Compassion is at the top of the list. Without it, I can’t imagine a writer getting very far. As writers, we are often too hard on ourselves, either because we haven’t kept to a writing goal, or we got rejected from an agent, or we beat ourselves up, or judge and shame our writing. In effect, we sabotage what we want most: to write and to write well. When our inner critic is raging, our mind and body goes into a state of stress and can’t allow the creativity or higher thinking that needs to flow in order for us to give room to our best writing selves.
If you’re blocked and your inner critic is relentless, hire a coach, talk to a writing buddy, or look in the mirror and soften all your facial muscles, then smile. Compassion goes a long way in allowing your brilliance to survive its entry into the world, and onto the page. Help your writing along by speaking kindly to yourself, use encouraging words and terms of endearment. “Okay, pumpkin, you’re having a rough day. Get some rest and try again tomorrow,” will help you much more than “See, you crazy idiot, I knew you couldn’t do this!”
Writing takes resilience. Resilience is a key factor when a writer goes through the grief process. Yes, we actually go through a grief process that can get enacted any time we have to scrap a former draft of our precious pages, eagerly open a letter from an agent to find a rejection, or wake up two hours earlier than we think is humanly possible to get our words on the page. Resilience helps us bounce back from rejection. It helps us move through the grieving process when the book we thought was finished is nowhere near complete. Resilience frees us to face the work we need to do, and to approach the trenches of the writing life with grace and courage. Resilience will keep you on a healthier keel than sinking into depression, victim mind, and stress.
A friend recently told me that she always wanted to write; it was her dream to become a writer. But when she actually sat down to do it, writing was harder than she thought and so she stopped.
Writing is hard.
Writing itself is often not what people are after when they think of becoming a writer. Although when writers do find their groove, their voice, and a subject they are passionate about, the physical act of sitting still long enough to get the words on the page, and generate new material from the very core of our creative being, which can be in itself exhilarating and exhausting, feels “¦ well, better. But many people go into writing hoping for accolades, stardom, a “break,” recognition, money, approval, validation, a flood of creative bliss.
Usually, that’s not how things go.
So be prepared-writing, like any other art form-is hard work. Long hours, little pay. Often, no recognition (unless you count your friends and parents) and a lot of deep practice. Like 10,000 hours of deep practice (a concept from Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers).
You either walk away and never turn back, or gently woo your practice back with the presence of mind and heartfelt intention of a Buddhist monk in training.
The Ability to Dream Big and Then Let it All Go
Just because writing is hard work and the rewards are typically more personal than financial or fame-inducing, doesn’t mean you can’t dream of having it all. Put your intentions out there. Want a New York Times bestseller and a two-book deal with your favorite literary agency? It doesn’t hurt to dream. In fact, setting an intention and having a clear goal (realistic or not) is a way to shine a beam of light to the powers-that-be, making it clear what you want. As with any goal, putting it out there often helps line things up in ways we might never imagined had we not given ourselves room to dream big.
What is the key? Be willing to let it all go. Anytime we’re attached to an outcome (“My book must become a New York Times bestseller by next month.”) we hold our dreams away from us by holding on a little too tightly.
Put it out there, feel good about what you want, believe in yourself, and then let go, and get back to the work of writing.
The roots of perfectionism lie in the fear of not being good enough. We all share that fear, especially writers and artists whose creative work is an extension of ourselves. In fact, our writing is often an intimate and therefore vulnerable extension, particularly when it’s shown to the world to see. While great writing is often rewarded, perfectionism does not mean great writing. Yes, publishable work often requires many months and even years of revision and reshaping. Crafting great writing takes passion, dedication, a willingness to make mistakes and take constructive criticism, and an eye toward the seven habits talked about here. What gets produced while believing “I am good enough,” “I am worthy,” “My voice matters,” is often much more exciting to read than something created with a fearful perfectionist mindset.
The phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy” comes to mind here-a wonderfully ungrammatical but perfectly meaningful bit of writing in itself. If you don’t take care of you first, you’ll have nothing left for what you need to sit down and write. Be sure you’re taking care of the basics-eating well, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising, and managing other areas of your life (work, family, spiritual health, recreation). Gone is the era of pain-filled prose chased down with a bottle of whiskey. Who knows what masterpieces Fitzgerald may have produced had he taken up tennis and juicing instead of spending time in rehab. After all, he did write, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you,” and I don’t think he was talking about green smoothies.
Just like conditioning for any performance, keep your writing muscle strong by practicing good thoughts, a healthy lifestyle, and “¦
I haven’t met too many writers who wander or run or swim or play tennis while they’re writing. Writers spend a lot of time sitting still. To get the words out requires the ability to sit still. And stillness requires relaxation of the body-and the mind-which is the ideal state from which to write. When we have a regular stillness practice in our lives-whether it is through meditation, deep breathing, or stopping to watch a child play and taking in the moment-we bring that skill to our writing practice. Stillness helps our brains get out of fight or flight and puts us in a state of rest and digest, of relaxation and wellness, where we can access our creative minds and our essential selves, and literally write from the soul.