It feels like an unbelievably long time since last August 31, 2020.
I mean, yes, this post is also
two three four weeks late. But time has a stretchy quality these days, doesn’t it? Will that ever go away, do you think?
Let’s talk about writing
Frustratingly, in real life, you often have to go back and have the same epiphany over and over again, incrementally, improving a tiny bit each time.Elizabeth Bear
I seem to need to have the same epiphanies over and over again, no matter how many times I feel shook by them. No matter how many times I write them down.
So here they are. Again.
Share the work!
I’m proud of being published. But I’m more proud of how many times I sent work out. That’s the part I can control, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for literal decades. Yes, I’d submit here and there but I never figured out how to send work out a bunch of times without crumpling under the pressure. Until now. Every rejection that came in was something I cherished! Totally different attitude.
Disregard those very logical and reasonable fears about a writing career.
Writing fiction and poetry never ever ever makes sense as a career, until it does. And there’s no guarantee it ever will.
It’s hard. It’s slow. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll meet with success by normal terms. And so, at some point, I told myself it didn’t make sense. It wasn’t possible to be a writer.
I didn’t even realize I’d done this! I thought I was keeping things realistic.
This year I realized that I was serving as my own gatekeeper, which is something I’ve sworn never to do. Once I got that jerk out of the way, I found it much easier to sit down and work on the book. It still doesn’t make any sense to sink months and months into a project that will likely never see the light of day. I work on it in the nooks and crannies of my day, scraping away at the mountain side one spoonful at a time.
You can’t logic a decision like this. You just have to jump and hope you make it over the chasm.
Daily work is best.
Annie Dillard quote
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
The demon on my shoulder argues I don’t have to work daily, but the truth is: I’m best when I can work daily on my writing. My mental health is better, and the writing flows. I took a vacation from writing, and while it was restful, I was also a basket of nerves by the end of it.
Let’s talk about structure
Morning routines. Routines, routines, routines.
Turns out when you never travel or go anywhere, it’s super easy to put together some routines. The longer I stay home, the more I get done.
I started using Habitica this year, which helps me remember which goals/habits/etc I’m working on at any given time. I’ve been strict with myself — the only things I put in Habitica are things that nobody cares about as much as I do.
That means: Workouts, meditation, writing, gardening, creative projects. Making space for that in my life has been FANNNNNTASTIC.
The great pandemic lesson.
Over the last year, I picked up a hobby I never wanted: Playing guitar. It’s of a complicated story that starts with me being too miserable to take bagpipe lessons in college, regretfully watching bagpipers on a field in Scotland, and deciding I’d correct my mistake as an adult.
Then I realized bagpipes are loud, expensive, and difficult. So I got real with myself about what this particular desire was about. Ultimately, I just wanted to make music again. I don’t know why. I have plenty of other creative impulses. But that one was loud.
Guitar seemed easy, cheap, and friendly to singing, which I love to do. So, despite the fact that I had no interest in the guitar, I bought one.
I’m glad I did. Every day I sit down for 5 minutes to an hour, most often 20-30 minutes, and I play. I’m teaching myself with a cobbled together selection of resources. I’ve played guitar for 442 days straight.
The last year of going slowly helped me realize how many bad feelings I had in my life before the pandemic. How low my standards were for my quality of life, if you will. Now I’m doing everything in my power to keep those at bay as the world reopens. I’ve been trying to notice when my body feels like it’s full of angry bees, and to step away until the bees have gone back to sleep. Meditation helps. Walking helps. Playing guitar helps.
Between the novel and the job the routines and the self-care, the baking and the guitar and the board games, there are big areas of my life not getting much attention. I’d fret, but those other things give me so much. Why say no to that?
But I already have my hard-mode dream of finishing the book.
So, the other dreams languish. Sometimes goals feel more like guilt. The house is eternally messy–there are boxes full of items that need homes. Things that need cleaning that I never get to. I’m working on letting it go and enjoying what I AM focused on.
It all takes time. There are seasons to our lives. This one, for me, is about finishing this book while living a semblance of a normal life. That’s what I’ve got capacity for. The rest can wait.
I got a coach. (??)
I was lucky enough to participate in a coaching program that paired me with an awesome executive coach. Sure, I thought, it’s free and I could use some help figuring life out. Working with my coach has rippled throughout my life in terms of writing, work, and general peace of mind.
We work primarily on Work Things (aka things I get paid for) — which helped me stop panicking about What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up and instead move toward a theory of following my interests and making moves that way.
Coaching is also where I realized I haven’t tried being a professional writer is because I was telling myself I couldn’t.
I’m also working a lot more on my leadership skills than I ever have. It traces back to the early posts of this kind — I had to learn how not to be a secretary. How to be a subject matter expert. How to hold my ground. Now I’m working on things like team dynamics, mentorship, giving helpful feedback. It’s hard, and it’s rewarding.
When I look to where I want to be in the next phase of my career, to be honest, I want to be writing books. Fiction. And so I’m attempting to identify the things that I need to get better at and find ways to work on them. I imagine my life as a writer will require discipline, and courage. And also leadership — I’m not built to hole myself up in my castle and write. I’m built to build communities, which is what I’m doing right now. It feels good for that to be in alignment.
Nine years. Feels so much longer than that. Thanks for being along for the ride.