When I want something so badly in my writing life—a specific publication, a certain agent, even a precise level of success— it becomes a physical sensation in my muscles, all of them taut and straining as if toward a reward dangling in a window just out of reach. My suffering matches the agony of my 7 year-old when denied that extra cookie or piece of candy, its very presence in the house contorting his face.
Success can be narcotic in its effects. Over time, you need more and more to achieve the same level of internal fulfillment with each acceptance, paycheck or accolade. I am especially prone to this, as a self-employed writer. Each win is especially big for me, because I did it with my own labor (though always with a base of mentorship and plenty of camaraderie along the way). So I court the next one and the next one.
This can lead to rushing. Rushing a piece of writing out, or rushing it off to publication where it will meet, inevitably, with rejection. It’s a form of self-sabotage, really. Patience brings depth. But it’s a learned skill.
At the end of last year I had a session with my massage therapist. We wrote down my intentions. This was a few months before the New Year, and these didn’t feel like resolutions so much as long-reaching, deep commitments to how I want to be in the world.
They went as follows:
1. I intend to be enough.
2. I intend to be internally fulfilled so I can be authentic in the world.
3. I intend to be in service through my writing
4. I intend to model this for my son so that he may have the same.
Frankly, the first and second intentions, which are indelibly intertwined, are my most difficult challenges. What does it mean to be enough? It means you stop grasping and judging yourself. It means you accept your life as it is given to you. But are those things in alignment with developing a writing career? Yes and no. Yes when #2 is in action: I am internally fulfilled. This is where many of us writers struggle. How often do you base your value on your accomplishments? On how well people respond to your writing? On whether you sell it to a big publisher or publish it yourself? How much of your worth flows directly into what you produce or what others say about what you write?
If you’re struggling with any of these issues, I encourage you to join me in a few habits:
1. Take to your journal and investigate your internal landscape. What’s happening inside you? Sometimes you can find reflections in the external world, or inspire a piece of writing. If nothing else, you might ask yourself what it is you’re really chasing after.
2. Spend five minutes soaking in a feeling of pride or satisfaction you’ve experienced any time recently for something you wrote—extra bonus points if it’s something nobody has yet seen.
3. Give every piece of writing one more pass before you send it out because this forces you to go slow, take care, not rush.
4. Simply say to yourself: I’m enough. There’s enough time. Go for a walk or eat some chocolate.
Photo, “The color filled droplet” by MJKimmel, with quote by Earnest Hemingway, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.