In my early twenties, I realized I wanted to be a writer. Not a writer who wrote just for the love of it. A writer — a bestselling author whose books inspire and stay with readers long after they put them down. And even though I’d been honest with myself and acknowledged my dream, I acted like someone who was ashamed of it. Who was I to want to be a writer? What did I have to say? And would people care or listen? That was the doubt speaking. And while I did write, I approached it half-heartedly, still believing that it was nothing but a silly dream. I suffered from the One Day Syndrome. “One day,” became my mantra. “One day I’ll make my dream come true.” [Read more…] about The ‘One Day’ Syndrome
A couple of weeks ago, I received my editor’s critique of my latest manuscript. I’d been waiting for it, eager to get this particular book project moving again. As I digested all the comments — good and bad — I stalled. I didn’t know where or how to begin. Then I started second-guessing myself, that maybe this wasn’t as good of a story as I thought it was. Would anyone be interested in reading it? Then I hit rock bottom and thought … maybe, I should chuck it all.
I’d let the drama from the page spill over into life. Taking a step back, I realized my editor was doing his job. As always, he hit on all the big-ticket items — character and plot development, structure, continuity, story arc, theme development, repetition and plot holes. Even before having the manuscript edited, I’d tried to address some issues that had been raised with regard to my previous books: Make the main character more likable. Give the reader a happier ending. Explain what motivates an action so that the reader isn’t blindsided by the reaction.
That would, no doubt, make the book more popular, accessible en masse.
From the beginning, I knew that this book wasn’t going to fit snugly in any one genre, and that that might make it harder to market. The word on the street was that it needed a near-total rewrite, or it risked only receiving 1-star reviews. And there is room for improvement. My editor offered many great insights that will help make the story better.
Strangely, this time around his questions and comments had me wondering if making something ‘popular’ meant ‘dumbing-it-down’ to the level of a ten-year-old. I believe readers are smarter than that and deserve better. Or am I wrong?
Worse still, it felt like I was moving in the opposite direction of my dream instead of closer to it. The terrifying part? I wasn’t sure who’s story I’d be writing anymore — mine or someone else’s.
All I know at this point is that I must trust my art.
I let myself wallow in self-pity for about a day, tempted to ditch it all — not just the book, but writing. All because a familiar question, when doubt reared its ugly head, poked at me: what’s the point?
I’d forgotten my why. Writing is why I’m here on earth, my purpose. And I’m doing it — challenging norms and breaking the rules — to, I hope, change the world, make it a better place … be a beacon of hope. That is my why to life, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
We know that in this life, not everyone is going to like what we create and share with the world. But when you know your why — and are living it — it’s time to stop giving a f*ck about what other people think. Living your why, you’re not compromising your truth or your character. You’re being who you are. Stand up and take a bow.
This is your life, your mission.
Embrace it and your why.
Then roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Are you living your why? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you!
When I sit down at my desk in the morning, night is still fully in place. My companions are the muffled sounds of cars speeding down the Gardiner Expressway, the tick tock of the living room clock, and my partner’s snoring seeping through the walls. It is — living in a busy downtown Toronto neighbourhood — by all accounts … quiet. It’s the time of day I am most focused, when I can hear myself think.
I wrote this blog post last November. Then, the weather changed on a dime. Strong, 100km winds one day, then rain, and then the potential for snow. We feared winter’s ugly wrath, and that there was no way to sidestep it. All we could do was suck it up. And as Canadians, the plan executed flawlessly — was to spend the next few months complaining about how cold it was, how miserable it was outside, and how we couldn’t wait for spring.
Now, it’s April. The snow is (mostly) gone. It’s warmer (I’m running in shorts). The days are longer. And we’re still complaining about the weather!
And like we can’t sidestep winter or the early April snowfalls, sometimes you can’t sidestep doubt.
Don’t Open that Door
I write frequently about doubt. Why? Because it’s a constant companion on my creative journey, especially when I’m nearing the end of a project, taking on something that’s outside of my comfort zone, or anticipating my editor’s critique of my manuscript. The biggest challenge sometimes is to not open the door to doubt.
There are times when it’s too tempting to let doubt in, and if we do it can throw us off course. Instead, maybe we need a little pep talk, and here’s what we could tell ourselves…
Dare to dream. Dare to imagine that we live in a world where we can — without the judgment of others, without asking for outside approval — be ourselves. It’s a world where we can follow our heart’s true desire. It’s a world where we can freely do what it is that we want to do and what we feel called to do. It is a world of hope and possibility.
What I Say to Myself
I am a writer. I say that with conviction. It is, today, an affirmation of who I am. I am a writer. Not because of my novels or other published works. I am a writer because there is, deep within me, a will far greater than my own that compels me to write. It is a calling. I have chosen to heed the call.
My day is not complete if I have not put in time at the page. It reminds me of the days when I went without having a coffee. I was cranky. (I don’t drink coffee now, so if I’m cranky it’s for an entirely other reason). When I do not write, or when I don’t write enough, I’m irksome and irritable. In a way, I lose my humanity. That’s why each day I show up at the page. If I don’t, I risk losing myself. Writing grounds me in the day, helps me to be present in the now. Writing, I hang on to myself.
Weather the Storm
Stay focused on the work before you. Perhaps doubt is trying to tell you that the road ahead is somewhat uncertain. Even so, you can’t let doubt have dominion here. All you can do is show up, begin where you are, and the rest will follow.
What challenges do you face daily in your creative pursuits? Are you weathering the storm? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
Finding your voice isn’t always easy. Trying to find my own, I’ve explored various forms of creative expression, travelled the globe, switched jobs the way you change underwear, sabotaged relationships, and more. It’s been a journey of self-loathing as much as self-acceptance. And it took quite a long time to arrive at the latter.
And here’s the thing: I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. I’d spent so much of my youth at the piano, which deflected attention from my heart’s true desire. Here’s how I explained it in the ‘Preface’ to my last book, Everything He Thought He Knew:
“[…] possessing a natural talent for the piano, I was encouraged to use my gift for the ‘Glory of God.’ So, I did … use my ‘gift,’ and spent my childhood and adolescence playing in church. And much to the dismay of the church elders! When I sat down at the piano, I could almost hear their moans and groans of disapproval before my fingers touched the keys. I had a penchant for doing the unthinkable: rearranging classic hymns like ‘How Great Thou Art,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘There’s Power in the Blood.’ I was doing something that — to my parents’ chagrin — came naturally to me. I was breaking the rules.”
I loved playing the piano … when no one was watching. But as a child, I did things to please others — or because I was told to — and ended up performing all the time at various church functions. A ‘star’ was born, only I didn’t like the spotlight and never thought I was good enough. There were so many other talented pianists who made the piano sing. At the time, I didn’t believe I could ever do that.
I started writing in elementary school. I never threw away the first story I ever wrote called, “Justice Must be Done,” a murder mystery that I also illustrated (badly) because it represented the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer (without really knowing what being a writer meant). And I kept writing stories in journals and notebooks that I hid under my bed.
Finding Your Voice
Even though I was working on a degree in French Literature, I studied piano privately for almost the entire time I was in university. I remember the moment, after placing third in a music competition, when my instructor said to me, “Now you’re ready. If you want to prepare for a career in music, I’ll work with you. You have what it takes.” I said no. And here’s the kicker: I craved that third-party validation telling me I was good enough. But now it was time to focus on what made me come alive. Writing.
That day I found my voice.
And, finally, I understood.
Finding your voice is not all about how you write or play the saxophone or do stand up comedy. It isn’t about being recognized for your graceful prose, your expressive playing or your gut-wrenching humour.
Finding your voice is about discovering and accepting what you’re passionate about, what makes you come alive. When you do that, you’re harnessing your talent, which in turn allows you to be of service, to serve a greater good.
It’s about doing what you love, no matter how crazy it sounds to others. It’s the moment when you decide to accept, and express, who you really are.
Did you struggle to find your voice? What are you passionate about in life? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
Do you know what you want out of life?
If the answer is yes, do you know what you need to do to achieve it?
I know I want to be a writer. Wait a minute … I am a writer. I want to be a successful writer, the kind who makes a living from it. Maybe that means trying to become a New York Times or Globe and Mail bestselling author. Maybe that means going on a book tour. Maybe that means giving up my day job so I can throw all my energy into realizing my dream.
Maybe it means none of that.
Because I’m in crisis. I’ve been in crisis mode since the beginning of the year. I’m stuck in a ‘funk’ that, despite what I thought, I haven’t been able to pull myself out of completely. I keep asking myself: “What am I doing?” and “What’s wrong?” and “What is it that doesn’t feel right?”
Earlier this week I was in London, a city that has been like my home away from home since January. During my stay, I made a stop a Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. While I was there, I picked up a book that had been recently recommended to me: Ray Dalio’s Principles. Afterwards, I stopped for a latte and scone at a café a few blocks away. It was a beautiful day, about 29°C, and the sun was shining. People were milling about the streets, weaving in and out of the shops. As I sipped my latte, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
I had a little time before meeting friends for dinner so, soaking up the bright afternoon sun, I opened the book and started reading. By the third page of the “Introduction,” my heart was in my throat. Reading Dalio’s first principle, I finally understood what was wrong … why I haven’t been able to lift myself out of that funk. Dalio’s first principle is this: “Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2 … and do that with humility and open-mindedness so that you can consider the best thinking available to you.” [note]Ray Dalio, Principles, Simon & Schuster, 2017, p. X.[/note]
Like I mentioned above, I know what I want: to be a successful writer. But what I need to do is have a frank conversation with myself — acknowledging my weaknesses and my strengths — about what that success looks like. Or maybe the better question for me to ask is what level of success am I looking for and can I live with it?
What is true… I know why I write (to make an impact in the world, no matter how small) and that writing is the only thing in life that gives me purpose and a sense of fulfillment. It is a way for me to be of service.
Where I struggle is in what I should be doing to achieve what I want in light of what is, for me, true. That is why this year has felt like I’m just spinning and going nowhere fast. When I’m honest with myself, I’m still letting fear — of failure and what others may think of me — hold me back. To achieve what I want, I need to do things in ways that I believe are best for me and not worry about what other people think. No doubt, that’s easier said than done.
2018 started out with some big changes in my life. I stopped drinking. I started paying closer attention to what I was eating, aiming to reduce my sugar and sodium intake. While I’ve been running for ten years, I’ve been pushing myself to run longer distances and started working out. These were the changes I implemented to primarily increase my energy level and improve the quality of my sleep. And the best part of all was that I also managed to drop close to twenty pounds. It wasn’t easy, but the results have made it all worthwhile.
Now, to achieve what I want to do I know I need to make other changes. I have my “5 Rules to Live By” to guide me through this transition period, but I know they’re not enough on their own. They’re a starting point. What exactly do I need to change? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I’m going to take some time to dig deep and think about the principles that will help me to get out of life exactly what I want. One thing is certain: I’m terrified. I don’t know where it’s all going to lead, how uncomfortable it’s going to get, or if I’ll even succeed.
But to succeed, I must change my habits and stay focused on what’s really important to me. As my journey moves forward, I expect to make mistakes along the way. At this point in my life, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I’ve been standing on the edge too long. It’s time to step off the edge and look fear in the face.
Are you doing what you should to achieve what you want? Do you have any principles that help you navigate through life? Let me know in the comments section below.