Is This Your Biggest Enemy? For Sure, It’s Mine.
I don’t like to think in “enemy” terms about our inner lives but allow me to do so for a moment, and then I’ll move to more effective strategies. Thanks!
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I’m writing a book. I’m into the second shitty draft. I’m learning about structure in a whole new way. And it’s very slow going – it’s been two and half years, on and off, already.
Recently, I said (maybe I whined, but just slightly) to a friend who is helping me with the process,
“How much longer do you think this is going to take me? Do you think I should set myself a deadline?”
My friend Mary said, in her calm, measured way,
“Your biggest enemy is getting discouraged. You do great when you don’t let yourself but everything grinds to a halt when you do.”
I sat very still, which is what I do when I know I am receiving something very important and I don’t want to scare it away.
Mary went on:
“To keep yourself from getting discouraged is your main job. It’s a meditation almost. You have the ability to create something really amazing here if you just keep going step-by-step. I can’t say how long the book is going to take you; it all depends if you let yourself get discouraged.”
It all depends if you let yourself get discouraged. Well, that’s clear, isn’t it!
There comes a time in your creative life when no holding back is less about your abilities and experience. You know what to do. You stop believing that you don’t. You just go do it.
But first, you have to see, truly see, how your version of discouragement is playing out in your life.
You have to be willing to face – with love and tenderness – where you have given up, slacked off, turned away from what you really, really wanted.
Of course, being kind to yourself is imperative so here is where we lose the enemy metaphor. It’s about welcoming and befriending the parts of yourself that are afraid, or do not like to choose (so many writers I work with freak out about choosing one project or one focus for their project), or fantasizing if you could just go live on a tropical island and eat coconuts all day, you’d be happy. Patting that part of yourself on the heart and saying, “I get it. What would make this easier for you? Because this is going to happen.” Root yourself in being a compassionate, grounded adult who has a desire she will complete.
It also really helps to work at living a human-scaled life instead of a superhero ‘I have no personal needs’ life. Often the parts of you that dig in their heels or swoon into collapse need a little more breathing room, a little more rest, and a lot more fun to get on board with your big dream. So think about how you might scale back, and where you can add in more play. Of course, that might freak out the part of you that likes to be superhuman so have a talk with her first. What does she need to experience that she is enough?
In the end, being discouraged is just a thought. It’s the same thought I have when I want to quit running instead of pushing myself up the hill or around the next corner. It’s not bad or wrong or anything: it’s just a thought. And it will pass, especially if I am living a human-scaled life with kindness and respect toward myself. Especially if I am attuning to what matters most to me and dedicating my efforts to serving.
So I am lovingly ignoring every critical, judgmental thought that arises while I am writing. I shrug and keep going. “This is a shitty second draft. The pretty comes later. I spent months working on pretty and all of that material got cut. I can do pretty to my heart’s content at the end.” Chop wood, carry water.
I hope, in your own way, you will do the same.
P.S. One spot is open in my very first writing retreat in my new house. I can’t wait to write with you in my very own living room. Four days, 10 women, great food, a ton of words on the page, and a great dollop of learning – and love.