- Your writing and creative work
- Publishing and sharing
- Engaging an audience
Boundaries are a gift to your creative work. Embrace your boundaries. Let’s dig in…
Why Boundaries Help
I’m sure you have very real boundaries. You may care for kids, have responsibilities to loved ones, work a day job, support an ailing family member, work through bouts of anxiety, and struggle to make ends meet. These challenges are real.
It’s easy to look at others and assume that they have the following things that you don’t have at the moment: money, resources, time, physical energy, mental space, confidence, and skills.
They don’t. These other people struggle with their own unique set of boundaries. It is helpful to remember that nearly all creative work is crafted this way: amidst limitations, lack of resources, and incredible amounts of pressure.
The image was taken and shared by Amanda Palmer of her husband Neil Gaiman, and the caption reads: “Neil Gaiman writing down ideas for his new novel as 9,000 people exit the Nick Cave show in Sydney.”
Some may look at this photo and only see someone who is “privileged”: two famous people attending a concert in a beautiful city.
Let’s put this in context. Some of what Neil is dealing with right now:
- He has a young 1.5 year old son
- He has three older kids as well
- He had a book come out on February 7th
- He has another book coming out in April
- He is doing a speaking tour that begins in March
- His wife is in the process of recording her next album while also playing live shows herself
There is likely much more going on with him, such as public things around his creative work that I haven’t captured here. But there are also likely private things he is dealing with that we couldn’t possibly know about. Difficult situations, someone close to him dealing with a health crisis, navigating his own relationship, perhaps a business situation that isn’t going as expected, managing his own physical and mental health, and so much else.
Now let’s go back to that photo of him from above. Amidst all he is doing right now, all he is managing, he is out on a date with his wife. In the middle of that, as she waits for him, as people on both sides of the aisle stare at him and whisper, “OMG, that’s Neil Gaiman,” he writes.
It is easy to look at all he is doing and see them as achievements. But to him, they can feel like boundaries. He is creating amidst so much else in life that is screaming for his attention. Yet he writes.
Boundaries Help You Create
I want to share what I have experienced recently in allowing boundaries to be a part of my own creative work. How boundaries have helped the work, instead of hindering it.
After years of working with hundreds of writers & creative professionals, I’m publishing my first book on March 7th. It’s called: Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience.
But before I wrote this book, I wrote another book, and that project failed. I never finished the book, never had it published. My expectations were so high, that every decision felt momentous. I wanted it to be traditionally published by a prominent publishing house. I did months of research, wrote 85,000 words, and kept setting my expectations higher and higher.
The project was crushed under its own weight. It was too convoluted, and I found that it killed the sense of momentum I had originally had.
Last year I decided to re-approach the idea of writing a book, but this time, I embraced boundaries as part of the process. I did that in two ways:
I made it small. Instead of trying to create the biggest book possible, I reversed it and focused on self-publishing a book that would be extremely helpful to others. The measure of the book is not if it makes a “splash,” for me, but rather if it truly helps someone who reads it. That changed the focus from feeling as though I needed to make the book as huge as I could, to being just focused on how effective it is for others. It allowed me to skip the process of identifying the “best” agent, the “best” publisher, and of the waiting process in between. All of my effort with the book was ensuring it helped those who read it.
I embraced a real-life “deadline” as framing for the book: the upcoming birth of my second child in April. This fueled a deep sense of momentum for me. By making the project smaller, I was able to:
- Develop a very focused timeline for the project.
- Develop a daily writing and editing habit.
- Clearly and quickly decide which partners to bring into the process. I couldn’t wait around for the perfect book designer. I couldn’t spend two years editing it. I couldn’t do 8 weeks of research on the best possible way to publish it. That baby is coming, and I had to make these decisions with that in mind.
These boundaries steered me away from all of the things that took me off track with a previous book I was working on.
By making it small and embracing a boundary, I gave the project a chance to actually live. As I developed this project, I found that I had become so obsessed with it, that I couldn’t possibly stop. What’s more, the book kept growing in scope and size. I tricked myself into making it bigger and better than I originally intended because I didn’t saddle it with such huge expectations.
Boundaries Help You Publish and Share
With the book coming out, there is an unending list of things I feel I could be doing to support it. I love independent bookstores, so I absolutely have to ensure this book launches within them, right? Well, no. The truth is, I don’t have time to do that and still get the book out before the baby arrives. I considered delaying the project because of this, but found that it became yet another excuse to not write and publish a book.
Here I am, a little over a week before the publication date, and there are a million things I could freak out about. Instead, I am concerned over a few key things, and ensuring I do them well enough.
Having a boundary has helped me be clear about what I can accomplish right now, instead of what I can’t. It has established more reasonable goals in the process, and has helped me focus on actually enjoying this process, instead of feeling overwhelmed and anxious that “I’m not doing it right.”
Boundaries Help You Reach An Audience
A constant I find with authors, is that they hope their book takes them “to the next level.” Where it becomes dangerous is when that becomes a REQUIREMENT. That, if your book doesn’t become a breakout hit, it translates to a catastrophic personal defeat. One that kills your momentum, diminishes your confidence, and distances you from the audience you who actually does love your work because you are mourning the fact that it isn’t bigger.
My advice: focus your goals. Consider the experiences you want others to have with your work. Identify a handful of ways you can truly connect to your ideal audience, then double down on them. Instead of collecting a list of 1,000 to-do’s, choose a few ways to reach your audience, and pursue them better than anyone else. Connect in ways that feel meaningful, that develop relationships with colleagues and readers, and that supports your writing career in the long term.
This is where I see so many get distracted. They feel they need to do every “best practice” they read about, and they get sidetracked with SEO, metadata, mobile friendly website design, and the newest feature that Instagram added to their platform. While each of these things is “important,” none of them should overshadow the connection you forge between your work and the reader.
For my book, knowing that my wife is due to have the baby in April has allowed me to consider a handful of meaningful ways to connect the book to readers, and to forgive myself for the 989 other ideas that I simply won’t have time to pursue.
Embrace Boundaries In Your Work
To embrace boundaries to fuel your work, I encourage you to:
- Name your boundaries. If you feel you have a barrier that is limiting you, write it down. Be clear about what it is. The goal here is to stop being inundated with an unending list of to-dos and stresses. When you name them, you can recognize them, honor them and begin to work with them. Too often, people move from one anxiety to another, never realizing that the moment they “fix” one, another will appear. Naming your boundaries is not about removing them, it is about confronting your ability to grow in spite of them.
- Be clear about your goals. When you know what you want to create and how you want it to affect others, that helps you to focus on practical ways to make it happen. Instead of “dreaming big,” how can you dream small? How can you ensure your goals are specific enough to be attainable, therefore fueling momentum instead of setting you up for disappointment?
- Negotiate with those who surround you. In the photo above, where Amanda lovingly shared a photo of her husband writing while they were on a date, clearly they have an agreement. She didn’t see this as an affront to their relationship, but rather as something she could empathize with and embrace. In your life, how can you negotiate with those around you to ensure there is room for you to pursue your creative work?
- Find partners to stay accountable to. When you work entirely on your own, it is easy to become overwhelmed, and put your creative work to the side. Instead of feeling you must go it alone, bring others into your process. People who support your work and can help you stay accountable to it.
- Create deadlines. Finishing and publishing your work is a key way to improve your skills. If you constantly delay your work with the justification that you are improving it, consider what you have to gain by sharing it with the world, and using what you learn on your next project.
Embracing your boundaries is not about being limited by them. It is about working with them to reach your potential.
How have you used boundaries to fuel your creative work?