I just finished up running an event focused on helping writers battle distraction — the type of stuff that gets in the way of their writing.
I did deep interviews with nine creative professionals. And I think Dani Shapiro summed it up best:
“Not only doesn’t it get any easier, it actually gets harder.”
That quote is from her book Still Writing. If you haven’t bought it yet, go buy it. If you bought it already, buy another copy for a friend.
When I spoke to Dani for the event, I asked her about this. She elaborated:
“[At another event I spoke at] I listed having a best-selling book, having a great review in the New York Times, having a big piece in the New Yorker, being on Oprah. And all of this stuff, essentially saying, “I’m sure that you all think that if all of these things happened to you that you would be completely set.”
“And then I went into what that actually feels like and what the truth of that is, which any writer who’s had any of that kind of success, if they took a truth serum, they would tell you not only that [it gets harder], but its how it should be. Because the writers who get infected with a kind of confidence or a sense that, what they’re doing is actually great, stop making anything that is great. Because there is a seed of, I think that’s really important, of insecurity and anxiety and striving. Feeling like, ”I don’t know if I’m hitting the mark,” in order to keep on striving and get ever closer to hitting the mark.”
“There isn’t one single piece of writing that I have done in the last 20 years that did not begin with my thinking, “Here goes nothing. This time this is not going to work.” Whether it’s a book review, an essay, a blog post, or a book, that feeling of, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here.”
“All of language of the inner censor comes roaring to the surface. “I’m not good enough.” “So-and-so did it better.” “What is so-and-so going to think?” “What right do I have?” Shame, vulnerability. “This is stupid.”
“You can go on and on, whatever, pick your poison. And one of the things about the inner censor is, it keeps on shifting, and morphing, and changing throughout a writer’s life. It’s not like you get to identify your inner censor and then, that’s it, you know your inner censor. Because if that were the case, you could get rid of them, right?”
This was the point of the event I ran. To address challenges that stand between you and your craft head on. To not “inspire,” but instead demystify, and in doing so, preparing you to take meaningful action.
If people are out there selling you “easy,” you should be skeptical.
Because it’s difficult to write.
To keep writing.
To keep publishing.
To juggle both your responsibilities and your dreams.
And your sense of self with the roles others have for you.
To feel like this is somehow both a natural fit, and a ruthless battle.
Where things fall into place, and you fight for it to be that way.
To seek out ways to better your craft,
While the world piles on thousands of points of advice until your head is spinning.
To find that your greatest achievement.
And your greatest failure.
Can be wrapped up in the single milestone of publishing your work.
I’m a real downer, right? I don’t mean to be. I would simply ask you to do this: invest in two things:
- Your craft. Hours in the chair writing. What I tend to find here is that sharing/publishing your work is an essential part of the discovery process in craft. In other words: just writing alone for 10 years can rob you of keen insights that sharing your work can provide.
- Your support system. This consists of your collaborators (yes, you need collaborators), your mental health (we DO NOT talk about this enough), your physical health, and to double down on connecting with those who already support and love your work. That, instead of running around trying to get more more more readers, you treat the readers you have like they are the most special people on earth. Invest in the people who believe in you, not those who don’t.
I have been obsessing about all of this recently. The event I ran is one of the ways I tried to explore it. Another is a new series of blog posts that my friend Miranda Beverly-Whittemore and I just launched. It has a similar ethos in mind. For that, we are focusing on the reality of an author’s role in publicity and marketing for their book.
This, of course, comes after craft and your support system.
Here is the first post, nearly 4,000 words on everything Miranda wishes she knew 5 months before she published her first novel.
We are now a few weeks into the new year, which is the point at which new year’s resolutions veer off the rails.
In 11 months, all of us will be saying, “WOW, where did that year go?!” When considering how you improve your craft and your support system, I encourage you to take clear actions right now.
Because this is the thing none of us want to admit: we don’t want yet another year to go by without realizing the work that matters most to us.
Blink and it will be December 31.
And it takes every ounce of courage to fight that. Not by slowing down time, but by looking in the mirror and investing in what you see.
If you are waiting for “easy,” don’t. Because it won’t get easier. This is what Dani shows me. What Miranda shows me. What Steven Pressfield shows me. What Twyla Tharp shows me. What Anne Lamott shows me. What David Bayles and Ted Orland show me. What Jocelyn K. Glei shows me. What Hugh Howey shows me. What Amanda Palmer shows me.
This is not meant to be a weight. A bummer. It is instead, meant to provide clarity and fuel. To create what matters most to you.
If, in 11 months, there is one thing that you want to say you accomplished this year, what would it be?