By Amanda Cleary Eastep
The man made a beeline for me.
I, and a few authors, had just finished leading a discussion about the importance of the voices of “midlife” writers.
This particular writer, who had been in the audience, almost seem dazed–eyes glassy, lips parted as if what he needed to verbalize hadn’t fully formed yet and was resting between them.
“How do you stay resilient?”
I’m not sure why he thought I’d be the one to ask. My colleagues were addressing other people’s questions, so maybe that was it. Or maybe I just looked like the most worn out of the four of us.
As in…”if she can keep writing while lugging around those eye bags, so can I…”
So how do writers keep going…keep creating, keep hoping?
Especially when you can’t figure out the plotline of your first novel and James Patterson’s 436th is hitting bookstores.
Or sell an article to your favorite magazine after 20 query attempts (OK, fine, one attempt).
Or write another blog post that only garners the comment “Great blog! If you’re interested in guest posts, I can supply a high-quality article on Snoring and Its Solutions.”
The resilience dilemma happens to published authors too.
As a book editor, I spend part of my time coaching, encouraging, and sometimes poking my writers with a sharp pencil. How do you push through the editing process when you just want to be done? How do you keep marketing one book and find the time and energy to write the next? How can you stay confident when sales or reviews of the previous book were “meh” and no one even bookstagrammed* it?
So many scenarios. But it all boils down to being resilient, persevering, DETERMINED!!!
“I’m tired of words,” the man said.
I couldn’t believe he said that. Why? Because several months earlier, I had written I AM TIRED OF WORDS in my journal. (I was going to blog about it then, but didn’t want to worry my boss.)
But I was. So. Tired. Of blog posts and Facebook posts and Instagram posts and post offices and doorposts…you get the idea.
I sighed and said, “I wrote those exact words in my journal not long ago.”
I think we both teared up a little.
But he seemed slightly encouraged.
Phew, my work here is done!
Then he seemed slightly expectant.
What was the question again? Right, how do you stay resilient?
Like him, you’ve probably heard some version of the holistic advice I offered.
I shared three steps I personally took (after deciding not to become an organic farmer instead of a writer) to revive my writer’s body, mind, and soul.
But even as I counted my efforts off on my calloused fingers…
- Physical: yoga every morning (except M, T, W, F…and weekends)
- Mental: shut social media down (like it’s a creepy guy at a bar)
- Emotional/spiritual: pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit (kind of like typing in tongues)
…I realized the man wasn’t taking notes. He looked at me with a polite, Thanks, but I’ve heard all this before…except for the tongues thing.
Then these words came out of my mouth. “You don’t have to write.”
WHAT? Did I just say that? What happened to living by one of my favorite writerly quotes?
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity. –Rainer Maria Rilke
Except that the man seemed a tad relieved.
“So don’t worry about saying no to the ‘shoulds’?”
Now there was some wisdom. It’s not so much about saying no to writing as no to ‘I should write.’ And we also have to say no to things in our lives in order to make space for our writing.
But most of the time, what prevents us from writing or consistently writing over the long haul is something beyond busy-ness, such as worry, shame, or fear. (Fear is my personal favorite.)
These negative emotions only inspire us to should.
They cause us to self-impose certain to-do’s on ourselves—I should blog/post/build platform! Often such “writerly” activities make us feel less guilty about not writing; but saying yes to ‘shoulds’ can also feed the very emotions that deplete us and sap our resilience.
However, worry, fear, and the like will never truly inspire us to write well (except maybe when a deadline is pending). Or to write with abandon or even to write in obedience to God.
I get tired of living in that tug of war between writing and not writing that makes my intestines feel stretched all the way out (that’s like the length of a bus, right?)
What I realize more every day is that I need to say no, not only to the excessive amounts of time I spend writing about writing, Instagramming about writing, and reading about writing, but, more importantly, to worry, shame, and fear. Every day.
Because if I don’t do that first, I won’t write. I won’t finish my books.
Can we be motivated instead by joy and hope and maybe even humility? A letting go of our expectations? We don’t have to be the most eloquent, the most read, or even…(gulp)…The Published. Pride, like worry and fear, is a weight, but not one that builds our strength. It is more of a parasitic thing we carry that makes us look bigger than we are but hollows us out.
Now I wish that in addition to telling that man to stop writing for a time and do something else he enjoys, I would have said, Oh, and don’t feed the parasites. Do whatever is necessary to slay worry, shame, fear, pride and (your favorite parasite here).
Pray Psalm 91.
Open your journal and write one great word and three crappy ones.
Write your book with such abandon that no one in a million years would publish it.
Write, rinse, repeat. Because resilience is built one word, one sentence, one page at a time.
(Oh, and find an editor with a sharp pencil.)
*Spending five hours out of the day embellishing your current read with flowers, feathers, strings of mini-lights, and “literary” candles named after popular book characters (but that hopefully don’t smell like some of them), and then taking a perfectly lit and filtered photo for your Instagram account–hashtag #bookstagrammer, #bookstagramma (going to use this one someday!), #booksarebetterthanpeople, etc.
For more on resilience in the writing life, read this inspiring and lyrical post by my friend Jamie Wright Bagley: Reading the River