To Create Your Best Art, Surround Yourself with the Best People

What is it about writing a book that’s so hard?

Obviously, we know it’s a lot of mental work. Committing to the time, unraveling plot and character, editing and revisions. Every step of the process takes energy and attention out of our already busy lives. But for anyone who’s ever tried, it becomes apparent that the hardest part isn’t the time or effort involved.

It’s the emotional risk.

Writing a book brings up a lot of questions—from yourself and from other people. The negative self-talk and doubts definitely kick in. Am I good enough? Who am I to put my opinions or my story out there? Does anyone really want to hear what I have to say?

But the questions that really make us cringe tend to come from other people. How are you going to make any money doing that? Do you know how competitive the market is? Have you been published yet?

Sometimes they don’t even have to ask any questions. The bland smile or blank expression says it all. We feel a distinct lack of support coming from whatever parent/partner/friend/member of the general public we’ve decided to (maybe mistakenly) share our dream with.

Big dreams trigger people, and writing a book counts as a big dream. It’s worthy of going on the bucket list. And just like other life milestones—marriage, buying a house, starting a business, having a kid, traveling around the world—some people are not going to be happy for you when they find out you’ve embarked on making it happen.

When you start taking the steps to follow your dreams you challenge the people around you to follow theirs, without even saying one word. It doesn’t matter if you’re honestly not attached to their outcome. Some people are still going to feel threatened by the progress you’re making, even if you’re only taking baby steps.

This is what’s called “backlash” and it might happen a few times on your writing journey. Whenever you grow—really grow and expand your consciousness—you will usually find a person or two in your life who falls out of compatibility with you. You’ll feel the shift as it happens. Maybe you won’t look forward to hanging out with that person anymore, or you’ll notice that you don’t want to talk about your book around them. Or when you do bring up your writing, you feel shut down.

Whenever you feel yourself constricting in the presence of someone, your body is giving you a big clear message that you are not compatible with that person’s energy.

There is no need to judge the person who you feel this way around, and there’s no need to try to change them either. It’s best to honor where they are on their journey, send them love, and then move on. You have your own journey to concentrate on, and that’s where your focus should be placed.

It can be tricky sometimes to identify when we’re not compatible with certain people anymore because our culture constantly tells us that it’s necessary to suffer in order to grow. While, yes, sometimes suffering is part of the package deal of this whole life-on-earth thing, it’s also possible to learn and evolve by choosing a path of joy. And most people learn best when they feel comfortable, relaxed, and happy about the process.

Your best opportunities for growth will feel good to you.

You will feel good around the people who can most help you become the person you want to be.

Constructive feedback on your writing will give you good feelings about what can be improved and what no longer serves the story and can be let go.

So much of the time we assume that we have to power through damaging criticism from people and keep on taking it, or grin and bear it whenever we’re around someone who makes us feel badly about ourselves. This is simply not true. Whenever possible, we need to exercise our freedom to move away from these people and situations. The people probably won’t like it, and the situation may valiantly attempt to suck you right back in, but it can be done. You can find new people who want to ride with you through this magical journey of life, and will take turns with you as you cheerlead each other the entire way.

To live your best life, seek out the people who bring you up.

To do your best writing, surround yourself with the people who love your light.

For more on handling negative people and situations in your writing life, check out:

Writing Your First Novel? Watch What You Consume

How to Take the Whine out of Your Memoir

Why You Deserve a Better Audience

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  • Reply Judy Roberts 15 July, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Thanks so much for this, Lauren, and also for your last post, which I never got around to commenting on. I found both very helpful. I think what you have written about here is especially difficult for those who have ingrained habits of depending on others for affirmation. We do need encouragement, but, as you said, we need to choose wisely those with whom we share our dreams.

  • Reply Al Hudgins 15 July, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Lauren, thanks for putting these ideas together. It’s certainly true that the environment in which someone writes–not just the physical environment but the emotional environment as well–can have a huge impact, not only on new composition but even more so on editing what’s already been written. I think you saved the best line in your piece for last:

    To do your best writing, surround yourself with the people who love your light.

  • Reply Catherine North 16 July, 2015 at 5:00 am

    I think this is so true, that having an enthusiastic and supportive reader is such an incredible motivator for a writer – after all, we write to communicate, and when it feels like all we’re getting back from the people in our lives is negativity or lack of interest, it can be very disheartening – even when we understand the reasons why.

    I also keep hearing the same old advice online about thick skin and if the criticism doesn’t hurt you, it hasn’t gone deep enough. I am SO glad that you keep on challenging this view, Lauren! I truly believe a good critique should leave you feeling energised and motivated to carry on, even if there are still significant changes to be made. I think that comes from choosing the right reader for your work, someone who supports it and wants to make it better, not dismiss it or tear it down.

    Thank you again for your inspiration!

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 16 July, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I’m glad to hear you say this. So many people seem to assume that you only do good creative work when in the grip of mental turmoil. As a one-time sculptor and now (I came to a grinding halt here because I still find it difficult to write) a writer, I know I work at my best when I have peace of mind. I suspect this is true for most people and even tortured souls write best when in calmer phases.

  • Reply Paul Sutton Reeves 17 July, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Inspirational as always, Lauren. I really identified with much in your previous post too but was too late to comment…

    Having just started up/re-started a writing group, meeting monthly, I totally agree with your and Catherine North’s comments that critique needs to be honest but to find the positive too to support the writer in driving his/her work forward.

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 19 July, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I would love to break ties with some of the people who are threatened by my desire to write. However, I don’t have that luxury of choosing all the time. I can’t tell my mother I don’t want any conversations with her. Same goes for some of my in-laws. All I can do is remind myself that once I have a book published, some of the remarks, questions, and attitudes will change.

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