Today's life-shaping quote comes from a story that Heather Sellers shares in her (stellar, fantastic, sanity-saving) book Chapter after Chapter:
Don't be like the man I met ... when I was speaking at a writing conference. He said, "I have ideas for five books. Do you know what software I should get?" ...
"Software?" I said.
"Yeah. You know. The software makes out the structure and you fill it in. They have programs. Do you know a good one?"
You're the program, baby, I did not say.
... How great is that, lionhearts?? I just love that line:
So many times, I've wanted some writing wizard to show up, sit on my desk, and rescue me.
To tell me everything. What to write. How to write.
Annnnnnd then how to manage everything else, too.
When I finished school and started writing for myself, I missed having live teachers so desperately—and not always for the right reasons.
I wanted to have a teacher or a boss so that I could blame them if anything went wrong. I wanted someone to hide behind. Someone whose expertise would, hopefully, guide me to great heights...
But if they misstepped, I could point and say, "THEY did it! Not me! Not my fault."
Basically, this was another way of being afraid.
I was afraid of the responsibility, so I dodged it by wishing for someone else to take charge of my writing life, my creativity, my output, my education.
It was a way of avoiding the super-deep thinking I needed to do. The soul searching. The slow learning process of discovering my limits for myself. Learning what I need and how and when.
Being my own writing boss: It's messy. It's unpredictable. It's frustrating.
And really, it wasn't my favorite thing ... until I slowed down and started asking better questions. Until I finally shifted my focus, and stopped demanding that I get it all right the first time.
I started asking myself, How do I really need to work? What is best for me?
What do I actually, honestly need? And what do I need in real life—not in some "everything goes perfect always" version of life.
My real life includes everlasting sinus infections (!!!!) and family crises and mental setbacks and days of zero imagination: so what do I need for that life?
You're the program, baby, is the quote that reminds me: The responsibility for figuring this out is mine. No one else can do it for me.
And I can either let that freak me right out ... or I can step up. And get learning.
And not learning in a terrified, panicky way. Not spinning my wheels and flinging things out at random. And not searching for some writing book, blog, or guru to idolize and copy. Nope.
I can show up, calmly, as my own boss, and learn what I need to learn, each day.
Because I'm the program.
Designing my own writing life, my own creative life, has been hard but also immensely rewarding. It's been one of the best tools for understanding myself better.
And every time I add better practices back into my setup, into my routine, and keep tailoring it for myself, for my books, for my process...
Well, it's exhilarating!
Yes, it's a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility can feel pretty heavy some times.
It's easy to fall into a spiral of nerves: What if I'm doing it wrong, what if I've missed something big, what if I screw everything up?
Am I making the right choices? Did I make the wrong call? Should I push harder? Or should I take more breaks? Or both?
The wonderful, wonderful thing is: For every time I've messed up or made a bad call, I've also found the tools I need to fix it. And in the fixing, I learn even more.
I burned myself out, and then I learned how to recover from burnout.
I shackled myself to a book with no clear center. ("People doing stuff" isn't actually a plot, whoops.) So I wrote it four times through before pinpointing its problems. And then I learned how to write a book with an actual center.
I wrote a story that had zero structure and therefore didn't function at all. And then I learned a ton about proper story structure. (Wahoo!)
It's like any complicated skill. When you only know one way to do it, to run your writing life, you can feel brittle, fragile. If something goes wrong, it's all over.
But as you grow, you learn how to correct, how to save a bad month, how to fix things.
Those skills, the correcting and recovering skills, are the real power tools. They are what make you flexible, less afraid, resilient.
They are what's saving my bacon right now, after a February with basically no progress on my so-called work-in-progress.
And as far as I know, the only way to learn that flexibility, is by diving in and doing it yourself.
You are your own program.
You're the vocational designer. You're your own—and your best!—boss.
You get to create an amazing workplace for yourself. You can learn how to take the best care of your mind, your energy, your creativity.
And learning how to take impeccable care of your writing self? That's maybe one of the most rewarding things ever.
What do you need to do, to take super-good care of yourself this week?
Don't panic. You really do know the right answer. Or the half-dozen right answers. Or at least a really good starting point.
Just take a deep breath. And trust yourself.
Want a little more direction on accessing your self-management superpowers? Check out these posts for a be-your-own-boss celebration:
- How to Dodge Burnout Before It Even Comes Close
- The Mistake We're Making When We Think Our Surroundings Don't Matter
- Take Super Good Care of the Thing That Takes Care of the Writing
- Give Yourself a Master Class
- You're Invited to Your Dream Writing Life Starting Right Now!
And then if you want to just become an all-around unstoppable director and leader of your own life, you must check out the amazing book that I discuss in this post: This Is the ONE Thing You Need to Plan Your New Year.
Ooooh, baby. Look at you go!