My last two years have been a rocky but determined progression toward contentment in my writing life.
Why is contentment such a powerful trait to have in our lionhearted arsenal?
It sounds so simple-minded. So basic.
But it's absolutely vital.
Contentment is the characteristic that takes care of us when our writing life feels threatened.
It means being okay, happy, satisfied. (Even while we're striving to get better.)
For me, it includes a fierce belief that I am learning exactly what I need to be learning right now.
And that I'm fine, right where I am.
If this sounds a bit familiar, it's because contentment operates a lot like peacefulness and patience. They work to protect us from anger and frustration in our writing process—freeing us up to focus on the problem, instead of flipping out.
SUPER helpful, right?
Contentment protects us too. It keeps us from being derailed by other people's successes, or by our own failures.
To put it another way: If your writing life is a huge cruise ship (um, YES), then peace and patience are all the systems and designs that keep the crew and passengers all okay. They manage the day-to-day actions onboard and keep everything working smoothly.
Contentment is what keeps the whole ship from capsizing. It protects you from waves, storms, icebergs, and zombie shark attacks.
(You know. All the usual threats.)
The last thing our writing lives need is to fall prey to a zombie shark attack. (I mean... ew.)
So let's take a few minutes to boost our contentment levels, shall we?
There are two things that can really keep your contentment strong:
1) Don't compare yourself to alllllllll the other writers and creatives out there.
2) Don't let writing be your everything.
Sound good? Let's do this.
You are where you should be (and so is everyone else).
There are dozens of great quotes about this. We read them and think, heck yes, that is how to think about all this*.
But let's say it again anyway:
It doesn't do any good to look at the wunderkinds we hear about (oh, you know I love you, Internet!) and then to do the seriously unhelpful math.
You know the math, right?
"Oh, when that person published her amazing, award-winning novel, I was still freaking out about not knowing enough, instead of actually writing."
Or, "when this famous person was my age, he already had four books out, and they were so intelligent and smart! Meanwhile I've forgotten all the stuff I knew and my grammar has gone seriously downhill."
This math of comparison—my age vs. her age; my speed vs. his speed; my use of years vs. her use of years; I did this much, he did that much—
This math does not help.
This can't be what we do in our spare time anymore, my friends!
Putting ourselves back to back with other writers, other creatives, and deciding that we come up short. Let's not.
Comparing ourselves to other people eats away at our hope and our courage, like acid eating away at stone.
I can practically feel myself disintegrating.
Listen up: The shape of someone else's path (to writing, to publication, through life), actually has nothing to do with my own path.
It isn't actually a guide for where I should be.
When we compare ourselves with other people, we're saying that we all had the same stuff to deal with.
But that person's story material, skill status, obstacles faced, and other life circumstances are so complex and so different from our own complex and specific situations, that it's just impossible to compare them.
Oh—and it's mean. It is severely mean to do this to ourselves.
So let's not do it.
No more comparing.
I am the strongest and best writer I can be when I let everyone else's writing lives and successes belong to them.
Their victories in the writing life can inspire me, but other than that, they have no bearing and can pass no judgment on my own writing life.
Taking this stance in your writing requires a lot of pluck.
It is darned courageous to say: I see what you're doing, and good for you, but I'm going to just be different over here.
It takes guts, but it's also incredibly freeing.
You're allowed to work at a different pace, a different schedule.
Write your own projects, forms, genres. Do it your own way. To your own timing.
Yes, it can be hard to keep our grip on this mindset, but it's 100% crucial to our writing lives.
See, we want to believe that we all have unique voices, that we all bring something original to the writing world, right?
So how can we demand that how we get there looks like everyone else's path?
I'd like to give you permission, here and now, to have your writing life be what it is. Whatever shape it takes.
We are each so unique. We have different hearts, voices, stories, ideas. That's brilliant and dazzling and every inch what it should be.
So how could our writing journeys look alike, when we're each so different?
I'd like to see this crazy totally-my-own path as a good sign, rather than something else.
Can we do that? A mass reinterpretation?
So you're not doing something on the same schedule or at the same rate or to the same degree as someone else.
WHEW! Good news, right? You'll have something different to give your readers, then. Something original.
See what I mean? Yes, this might take some practice. Okay, a lot of practice. But it's worth retraining our minds.
Focus on the truth: Your writing path is teaching you all the stuff you need to put into those stories you're telling. It's a good path (even when it's really hard).
Let's stick with it.
You are so much more than a writer.
We all know this with our brains. But it's so tempting to forget it with our hearts:
Don't get me wrong: I love this work we do. Stories amaze me and always will.
If writing is the thing that matters most to us, then we'll have some really dark days ahead.
So let's be intentional about leaning into something else. Diversify. Pursue other arts now and then that delight you.
Be a human being first and foremost, and love what you see and what you do and all the good people around you. Enjoy every bit of living that you can.
And write, of course! Write with a full heart.
But don't let writing hold your whole heart.
If you're looking for a stellar writing quote about this, I've totally got one. Oh wait, it's actually about the Olympics, from a movie that I adored as a kid: Cool Runnings. (Hands up, everyone who loves this with me!)
Hahaha! Okay. But seriously.
Instead of gold medal, let's think publication, or bestseller status, or whatever form of writerly success you're thirsting for:
"A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."
(Here's the quote in action, if you want the full effect.)
Whenever I need to work on this, it helps me oh so much to crank up the level of gratitude I feel—for every tiny piece of my life.
Enjoy everything. Deeply. On purpose.
Relish every single thing.
It takes the pressure off of writing: it keeps my work from being the single thing that will deliver all the magic and excitement and meaning and joy to my life.
It reminds me that my life is enough, even when my writing doesn't work so well.
So writing is free to be wonderful, and it's free to have difficulties, and my life is still intact.
This is hugely important, my friends!
This is the difference between having a healthy writing life and having one that will destroy you.
(Believe me—I had some rough days before I got this straight.)
You're so much more than just a writer.
And the writing life path that you're on is exquisitely tailored to shape your unique stories and your one-and-only voice.
And the more we let that sink in, the more content we'll be, come what may.
... Zombie sharks, we are so ready for you.
*If you'd like a mega-dose of a You are totally fine right where you are message, check out this amazing article by Jamie Varon.
This is the kind of message I need to scrawl on my walls and tattoo on my arms. It is true and good, and you might need to read it forty times a day with chocolate when you're working on being cool with where you are in life.
(Just a heads up, there's some strong language in there, so if you're around sensitive eyes, look out for that.)