Being a writer is a terrible idea. Welcome to a life of chasing mystical ideas through the ether, constant rejection and of course, ever present, crippling self-doubt. The good thing about this is that no writer, or any creative person, probably, would stop for those reasons. You make your life harder than it has to be, you work twice, three times as much as most people for little or no reward. Why? Because there’s no alternative. You can’t stop, so you carry on, slaving away. If you do step away for a while that’s fine because you’ll be back. We always come back. For most writers, I think the detractions are obvious and plentiful. That got me thinking about the shaky, frail support beams that somehow remain – where do they come from?
Perhaps the most precarious, this is number one for any writer because we for the most part work alone. If you are writing, then you are supporting yourself as a writer. You are winning. If you are not writing, don’t worry. As far as I can tell regular bouts of self-sabotage and loathing are part of the process. Eventually you will hate yourself enough that you’ll get back to work. Here are some ideas to help you be more supportive of the very, very stupid path you have chosen (has chosen you?) to be on.
Write – There’s a lot of banter in the writing world about writing every day, getting your butt in the chair and blah blah. This has merit because you are not much of a writer if you aren’t writing, but at the same time, not all writers write every day. That’s right, I said it and it’s true, say it with me, NOT ALL WRITERS WRITE EVERY DAY! There is no need to hate yourself for not preforming this miraculous feat. If you do write every day, that is awesome, but if you don’t, that’s FINE. I think the most important thing here is that you write regularly and always have a project on the go. Don’t stagnate.
Make a Space – One of the best things I ever did for myself was to make a space. I do almost all of my work in my office. I love my office and it loves me. It’s quiet, it’s full of things that make me feel awesome and that’s where I work, so when I’m in there, I work. I highly suggest that if you don’t have a space, you make one. I don’t care if it’s in your damn closet, or a backpack full of crap and a favorite chair at the library, have a space that is conducive to your writing, whatever that means to you. Then go there, a lot.
Never Stop Getting Better – Like any art, there is no proper way to be a writer. There are also no limits. No matter how good you are, you can always be better and the best writers know this. Read books about writing, take classes, join writing groups, go to conferences, work on your setting, your dialogue, your grammar. One of the greatest things you can do for yourself as a writer is to continually invest in yourself. Valuing yourself and your talent enough to spend actual dollars (!?) is a powerful show of support for the bedraggled writer in you.
Your Inner Circle
I’ve been pretty lucky with this one. My immediate family and friends are supportive for the most part, and if not supportive, then at least not unsupportive. One thing I will say about this is that things did change a lot when I first was published. The balance of power shifted in my favour when that finally happened.
“Oh, so you’re a writer.”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“Have you published anything?”
“Yes, yes I have.” Internal dialogue – several things, multiple things, so eat it, eat it, you smug, doubting bastard! Wipe that damn smirky look off of your face, jerk.
So if you are published, keep that in mind at all times. You did it, you made it, you got there. If you aren’t, yet, then just take yourself seriously as a writer and hopefully some of that will rub off on the people around you. If not, then your inner circle sucks, so focus all your efforts on supporting your damn self. You might want to take a long hard look at who makes up your inner circle and toss them accordingly.
The Rest of Them
We get, or don’t get, support from the rest in a myriad of ways. Having a Facebook page, a blog, a newsletter, a Twitter account are all ways that you can reach out and have people reach back. The key here, as with all things writing related, seems to be consistency and patience. Whatever you chose to do to glean support from the rest of them, be more consistent about it than I am. Also, be patient. If you start a blog, you probably won’t get thousands of followers right away. Stick with it, little grasshopper, writing is a marathon, not a sprint.
My husband recently introduced me to Patreon, which is a neat idea where creators have a page where they post things related to their work and people can sign up to sponsor them and get perks with their sponsorship. I haven’t done it, but there are writers on there, so that might be something worth looking into. Check out his page at www.patreon.com/jeremychaulk
Writing sucks and it’s hard. The other side is that it’s awesome, liberating and limitless. Always support yourself and never stop striving to do better. This is a tough, lonely road, so when you can’t get yourself going, and there will be times like that, support others. Buy books, go to readings, leave reviews, follow blogs and maybe sponsor a few creators on Patreon. Give others the support you want for yourself and it will all come back. Remember, we’re all in this together.
Everywhere I go for the last few weeks I see turkey vultures. Turkey vultures here, turkey vultures there. I look out my window, turkey vulture. Driving, stopped at a light, turkey vulture. Go out to the back yard with my dogs, two or three turkey vultures circling overhead. They’re everywhere. Since I am a rational, level headed human being, naturally my first reaction when I noticed this phenomenon was that it must be an omen from the spirit world bringing tidings of my impending death.
I’ve always seen turkey vultures I guess, they aren’t exactly uncommon. But this has been a daily occurrence for a few weeks now, me and my turkey vultures, sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three times a day. Has the turkey vulture population recently exploded? Have there always been this many turkey vultures and I’m just noticing them right now for some reason? Possibly. After about a month of this, I turned from my computer to stare blankly out my office window (to think, of course) and saw two turkey vultures, circling high in the sky over my neighbourhood and asked what I guess all writers ask eventually: all right, pal, what’s your story?
“In the earliest of times, the sun lived very close to the earth – so close that life was becoming unbearable. The animal world got together and decided to do something about it. They wanted to move the sun further away. The fox was the first to volunteer, and he grabbed the sun in his mouth and began to run to the heavens. After a while the sun became too hot, burning the fox’s mouth and he stopped. To this day the inside of the fox’s mouth is black.
Then the opossum volunteered. He wrapped his tail around the sun and began running toward the heavens. Before long, the sun became too hot, burning his tail and he had to stop. To this day the opossum has no hair upon his tail.
It was then that vulture stepped forward. Vulture was the most beautiful and powerful of birds. Upon its head was a beautiful mantle of rich feathering that all other birds envied. Knowing that the earth would burn up unless someone moved the sun, the vulture placed its head against it and began to fly to the heavens. With powerful strokes of its wings, it pushed and pushed the sun further and further up into the heavens. Though it could feel its crown feathers burning, vulture continued until the sun was set a safe distance in the sky away from earth. Unfortunately, vulture lost its magnificent head of feathers for eternity.”*
Stories are everywhere. Thanks for the reminder, turkey vulture!
*Andrews, Ted. Animal Speak (Woodbury MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1993), pp. 201-202.
The great agent search of 2015 continues. This has me occupied by stupendously fascinating things like query letters, cover letters, editing, formatting and the most gloriously horrible, the synopsis. Necessary? Yes. A true joy and epic pleasure to craft? Not really.
In the midst of all this awesomeness, I also write for two newsletters. That gives me some nonfiction to work on, something that takes a different mindset to craft and edit, something short and with a much quicker payoff than the illustrious novel. I like writing them, even though sometimes it takes me a while to get started. Once I get in the zone, I enjoy it. I like the words, the tone, the relative speed with which these articles are written, edited and sent off into the world. I also get paid, always a happy circumstance. I should be pretty happy with all of this writing excitement going on in my life. It’s what I’ve been working toward for a very long time – the life of an actual writer and I’m pretty close to having that.
There’s a whiteboard on the wall in my office. I list the steps I’m currently taking to get my novel published and I adjust it as I move along, adding things, erasing them, modifying them, it helps keep me organized. One of the things on that list is ‘next writing project’. It’s the last thing, all tucked away on the bottom, but increasingly in my brain it’s the first thing. Next writing project isn’t all that specific, it could be a newsletter, an article, or one of the million short stories I have that I should really polish and send out. That’s not what it means though, it’s code for ‘start new novel’.
I worked on the last one for five years and it’s done and being submitted for the moment. You would think I would be happy, relieved, overjoyed to have that off of my plate for a while and for about five seconds I really, truly was. I made the decision to specifically not start another novel right away so that I could focus on getting the last one published. I promised myself I would wait until I had all the pieces of my proposal complete at least, the query, the cover letter, the synopsis, my first fifty pages, the manuscript and now I’m pretty much there, close, but not quite.
I’m getting twitchy. I miss my novel. My mind starts to wander and I think about it, the characters, the setting, the days, whole days, not eating, barely aware of the world around me when I was writing it, living it, breathing it, eating it, sleeping it, writing it, crafting it, loving it. It was terrible. For five years I accomplished absolutely nothing. I didn’t clean, was a terrible wife, friend, daughter, person, I was lost in the novel, lost to it and I loved every second of it.
My days are numbered. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. I’m like a junky and I can’t wait to slip back into a reality of my own creation, a bubble around my desk, the zombie-like daily existence of the consumed writer working on a novel. There’s probably a name for this psychological condition, and that’s okay, I have it, I love it and I want it. Don’t cure me. Soon, I keep telling myself, looking at the whiteboard, my gaze always drawn to the last item on the list, soon.