drop off and pick up D at/from his ongoing summer camp. Perhaps it's also the sadness that this will be his second and last week of camp at that venue and I'll miss the morning and afternoon drives and chatting with his camp instructor who's also a new author and fellow book-lover.
Perhaps it's the constant push for high word count output I've been operating under, without allowing time for blog posts like these — I've had three ideas in as many days, and I put them aside to focus on fiction, instead — and now I just have to get them out before I can focus on anything else.
Who knows what causes that shift in mood, that grumpiness, that overwhelm that forces us to pause and rethink and reset?
It doesn't matter what causes it. All that matters is what we do in a situation like this.
Over a period of time, I've come to see that sometimes I can plough my way through this funk. Sometimes I need to write the things that are taking up space in my head so they'd stop residing as to-write words in my thoughts and show up as written words here on the blog. Sometimes I need to step away and do something else.
I've also come to see that I can't always plan and prepare for this. And that's alright. It's just part of the human condition. It's just part of trying to do something that feels hard in the moment.
Just because these moods come up doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong. Just because this business of writing and publishing fiction feels hard at times, too often really, doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong. It's hard. It is.
I love this YouTube short posted by Sarra Cannon, writer and author success planner over at her channel, HeartBreathings.
"Just cried alone in my car," the text on the video reads, "Edits are sometimes hard, and it feels like I'm moving too slow."
This, this right here is the reality.
It's not fun and play all the time. Writing and editing and publishing sometimes really feel hard and insurmountable. I always feel that I'm moving too slow, that I'm not doing enough, that I need to do more, that I need to push myself harder.
Of course, none of that works, and I end up just burnt out and wishing I had never gotten into writing in the first place. Just like that, a blessing becomes a curse.
Alternately, I can give myself space and grace, allow myself a day or two of clearing the decks, of writing these blog posts that demand to be written, of taking care of publishing/marketing/admin stuff, and then coming back to the manuscript with a clearer head and a rested body and mind.
"But I will not give up just because it's hard," the text in the video says. "If you're struggling too, you are not alone. Let's keep going together."
The Truth About Feelings of Quitting
In his book, The Power of Unwavering Focus, Hindu priest and former monk, Dandapani, says the following about the pursuit of our passion.
Anyone who tells you he has never thought of quitting is selling you a tropical island in the Arctic.
In a conversation with Joe DeSena, the founder of Spartan Race — military-style obstacle races designed to test mental fortitude and physical strength — I asked him if he ever thought of quitting any of the long endurance races he participates in.
The words were barely out of my mouth before he replied with "All the time. I want to quit every race I do."
I couldn't help thinking to myself at that moment what an honest answer that was.
I can assure you that portraying a life devoid of uncertainty and imbued with perfectionism does not inspire hope but rather falsely paints a picture of a painless path to success — a picture that will leave all hopelessly disappointed by their inability to reach such heights.
The glorified narrow pointed peaks of success that most people like to focus on are but a fraction of the breadth and depth of the chasms that achievers spend most of their time crawling out of.
Let me also be transparent in saying that the pursuit of such a solitary desire at the expense of all else in life should not imply that I never doubted or questioned my path. I don't want to paint a picture of a superhero or a stoic monk immune to the throes of life.
We often wish to paint those we hold in high regard with broad strokes of perfectionism and messianic qualities.
I can assure you we are all human, every last one of us. I broke, I cried, I failed, I faltered, became desperate, got confused, questioned myself, and more.
But I never gave up the pursuit of my life's purpose. That desire is ever present and is what defines what I do in life and the focus of my energy.
~ The Power of Unwavering Focus by Dandapani
I have nothing to add to this. These words are self-sufficient and convey the message eloquently.
The Truth About Affirmations
One of the oft-given advice on the internet for ploughing through difficult times is to resort to affirmations.
I've given my fair share of time and energy to affirmations, but they've always felt wrong and insincere to me. I finally understood why, and I also figured out what I could do instead, thanks to The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte.
In a sub-chapter titled 'Affirmations Can Mess You Up', LaPorte quotes other exemplary beings and shares her own experiences with affirmations.
Affirmations are like screaming that you're okay in order to overcome this whisper that you're not. That's a big contrast to actually uncovering the whisper, realizing that it's a passing memory, and moving closer to all those fears and all those edgy feelings that maybe you're not okay. Well, no big deal. None of us is okay and all of us are fine. It's not just one way. We are walking, talking paradoxes.
~ Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are
If you're going to affirm something, affirm the truth. Then go do something about it.
~ Jim Rohn
I came of age in the New Age of the '90s. I had affirmation cards before I had business cards. And I tried to love affirmations, really I did. But affirmations didn't do me any favours.
When my mouth was saying, "I am fearless and courageous!" my brain was saying "I'm scared shitless." So then not only did I still feel scared, I also felt like a fake.
If you say that all is well when all is not well, or that you're skinny when you're feeling fat, or that you're healthy when you're sick — well, to state the obvious, you're lying to yourself.
Self-deception creates a cognitive dissonance so that, despite the positive-sounding phrasing, you're creating inner tension and conflict.
Contrived affirmations take you out of the present. Rather than facing what's real, we try to plaster over the difficult truths with happy thoughts. This is false optimism and it's damaging.
It undermines our capacity to be with that is and to access our real strength and spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity includes the capacity to acknowledge our fears while maintaining our confidence and truth.
... Fear is natural and it deserves respect and compassion — don't insult your fear by smothering it with saccharine affirmations. Be scared. And ... be brave.
~ The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte
Facing Our Fears
It's OK to admit that this business of writing and publishing feels difficult and impossible more often than I'd like it to be.
It's OK to admit that every morning I wake up, worried that all these hours I spend at the writing desk may result in nothing. That's a terrifying thought indeed.
Imagine spending decades of your life on something that never takes off in the material sense. Because we do live in a material world after all, and our reality is very material indeed.
To deny that is foolish. To deny the risk of failure in any undertaking is certainly foolish.
So what do we do then?
We can acknowledge our fears, and then go on to face them anyway.
Like Danielle LaPorte says, "Be scared. And ... be brave."
So, you, you who are scared and worried about where all your creative work is going to lead, it's OK. It's OK to feel scared. You're not doing anything wrong.
It's just the nature of this world. It's just our human condition. This need for certainty. This guarantee of a certain outcome. This desire for our heartfelt dreams to come true.
This is what drives us.
And in following our dreams, whether or not we encounter material success, I know for a fact that we will encounter our fears every single day.
And we can be brave and acknowledge them and proceed anyway.
This much, we can do.
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