Trust the Timing
A creative life is full of strange timing, timing that—if you make yourself available to it, will surprise and delight you with opportunities and learning, growth and discovery. But you can’t force it, you can only keep showing up to the task, and more importantly, cultivating joy and pride in the process, for this to happen. (The image I chose spoke to me on this level–a turning up at the right watering hole to find the “magic cup”–who knows if those are goblins or fairies, helping or hindering…both metaphors work for me).
Like many writers out there I’ve been through my “ambitious” stage, a decade and a half of driving, working, “efforting” my way toward success and publication. And yes, I published articles, essays and some stories, even two non-fiction writing guides. Yet I believed that this sweaty-brow and bruised-butt kind of work was somehow going to flower open into an easy, effortless place of publishing, and then I would just then get to sit back and reap the rewards.
I thought, mistakenly, that if I just worked hard enough for a long enough period of time, the joy would come later. It would all be worth it eventually.
You’re laughing with me, now, right?
It’s funny how much we can suffer the moment while imagining “later” to be the land of all possibility, all happiness and freedom and following of one’s passion.
It’s taken me great disappointment—novels that did not sell to publishers who nonetheless “liked” them; agents who chose to move on to other clients; articles that got “killed” and the realization that the teacher in me is still, also, the student—to see what I see now: I am the protagonist of my own writing practice. And like all strong, memorable protagonists, I must start out flawed and through trial and error, with support and obstacle, slowly move toward illumination and wholeness.
What this means is that there is no “there” there—all the published novelists I know are still subject to the fickle winds of criticism and economy, of self-doubt and worrying about sales. Being published is a goal—a crucial one for most of us working at this art—but it’s not the end of difficulty, either, nor the end of work.
I am always exhorting my students and clients to the same end: do the work, the hard work of writing, re-writing, re-learning, re-visioning, but do it with some sense of joy and purpose. Find the meaning. When you’re over-efforting, stop. Pause. Breathe. Seek reinforcements. Walk away. Shelve it. Come back. Always come back.
What’s more: trust the timing. If you are stumped to the point of anguish, trust that message that there is another place for you to focus. If you feel you “should” be working on one project but another kicks down the door and starts writing itself—let it happen. And if there is another round of hard work in store, work that you know will make a difference, roll up your sleeves but also reward yourself; treat yourself gently. You’re doing the work of your soul. You are transforming yourself in the process of working on your writing.
In writing, as in life: if you’re miserable, if you’re in constant pain/block/struggle, then seek a shift. Seek help. Seek movement.
If you keep returning to the work, with an open heart and mind, then the timing will always be right…if you’re listening.