Dealing With Our Kryptonite: Recognizing and Overturning Writing Life Weaknesses

Four major writing life weaknesses that can sap our strength and torpedo our energy. Know 'em, and know what to do to overcome them! |

So far in this Building Strength series, we've covered a lot of ground!

We talked about being clear on what we consider strength is (because different strengths matter to each of us!), and we've talked about ways to strengthen our creativity, our enthusiasm, and our overall writing sustainability.

And then, just to kick things up a few notches, we checked in with the book Deep Work, because it has great points that will make us stronger writers: like how to supercharge our ability to focus. And, at the same time, how to deepen and strengthen our ability to recharge.

WOW. So, you feeling those muscles yet?

Today I wanna switch gears a little and work on strength from a different angle.

Namely: What makes us weak? What weakens our writing lives? 

What saps our strength, drains our energy, muddies our abilities? What's our kryptonite?

I've rounded up the usual suspects in my own writing life. See if any of these behaviors have snuck into your writing life too:

Skipping breaks.

Let's start with this one, because I have our last post about recharging on the brain

I know that this won't apply to everyone, but for anyone pursuing full-time creativity, this can be a struggle. And I personally fall into this trap a lot.

Here's the deal: I cannot be purely creative and focused and hardworking for eight hours straight. Cannot be done.

... And I can type that, and nod very sincerely at my computer screen, and even mean it, and then go off and think that I am invincible and needeth not such breaks.

This is a problem.

My best true version of my work schedule looks like this: Two hours of intense, focused, deep work, followed by one hour of pure recharging. (Which usually means, getting some good food, moving around, doing a workout, or even taking a nap.)

Then two more hours of intense work, and, yep, another hour to recharge. (A snack, maybe time spent outside if the weather is nice, doing some art...)

Finally two hours of taking care of all the shallower work, the smaller things, and then my shutdown ritual. With that, I'm done for the day.

Sounds straightforward. Super health-focused (because I've learned the hard way that I've gotta be). 

This is what can happen, though: I'll start late. Maybe because I slept in after a late night. Or maybe I got caught in a morning discussion or media dive that got all my creativity fizzing but also made me late for work. 

So I plow into the day, and work straight through my breaks, because I think don't have the time to stop.

And at the end of the work day, I'm a zombie.

I mean it. You can't get any sense out of me. I'm stumbling around, bleary-eyed and brain dead. And, at that point, my next work day is automatically harder. I have less mental flexibility, and less focus, and less motivation.

It's a really bad cycle! Easy to fall into; hard to break out of.

Those recharging periods within my work day are absolutely essential to my creativity: I need to refresh my mind by getting back into my senses. I need to stare at clouds, eat some good food, take a walk. Besides, we're not supposed to sit for hours and hours! 

The biggest single help in fighting this has been to remind myself of two things: 

1) That rest is one of my new core values. I have to be rested to work well, to do what I love, and to enjoy life. It's just that true, that simple.

2) That play and rest are prerequisites to doing good work. Period. 

My reminder of choice is an index card near my computer. "Rest is a core value," it announces. "Don't neglect your breaks!" 

It reminds me that this is the kind of writer I want to be: One who is rested, one who isn't a zombie, and one who has a wealth of imaginative details in her pockets.

Breaks ensure a better writing day, and a better writing week. Even if they need to be much less than that luxurious hour, they have to happen, or I'm toast. 

How about you? Do you interject moments of rest within your creative work? Even if you're working in shorter spurts, do you still get a moment to pull back and recharge, before diving back in?


Overthinking has been my lifelong nemesis.

And "lifelong" isn't an exaggeration: I have memories of being super young and paralyzed by decision-making overload, going back and forth between two possibilities. (There is an epic family story about my inability to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. Yep, it's real.)

It is so easy for me to get stuck, to get pulled into this trap of cerebralizing and analyzing. Breaking down the problem from every single side, every possible angle.

Instead of diving into what I need to do, I sit there at the edge and worry, make lists, plan things, consider endlessly. 

Obviously, there are times for deep deliberation.

Equally obvious: Not EVERY time.

Usually, this overthinking is a fear tactic. A stalling technique that feels intellectually noble.

How do you tell the difference? For me, when overthinking smells like panic, it's fear-based. It's coming from that frightened part of me, and so it's a way to stall.

This is when perfectionism is singing over my head that if I screw this up, I'll never recover from it. 

When I truly need to think something through, it feels different.

It's much more calm—a reasonable analysis. It's when I ask myself, "should I do this project now, or can it reasonably wait?"

And I answer, "Well, if I go down the wrong path, I'll just make it right, I'll just turn around." 

Fear-based overthinking just keeps inflating the issue. It gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It says, But I might never have a chance for a cheeseburger again!!

There's a rigidity in it. It's insisting, just below its surface, that I must make the perfect choice, the irreproachable way forward.

Everything gets dramatic. The shadows get longer and darker, and suddenly you and your pros & cons list are in a battle of good versus evil.

Yeah. It gets ugly.

I am only just beginning to find my way out of overthinking. 

One thing that has helped enormously is the way that Julia Cameron describes overthinking in Walking in This World (her lovely sequel to The Artist's Way).

She compares working on an artistic project to the moment of firing an arrow at a target. 

She says that if we overthinking the project, we're essentially standing there, pulling back the arrow, and then just waiting. Analyzing, heart pounding, while our arm loses strength and the arrow begins to sag.

So when we finally fire it, it doesn't hit the center.

She sums it up by saying,

In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye?

Ouch, right? She's got me. Most of the time, I'm overthinking because I want a shiny guarantee: "Yes, go for it, because it will work out swimmingly and everyone will pat you on the head and say that you've done something amazing."

But we don't work with guarantees. We work with our hearts, we learn on the way, and yes, it gets messy. But that's what we've really signed up for, and if we're all in, it can be a wonderful way to work.

Cameron adds,

We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.

I love that straightforwardness. Yes!

How about you? Where in your creative life do you get swamped in overthinking?

And where is something inside you saying, let's fire the arrow!

Treating myself harshly.

One of the most effective ways to undermine our own strength? Talking bad about ourselves. Diminishing what we do, calling our work crap, saying that we'll never finish or improve.

This can be hard, hard, hard to shake.

For me, this comes directly out of shame, fear, and doubt. 

I can still be nervous about the fact that I'm a writer, that I've yet to publish. It makes me feel childish when it seems like my peers have glorious, flashy, paid grown-up careers. (Nothing's ever quite as glorious as it can look from the outside, of course, but I never remember that when I'm struggling.) 

I can feel the sting under someone else's words when they say doubtfully, so, not published yet? And I'm ready to disparage myself so that they don't have to.

As I talked so much about it last month, y'all already know that I've been learning about shame resilience from my new best friend Brené Brown. (Okay, we're only friends in my head, but whatever. She's lovely.) 

So, I'm working on this. I am trying to remember to breathe through it, to remind myself that I am not my job and I am not what I produce and I am not my salary, thank God! 

So that's half of the battle.

The other half, is to sincerely tend to what I know I need.

I am starting to develop a habit that helps me break out of this inner harshness and, bonus! that overthinking cycle too.

Here's how it works. Let's say I'm trying to decide which direction to go with a project, and there seem to be three strong options.

And the Overthinking Monkey is saying don't screw this up, you've gotta look at all these different parts of the different options. And THEN what if this happens, and look, here are more reasons for each thing over here, and oh my gosh this is hard isn't it...

And the Shame Monkey is saying, this is why it's taking you so long, you can't figure anything out, and you don't know even a quarter of what you need to know, and meanwhile everyone thinks you can actually write, so you better not mess up...

SO HELPFUL those monkeys, aren't they?!

So I've started to catch when this cycle is happening. And here's what I've started to do. It's so simple but it helps so much:

I get up and move away from my desk. I go to the other side of the room and I lie down. I take a few huge deep breaths, and I close my eyes and I just hold still.

(This is great, because the monkeys freak out. "She's walking away?!? It's like she doesn't even care about us!")

I breathe for a little while, and then I tell myself in my kindest, and most calm voice: You know the thing that you need to do next. You have one option that seems like the right one for now. What's that option? 

And I give myself permission to 1) pick something, and 2) that it doesn't have to be the perfect choice. It's the choice that seems right, for now, and that's good enough for me, I tell myself.

In about ten minutes, I'll get up with a very clear calm-ish path in my head, and dive in. And I end up not regretting my choice, even if I have to revise it later.

Seriously, this has been huge.

So if you're nodding along with this, and you get what I mean about overthinking + harshness, here are my four steps again. I apply: 

1) Oxygen. For real. Because I start breathing too fast, or holding my breath when I'm anxious. Good decisions require oxygen! Try to relax, unclench, and breathe deep.

2) Space. I can't find my way out of a spiral if I'm staring at a bunch of lists or all my different options. I need to separate myself.

3) Clarity. I try to boil it down: I just have to take one step, and I just have to pick that step. It isn't rocket science or brain surgery. If they all seem equally good and even equally risky, then I really can't go wrong. I can simply choose.

4) Permission. I take the idea of a "right answer" off the table. I'm not looking for a perfect choice. (And yes, sometimes I have to say this out loud.) I'm just looking for a choice. A starting point. I'm allowed to change my mind later when I see things even more clearly. But at the same time, I'm not going to second guess myself just because

This little sequence has been a game changer! 

How about you? Where in your writing process are you most tempted to be hard on yourself? And what would it look like if you gave yourself a tiny dose of kindness instead?

And what would it look like if you gave yourself a really, really BIG dose of kindness?


For anyone who's read the excellently butt-kicking motivational books of Steven Pressfield (I'm thinking especially of The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro), Resistance is something you're already familiar with.

For the rest of you ... well, you're familiar with Resistance too. You just might not have called it that.

Here's how Pressfield introduces the concept in The War of Art:

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He goes on, 

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
     Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ... Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

It's an internal, persistent, relentless force that keeps us from doing our work. That's it.

That slippery, negative feeling that we get before we do something that we honestly, in our heart-of-hearts want to do ... but in this moment, we seem to want to do ANYTHING else.

You get this, right? I mean . . . anyone who's tried to write for about two seconds understands this feeling.

There is so much good in Pressfield's books. He is super helpful when it comes to understanding Resistance and the whole creative process. Definitely ones to pick up, if you haven't yet!

I'm half tempted to type out the whole second half of his book right here in this post ... okay, actually the whole book.

But I won't because of plagiarism and rules and all that. You'll just have to read it for yourself. It's a quick, very helpful read—which is great because you can flip it over and reread it and get it deeper into your brain. 

But anyway, here is the Resistance-fighting technique I've been using lately, and, amazingly, it's been working.

It's deceptively simple. Ready? Here it is:

I'm working toward a bunch of goals right now. Seriously, so many. And though they're worthy, I can feel a ton of Resistance anytime I'm working on the next step toward a goal.

What's suddenly changed for me is that I've realized where that huge burden feeling is coming from. The real burden, the real problem, isn't the task itself.

So, the problem isn't actually the intense, complicated scene I need to write today.

The real problem is that Resistance tells me that I'm not up to working on something so complicated. It tries to convince me of this by flooding my mind with dread.

Resistance tries to convince me that the task is the problem. That the task is why I have dread.

When really, Resistance is why I have dread. The real problem is Resistance. 

So I wrote myself another note, and I stuck it to my computer monitor: 

It's not the task that is burdensome, but the Resistance to the task that is.

It's Resistance that's killing me.
Drop Resistance.

Yes, I know. That sounds simplistic.

But what's happened in my head since realizing this is amazing. 

By rereading that note, I can catch Resistance when it sneaks in. And I can remember that its chief trick is to make me think that something else is the problem—instead of the Resistance itself.

So, when it's time to write, and I sense that slow build of "Meh, I'd rather not" working its way through me, I'm alert to it. I snap out of it.

I say, AHA, look, it's Resistance! You, Resistance, are the thing that's even harder than the hard work. You're the thing that's worse than bad writing. You're worse than brain cramps and elusive sentences and revisions. 

So I'll get rid of you.

And I'll stop resisting the task.

... And that simple moment of reframing the situation WORKS. And it's lovely.

So, try it. Identify your real enemy.

It isn't the writing. It isn't the scene that will come out somewhat backwards (though with a few glowing phrases, a few spot-on descriptions!). It isn't the journey we take into the unknown every day.

It's the thing that would block us, with no truly good reasons, with no clear helpfulness. It's the thing that creates a mood, a doubt, a dread. It's fat angry Resistance squatting in the middle of our road.

Refuse to buy into it. Refuse to welcome it, listen to it, pick up the burdens it hands you. 

When you feel it rising, remember that it is the difficulty, not the thing that it's pointing to or hiding behind. Don't listen to it, and dive into your work.

And then see if that makes a difference.

The Cure for the Common Workday: Let's Get a Little Feisty Right Now

When writing feels like a tame little office job, this is what we need to remember. Come get fired up, you rebel you. |

I don't have any tattoos. I don't own a single sassy t-shirt. My ears are only pierced in the most conservative, standard way—and I haven't even worn earrings for years!  

I'm usually fairly quiet in person (unless well caffeinated). I'm a born rule-follower. The type of girl who will round up abandoned shopping carts and roll them back to their corrals. 

Not exactly anyone's idea of a rebel.

Except for this one little thing.

This vocation I have. This habit of writing down everything, everything. Of taking notes on my own life, the lives of others. Of asking myself hard questions on paper. Of drilling down, of drilling deeper, and then turning that material into scenes and dialogue. 

I look like a quiet mild-mannered girl, like a very nice citizen ... and then I go to my desk and pull out my novel and blow stuff up. 

Novelists can make people nervous. Have you noticed? People don't always trust novels or the writers who devise them. They don't always know what to do with us.

I'll have people tell me this point blank: Oh, I would never let *my* daughter do what you're doing. You're a quiet person, and quiet people scare me. I won't read fiction. I've never read a single novel. I will never read anything you write, sorry

A really good novel puts you inside someone else's head: the writer's. The characters'. It's mind travel. Pretty sketchy, right?

It's a dangerous thing to do, to submerge yourself in a gripping novel: just hope you don't drown in it. Right? It might change your life. It might turn you inside out. You gotta be careful. 

Mmm. A life full of words. It can be quiet. But also very, very risky.

But sometimes, I slip out of this warrior mindset. Know what I mean?

I start treating my work like it's a standard office job. Like I'm a paper pusher, filing things, double checking things, making graphs, keeping everything nice and tidy. I can forget, just a little, why I'm really here.

And that's when I need this quote. I need it to ruffle my feathers, to fire me up, shake the paradigm, and get me asking questions again: 

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. -- William Saroyan |

I love this quote. I love it because I'm no one's idea of a rebellious person, and yet I'm doing this incredibly daring thing of writing novels. 

I need this quote to remind me of what I'm up against. To remind me not to slack off on the tension in the story. To remind me to put my whole heart into this thing. To remind me to show up, day after day

It's a dangerous thing that we're doing—this telling of secrets on paper. (Normal people don't DO this. Have you noticed?) 

And no matter what kind of writing you do, if you're telling the truth, you're being edgy. Rebelling against anything that would tell you to be silent.

It's part of the calling. 

And—if you want to take this idea as far as possible, and I totally will—rebellion is all over what we do. 

We don't have normal jobs. We don't have to keep normal hours. We do something for the love of it first, until we figure out the money end of it. We're engaging in a career with no guarantees. (SUPER weird.)

We devote ourselves to a craft that it takes a lifetime to learn. (Which takes some serious pluck.)

We tell secrets—our own, our friends', our families'. We go everywhere, watch everything, and take notes. We write down what we hear at restaurants, at grocery stores. And if you cross us, we'll write you in, just for revenge.

We get to figure out everything that makes us odd, that makes us unique, and then stick it into stories. Fill whole volumes with it. 

We get to pick our fights. To choose the flags we carry.

We don't even have to rebel against all the same things everyone else is mad about on Facebook or on Twitter. We can rebel against rebellions!! We get to listen close to what's going on, and find the injustice we care about. The thing that we need to shine a light on.

We're in a vocation where we can always innovate, always tell, always fight.

Sometimes the fight is in the story; sometimes the fight is the fact of the story itself. (Even lighthearted stories can stand against darkness, after all.

We spend our days crafting things that other people are scared of. I mean ... whoa.

It's a big responsibility, lionheart! Are you feeling that too? It's a weighty thing, this life of words. A wonderful one, but a challenging one too.

And I go back to this quote to remind myself: Don't slack. Don't settle. Keep that fire going.

The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.
William Saroyan

Find out what it is that you're meant to expose with words, with story, and keep on fighting.

Never stop.

Are You Ridiculously in Love with Your Writing? Or, Um, Not?

When you find yourself apologizing for the kind of thing you write... it's time for a change. |

How do you feel about what you write?

I'm not asking about the quality of it: we all wade through the crappy first (secondthirdfourthfifth) drafts. That's normal and understood.

I'm talking about the actual topic. The genre. The style. The guts of your writing. The center of your universe of words.

How do you feel about it? 

I'm hoping that your answer is along these lines: 

I love, love, LOVE it, Lucy. Maybe I don't have all the plot stuff figured out, and I'm still working on a lot of it. But the world I've created with these words, and the main things that I'm talking about, and the kinds of characters I've created, and the genre that this all operates in, and the style of my sentences... I can't get enough. I'm loving this.

Is that you, saying all that? I really hope so. But if not: I get it. I totally understand.

For a long time, I couldn't have said any of that.

When I started writing full time, I felt pulled in two directions.

First: I wanted to be a clever writer. I had just studied all kinds of beautiful literature in college. I honestly loved reading Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Sylvia Plath's poetry gave me chills. We read so many brilliant short stories that did astonishing things with their sentences.

I felt like, to be a SERIOUS writer, to feel PROUD of what I'm writing, to be able to hold my head up when I'm saying what I do: Then I should write that kind of thing. Clever, prize-winning sentences.

Then, there was the other direction. When I got stressed out, I would always read kid lit. And complicated, beautiful YA fantasy. And smart, funny, middle grade adventure novels.

That's what I read when no one was looking, what I read for fun, what just plain made me happy.

So, I thought, I should write that. Probably I should write that.

So I started writing this young adult fantasy.

But not whole-heartedly. Because I was SO EMBARRASSED. 

Whenever someone asked about my writing and my work, I had a zillion apologetic ways of slanting what I wrote. Trying to sound smart and clever about it, while also trying to cover up the truth about my novel. 

I ended up sounding very sheepish. And like someone was forcing me to write this silly crap. And like I pretty much hated my writing.

Guess what. I ended up pretty much hating my writing. 

And hating my writing life.

It was a grim season.

It took me a long time to realize what I was doing to myself (and to my poor work-in-progress!). 

I was letting other people determine the value of what I wrote. 

And--even worse than that--I was guessing at what they would think about what I wrote. I decided beforehand that they would think it was ridiculous, and then I gave my long cringing apology.

Ack! Ick! No, nono. 

This is not the kind of writing life we want. Right, lionhearts? 

Here's an incredible, powerful quote from Ray Bradbury. Read this slowly, and think about your writing life, your current project, the things that you love to read. All that. Here you go:

Love. Fall in love and stay in love.
Write only what you love, and love what you write.
The key word is love. 

Are you getting that? 

We can't write to suit someone else's idea of what is acceptable. What is "worth" reading or writing. We can't try to please other people with our choice of genre or style. 

When I read a novel that I just flat-out LOVE, I am not trying to impress anyone with my choice of loving. I'm not trying to seem all clever. I'm just loving what I love. Because I love it. 

A sense of what I SHOULD or SHOULD NOT appreciate... well, that really doesn't come into it.

The same is true of what I'm writing. 

I am now happily writing a middle grade adventure trilogy. And I'm putting characters in that I just adore, who are quirky and funny and strange and full of secrets. I'm adding crazy details (I've mentioned the telepathic lizards?).

I'm building a storyworld based on love, on my love for this book, and not based on anything else.

And now, when someone asks what I write, I tell them honestly. I tell them that I love it. That showing up for work feels like an adventure. That it's exactly the kind of trilogy I would have eaten up when I was in sixth grade. 

I don't apologize. I don't try to sound super clever, like I'm a really impressive little genius.

I'm frank and clear and direct. 

And guess what happens. No one says, "Sorry, but you're not smart enough to keep talking to me."

Actually, people sound a little . . . jealous. A little envious.

Because my full-time work sounds thrilling and funny and interesting and exciting. (WHICH IT TOTALLY IS.)

No apologies necessary. Imagine that.

So what are you apologizing for? Are you trying to justify your choice of story, your genre, your style, your anything? Do you feel sheepish about any part of your writing life? 

Today I'm inviting you to just let that GO. Get rid of it. 

If you're writing something out of some weird internal obligation or some sense of what you ought to be writing--maybe shelve that project. Or radically change it, into something you madly love. 

If you're writing something you like, but feel ashamed of that: kick that sense of shame OUT. It's not serving you or your work. And it might not even be based on anything real. Okay?

Let's decide to just love what we love. To love what we write.

To operate from that excitement, that energy, that truth about who we are as writers and artists. 

I double-dare you to be passionate and unapologetic when you talk about your work this weekend.

If you want an even bigger pep-talk about how to deal with other people, check out this post on how to talk about your writing (without throwing up).

And, if you're struggling to figure out what kinds of stuff you love to write (because we can get so muddled, right??), read this post on getting permission to play

How to Talk about Your Writing (Without Throwing Up)

You have to give up trying to justify your writing to the people who ask you about it. |

So you've done the hard work of beginning a writing practice. You're chugging along with some good ideas, forming strong writing habits, and cultivating a pleasant outlook.

Maybe things are going okay. And then someone says, "So... you're a writer? What are you working on?"

And, if you're like me, those simple words can be slightly terrifying.

When I started writing full-time, I responded very earnestly to questions about my work. I described where I was with my current draft, maybe sketched out a little of the plot, and--heaven help us--how I felt about it all. 

My goal in these situations was: to be honest, to try and sound like my work was legitimate, and to not throw up on their shoes out of pure nervousness.

It didn't always go well.

And here's what I've found out: The reason behind talking about my writing was all wrong. Way off.

It's good to be honest. It's good to not barf on someone's shoes. Very healthy goals. Nice job, Lucy.

But that middle one--did you notice that? Answering the "what are you writing" question in a way that would make me feel all warm and special and like my work is valuable... that NEVER went well. 

Never. You have to believe me on this.

Give up justifying yourself to people who ask about your work.

When you're talking about your writing, you'll find you have three types of listeners.

  • Category One: The nice people--friends or benevolent strangers. They tend to say helpful and encouraging things. 
  • Category Two: And then, the jerks. These are the ones who say things that make you feel like you've been chewed up and spit out. 
  • Category Three: These are the people who don't fit neatly into either category. Usually, they mean well (in a vague kind of way), but also manage to convey some serious doubts about the validity of what you're working on.

And if you go into these conversations needing them to crown you as a valid writer, as someone who is genuinely working hard, who has justified her place in the universe--

Then you can get into trouble, no matter who you're talking to.

Category One is obviously the nicest. But if I am fishing around for a certain kind of reaction, it's really easy for me to talk too much. Either I'm venting all my insecurities (NEVER a good move), or I'm spilling my guts about my story.

If all I do is hash out my writerly anxiety, no amount of their saying "No, you're a great writer!" is gonna stick.

And if I talk too much about my actual story, a really strange thing happens: When I arrive at my desk the next day, my characters are seriously unhappy with me. 

They cross their arms and say, "Why, why, did you tell all our secrets out in the open?" You might not believe me, but I promise: the work does not go well when I overtalk my plot.

Category Two: SO MUCH FUN. (Kidding.)

If you need someone else to validate you, and then open your mouth only to find out that you're talking to a total Anti-Writing Jerk...

Oh. It's just not going to go well. 

It is shocking what people will say. The best reaction I ever got from a Category Two was the woman who told me that she would evict her daughter if she ever did what I was doing. 

(And yes, it was very clear that I was talking about WRITING, and not, say, prostitution.)

It can be very, very hard to face your work after chatting with a jerk.

And then Category Three. The ones who essentially hope things go okay for you... but they also have very serious doubts about what you're doing. And why. And how successful you'll ever be. And basically...

Well, basically they doubt everything.

I have the most trouble with this reaction. Maybe because it's more common than overt jerk-ness, but also because it's too close to my fears about writing.

That I'll never make any money from it. That it isn't a "serious" career (whatever that is). That it is a waste of whatever intelligence I have.

And this is the person I find myself having inner arguments with, whenever I sit down at my desk. The kind of people I try to explain myself to, rising to the challenge of their strained "oh--how nice." 

Justifying why I write. What I write about. How I work. 

It's never a good route.

So I changed my goal.

I've had way too many crappy conversations about what I do. (Seriously. SO MANY.) 

And I've talked to too many honestly nice people, who have nevertheless sucked all the writing energy out of me and left me spinning. (Again: So many times.)

Finally, finally, I've wised up. I changed my goal.

It's not super complicated. My real, main, underlying goal, in any conversation about my work, is this: To be able to write the next day.

To be able to sit down at my desk after having this conversation about what I do, and to do my work.

No drama. No arguments. No wheedling. No justifying. No seeking validation.

I'm a writer. Writers write.

I don't need to find anyone who can give me that title. It doesn't exist somewhere outside of myself. No one hands out "Oh, FINALLY you're a writer now!" certificates. 

I've decided: this is a valid career. This is the thing I'm doing with my life.

Regardless of making absolutely zero money with it, for a long time now. Regardless of how it turns out.

Whether other people think it's worth my time, or whether they very plainly don't.

When you know this--when you know it down to your toes--then these conversations about your work just don't have that kind of power over you anymore.  They don't tie your stomach in knots and then leave you eviscerated.

Which means: You're free to do your work.

You can talk to your friends without sharing too much, without writhing in insecurity. You can be honest and concise, without ticking off your characters.

You can look at the jerks with sympathy. (My guess is, there is something in their lives that they didn't give themselves permission to do. And now they poop on everyone else's parade. Which is ultimately very sad. And it quite literally stinks to be them.) 

If you can't muster up sympathy for the jerks--or even if you can--you can write about them. Congrats, your novel just got a new character.

And the conflicted well-wishers, the kindly nay-sayers... Well, you can shrug them off too.

Your career isn't in their hands. Your ability to practice your writing until you're incredibly good, your time dreaming up characters and storylines... all of that is separate from them. It's only up to you.

So stay strong.

Look. It's gonna happen. You'll have some weird conversations about writing.

You're going to give too much information about your work to some people, and their reactions will haunt you. You'll blurt something out to a sneer-face, and be paralyzed for a week. Or you'll cheerily tell someone about your work, and their indifference or their constant questions will make you exhausted and doubtful.

But it comes down to this: You're a writer. You are facing a white page, a blank screen, and you're filling it with ideas. Words. Vision put to paper.

That is no small thing.

Actually, it's a big freaking deal.

And so there are going to be people out there that try to put the brakes on what you're up to. (Big deals tend to draw this sort of person out.)

Don't let them.

You have to decide, right here, right now, that you're a writer. 

You have to have the goal of writing. No matter what anyone says.

Because these aren't the only critics you'll face, right? So refuse to give anyone the power to stop you from working.

You're a writer. An explorer. You're diving into the unknown, again and again.

You actually do have the guts to do this. Don't let anyone's reactions convince you otherwise.

Wanna keep reading? Check out these posts: Voice Your Astonishment and The End of Excuses.

Jiggety jig. (Home again.)

I handed my passport and declaration form to the U.S. Customs officer, and he asked me, "So how do you make a living?"

Which is my favorite question, especially from scary-faced men in super official uniforms. 

I said in a rush, "Well, it's not actually a living, I'm a writer, writing novels, but, yeah, I'm not paid for it or anything. Not published. Still learning. Kind of." 

At which point he scanned my passport and said, "It'll pay off."

He gave my passport back and I took it and sort of floated down the corridor.

It will pay off. The scary man said so. Which is SUPER news since I'm starting a new book on Monday, right? Right.

I met that Customs official on the way back from Bermuda. I spent a week and a half on that tiny island with pink beaches and sharp sunlight and mopeds zipping about and playing card games at night with the doors open so we could hear the waves. 

So good to be away for a while, good to let that to do list shrink and atrophy a bit, right? 

This is the between week: post-vacation, and pre-drafting. Full of unpacking and laundry and returning emails. All that good catch-up stuff.

But I have to admit, I also envisioned a kind of super-charged version of me, running around on all that vacation energy and mid-Atlantic sunshine, getting some long-neglected projects taken care of before the new project starts...

Instead I'm fighting off the cold that the guy sitting in 11B gave me. (Thanks for that, mister. Three hours of being coughed on? I finally succumbed.)

Spent today in pajamas and my favorite pair of socks (they are ten years old, don't tell anyone), pottering around the house and sneezing. Ruffled my notes for the draft, looked over all those paragraphs hopefully. 

Not so much ultra-productive super-charge super-anything. 

Maybe that's okay. 

I always feel like I should have everything just so before starting a draft. That I should be ready for it, whatever ready means. I'm building an imaginative universe out of my brain on Monday morning at 10 a.m. ... how can anyone be ready enough for that?

Maybe it's better to just drink hot toddies and nap. Because the beauty of the novel and the crazy roller-coaster thrill of writing a new draft... it doesn't come from my having every thing perfectly in place.

It comes from the wildness of inventing something new, day after day after day.

So it's probably fine that I didn't deep clean the closet, clear the junk out of that one corner, or scrub down the bathroom. And whoops about that shopping and errand running I was going to do. 

This baby novel doesn't really depend on the rest of my life running perfectly.

All I actually need is a stack of blank notebooks and a very deep, persistent desire to tell myself a new story. 

And of those two, it's the desire that's more important.

Be tenacious. |

Does that quote give you chills? It does for me. (Or maybe that's being sick. No, no, I think it's the quote.) Tenacity. Even the word sounds tough, full of muscle. 

I have the notebooks. A fresh crop of new pens. And I'm starting to hear my characters around every corner. 

Paper, pens, ideas, and tenacity.

So I guess I'm ready? 

Yeah. Totally. I'm ready.

Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. -- Louis Pasteur