Throughout this long writing journey, I’ve had one steady companion: Doubt.
Doubt tells me I’ll never succeed. That I’m wasting my time. That I’m an amateur and that I’ll never be anything more than that. Some days, Doubt almost has me convinced that all of these things are true. That’s when I know Doubt has power over me and I’m the one feeding it.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been in a ‘funk’ that I’ve been struggling to shake off. There are peaks and valleys in life, right? Well, I’ve been stuck way, way down in one. And that wouldn’t be so bad if it were like Pine Valley and I was living the glamorous life of Erica Kane. But it’s been something altogether different. It’s kept me on edge, left me battling procrastination and, to a certain degree, not giving a f*ck about much.
It’s that last one … that’s when I knew something was off.
And it was this: I’d let Doubt bully me, then seduce me away from the work I’m most passionate about. Writing.
So, during my recent staycation, I brought the war to Doubt’s front door by setting up and following a routine. I started each day, like I always do, with my Morning Pages. After that, I either went for a run or worked out using the Nike Training App. Then I stuck to a schedule that had me working — and making progress — on various writing projects.
Writing shields me from Doubt’s strangling grip.
Writing reminds me of my worth.
Writing takes away my fears.
And Doubt coupled with fear is a deadly combination. Lately, I’ve been consumed by fear. I’m afraid that, maybe, Steven Pressfield is right, and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. Afraid that the revised version of Freestyle Love, that I’m hoping to rerelease this year, will be a flop like the first. Afraid that I’m not on the right path.
Then something strange happened, something that I’ve never experienced before (or at least I’d never been conscious of because of my on-again-off-again relationship with God).
On the day I returned to work earlier in the month, I sat down to write my Morning Pages. Before beginning, I asked (or maybe it was more of a prayer) this question: What do I do next? My hand sped across the page, capturing the words as the Universe/God/Life spoke directly to me.
This is what I heard:
Accept Your Situation
Accept where you are and make the best of it. As much as you may be tempted, don’t ‘abandon ship’ (i.e., quit the day job). You need a roof over your head and food on the table. That’s the way life works. But you can, outside of the pesky day job, work on what you’re most passionate about. That means being present where you are. This is your moment in life, so enjoy it. Stop trying to run towards some uncertain future. Today, you can finish the rewrite. Today, you can start a new story. Today, you can cherish the people in your life who support and encourage you.
Procrastination isn’t the ‘Devil’
If you want to procrastinate, fine, just accept it. It’s okay not to want to work sometimes.
Getting Past Discouragement
When you feel discouraged, like you want to give up, write something. Not with the expectation of glory — of being published or revered. Write to soothe your soul, to clear out the inner critic from inside your head. Write to remind yourself of who you are and why you do what you do. Remember, life is a journey. Each day presents opportunities to grow as a person and as a writer. The question is this: Are you paying attention?
So, Pay Attention
Pay attention to how you spend your time. Do you really need to watch The Bourne Identity again? Really, you could play Jason Bourne because you can recite all the lines from beginning to end. In the ninety minutes it’d take to watch it, you could write a blog post or edit that short story that’s been sitting on the corner of your desk for months. Have you counted how many times a day you check your Twitter feed or KDP reports? Add that up over the past six months and you could have had plenty of time to visit the AGO like you talked about. Have you thought about asking for help with some of the household chores? Maybe you’d feel less tired or like you never have enough time in the day to get everything done. Don’t give up the cooking, though. You make delicious meals from scratch — Bolognese, cinnamon buns, gnocchi, apple pie. It’s another form of creativity in your life that keeps you healthy and on your game.
Pay attention to the people who come into your life. Some people you meet will love and support you unconditionally. When you need space to write or sprint to the end of a long rewrite, they’ll understand when you ‘disappear.’ And when you reappear, they’ll be the first to ask, “How did it go? Great! Now, let’s go to dinner to celebrate.” Others will try to take advantage of you. They’ll want to take your time, energy and focus for their own needs without giving anything in return. By the time you realize it, you’ll be frustrated and resentful, and what suffers is your creativity and peace of mind. You must be able to see quickly who’s there for you and who’s there simply to ride in your shadow. Dump the latter fast! You don’t need any other distractions.
Reading is a great way to expand your mind, delve into worlds that are foreign to you, and discover other exciting authors.
Don’t Forget to Rest
You want to get your next book out. Good. You’re excited about it. Good. You’ve spent so many years working on it that you can’t wait to share it with the world. Good. But you’re often running yourself ragged. You work until your body says, “No more,” and then you’re out of commission anywhere from four days to two weeks. During that time, everything suffers, or slows down, because your body needs rest that you’ve deprived it of. Pace yourself. Better yet, take a break and let loose your inner child. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off. It lets you step away from your current work-in-progress, especially if you arrive at a point where you’re not sure how to move it forward. Forget about it. Do something else that you love. Go see Black Panther or Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. Check out that bakery in Little Italy everyone’s talking about. Have fun. Then, when you go back to the writing, you’ll have a fresh perspective and see things differently.
The journey you’re on is not for the faint of heart. You’ve experienced success and failure … lots of failures. But you don’t let that faze you. You try, try and try again. That’s because you love yourself and the path you’re on. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of life, we forget to treat ourselves. Loving yourself means that sometimes (maybe more often than you’d think) you must put yourself first. It’s okay to decline invitations to guest post on someone else’s blog or help a friend move. It’s okay to take a weekend for yourself and not visit your in-laws. It’s okay to say, “No,” when what’s being asked of you is not true to who you are. That doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person. It means that, by living with intention, you’re loving yourself. Remember Polonius’s advice to his son in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Never Give Up
You’ve come so far on this journey to let Doubt scare you away. The best thing you can do is to just show up daily and write. One hundred words. Five hundred words. Two thousand words. It doesn’t matter. It’s all progress. And that shows your commitment to your craft, and your dedication to learning and growing. Don’t look to see who’s ahead of you or who’s behind you. Don’t worry about what other people think. What you create isn’t going to be for everyone, and that’s okay. Write for your one true fan who cheers you on to the end.
Focus on you and creating the life you imagine.
You’re on your way. Take a deep breath and carry on.