Oof, where do I begin … Okay, here goes: I had a bad day yesterday. Life got on top of me, and I stumbled under the weight. How did I get there, and how did I get out? The answers to those questions will become what I call the Authentic Author’s Survival Guide.
First thing’s first – being a writer is a tough gig. Here’s why: The act of writing pushes you through a strange, chaotic gauntlet of emotions. You’re supposed to write about people, and for people. AT THE SAME TIME, discussing your work with other creatives (especially online) exposes you to the harshest, most caustic criticism possible.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
Here are three reasons:
One, real writing doesn’t hide in the corner. Like stand-up comedy, it’s art that is only fully formed when readers experience and respond to it. This is why stand-up comics get up on stage. At some point, you can’t polish a joke any further, you have to see if it makes people laugh. Successful comics freely admit: that feedback is what makes their bits work. The audience’s response gets them to different places in their head or heart, helping them tell funny stories in the most efficient, effective ways possible. Writing is the same way. I won’t REALLY know how to tell my stories until readers get to see them. Of course, I can check with other professional authors but:
Two, successful writers are BUSY WRITING THEIR OWN STUFF. If you have a mentor, if you have a fellow author to vent to, you know: They only have so many hours in the day. Like you, they get focused or distracted with their own universes. Months can go by without an answer. They aren’t getting paid to mentor you, they’re doing it out of the goodness of their own heart. So we come back to:
Three, your work NEEDS TO GET OUT THERE TO FIND ITS AUDIENCE. Yes, at some point your work needs to meet regular people and find out: ‘is this ready for daylight?’ Real writers publish. There’s no escaping that moment of truth.
“So what happened?”
Earlier this week, heart in mouth, I started talking about Mesh on some Subreddits. I felt I needed some feedback on the query and publishing process, and I had some questions based on the experience of other aspiring publish-ees.
I didn’t approach this in a vacuum; I’ve been honing my social media game for months preparing for the moment when Mesh hit virtual daylight. Start small, I said. Don’t put it all out there, I said. Simple questions, simple discussions. Things got crazy pretty fast. Two days later, I was in a fetal position on the bathroom floor and looking for my Happy Place.
“OMG, what did they say?” I don’t want to get into it. What messes with me is what messes with me, and what messes with you is what messes with you. This stuff got to me, and I have to deal with that. It’s easy to say ‘don’t let it get to you’ when it isn’t happening to you. The only way to not live in a glass house is to move to a stone-proof house, or a house no one would throw stones at. Authors don’t have either option.
The process of writing is simultaneously the solution, and the cause, of my emotional stress. Fun, huh? This is not about breaking down that game film, anyway. Additionally, where most people would say ‘keep yourself to yourself,’ I made a decision to face this pain, to talk about it. It’s rare that I learn by suffering in silence.
So let’s talk about this. I’m working off the assumption that everyone has a limit, everyone has a weak point of some kind. So does it mess with you? Does it ‘break your glass house?’ Okay, that’s fine. Your feelings are real, what you’re experiencing is real. This is about what we can learn from those moments.
I checked around: there don’t appear to be any specific survival guide tips for these moments, I decided to write one myself. Here, without further ado, is the …
Survival Guide for Creative People – Part One
I preface the rest of this discussion by saying, I know that writing isn’t the most stressful job on the planet. I get it. There’s a reason I’m not a cop or an EMT or a soldier. Nothing in this post (or the next one) should be taken to mean: “Writing is the world’s toughest job.” Any time I start thinking that it is, make me stand in a Home Depot parking lot picking up day labor gigs.
But, the life is still the life. Putting your written work out there will expose every stress, insecurity or anxiety you never knew you had. There’s a reason many authors suffer from addiction. There’s a reason writers are prone to depression. How do you wrestle with that dichotomy of ‘this is what I need’ / ‘this is what hurts me?’
I have no idea. Until an answer presents itself, let’s create the Survival Guide for Creative People. Taking a page from Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Guide, I decided to break all this down like a real rescue plan. Let’s begin with Part One:
If Louis Pasteur is correct, fortune favors the prepared mind. Preparing for disaster survival starts with a mindset, a decision. Choose to survive. Decide you are going to keep going. That simple act has been the deciding factor for many people who have struggled through life-threatening dangers and circumstances. Prepare your mind, prepare your heart: You are going to survive.
Next, start building your foundation. Emotional foundations are ‘your core system of energies, your beliefs, what you have in the middle of your mind and gives you an inner structure, an energy base.’ Our emotional foundation is the personality structure we operate from, much of it formed in childhood. According to this post: ‘Many of us grapple not just with difficult problems of the present, but with foundations made shaky by childhood traumas, a lack of consistent love and good role models within our early family life, and sometimes child abuse.’
Building your emotional strength is something you can work on every day. Setting boundaries, reaching out, practicing self-care? Anyone can, and everyone should do that.
Let’s Pause Here
Now, I’m over a thousand words here, so let’s pump the brakes. Think about what you’d like to see in a Survival Guide for Creative People and drop me a line on Twitter. I’ll include that feedback in my next installment.