It took me two years to write the rough draft of my first novel. Two long excruciating years. I doubted myself at every phase. I hated the way I opened the book. It was too clumsy and awkward. I was embarrassed about the middle. It was convoluted and wandered down too many dead ends. I cringed when I wrote the ending. It was completely cliché and way, way too obvious.
For two years I fought with myself, the book, and all of my ideas about what writers should do and what good writing should be.
Only when it was over and I had put some distance between myself and the process was I able to look back—with that hindsight that is always 20/20—and realize that I’d missed out on a lot of the joy and fun I could have gotten from the experience if I had just stopped fighting.
This often happens with writers and first books. We’re so busy grappling with the voice of our inner critic that our perception becomes totally distorted, and then we can’t see all the awesome things happening in our story as it’s unfolding. This not only prevents us from being in the moment with our artistic work, but it also burns up a lot of our psychological energy reserves. We get into a habit of seeing all the things that are wrong with our manuscript, and none of the things that are right. And after a while, our creative well is depleted and then runs into a deficit.
Writing a first book is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Most of the population does not have what it takes to do it. A writer needs strength and stamina, patience and determination. A writer has to learn how to carefully manage her time, her energy, and her attention. We walk the tightrope of balancing our inner realm of magic and possibility with our outer realm of day-to-day demands and realistic expectations. Most people cannot do this. Just know that right now. So if you are in the middle of writing your first book, or you’ve already written that first one and moved on to others, you’re already batting way above average.
That’s the first thing to always keep in mind. You are already working at a higher level with your creative abilities than most other people. This is reason number one to stop beating yourself up.
Reason number two is that you’re going to finish this first novel one day and you’re going to look back—just like I did—and realize that the process of writing it was a magical, golden time in your creative life. It was a time when you hadn’t yet published anything and so there was no pressure from an existing audience. It was a time when you approached everything about writing with that ever-elusive “beginner’s mind” they talk about on all the Zen blogs. It was a time of pure discovery and imagination.
Don’t waste it on worrying about whether or not the thing you’re making is going to end up looking exactly how you pictured it should look. The moment you introduce that energy of should is the moment you look down and then fall off the tightrope.
Reason number three for you to silence that inner critical voice can be explained by taking the stock market for an example. Now, most artists believe that the cycles of our economy have nothing to do with them, and they sure as hell aren’t similar in any way to creative ebb and flow. Not true. In fact, you can learn a ton about your own creative success by watching the stock market.
You see, most people believe that to achieve any success with the stock market they need to buy the hottest, most glamorous stock and then sell it for much, much higher and make an eye-popping amount of money. So they go into it with very set ideas about what the process should look like, how it should feel, and what they should get out of it. Note that there are a lot of “shoulds” in there. But professional investors know better. They buy stock and then they watch it and adjust their plans as the stock flows. So, sometimes the stock tanks and sometimes it shoots through the roof. But most of the time it just swings back and forth a bit between one price and another. If a professional investor bought a stock for $2.00 and then decided that if that stock fell to $1.90 he was going to completely freak out and fall into despair, blame himself and consider giving up on his whole investment plan, how long do you think he would be able to draw from his psychological energy reserves for continuous investing? Not very long. He’d probably be burned out within a month and decide that stocks just weren’t for him.
But it’s not that stocks “just weren’t for him.” It’s that he let his inner critical voice take over and run the show. He blew all of his psychological capital on having an extreme emotional reaction to the natural ebb and flow of the economy. What if instead he had just watched the stock with as neutral an eye as possible and if it didn’t do well that day, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh, better luck tomorrow, I guess.” That’s a person who has the fortitude to stick it out with a plan for years and years, and end up building quite a bit of wealth.
Your creative work is your way of building wealth in this life. It’s not always going to look like what you think it should look like. A lot of the time it’s going to seriously challenge what you believe about yourself and what you’re capable of as a writer. It will swing back and forth with its own natural ebb and flow. Your job is not to control the swing. Your job is to learn to flow with it and open yourself up as much as possible to let more of it come through.
Writing that first book is the writer’s first time learning how to open herself, and how to go with the ebb and flow. The more you appreciate where you are with it and all the beauty and joy it has brought into your life, the faster you will learn.
It’s time to let go of the fight, and get with the flow.
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