This blog is meant to nourish, heal, spark, and empower your creative flame. I help writers who are having trouble finding their voice and writers who have no idea how to get through writing their sloppy first draft. I help writers who have already written the sloppy first draft but now need feedback as they rewrite, revise, and polish the manuscript to the best of their ability.
Yesterday I typed those two little words every writer dreams of when we’re in the middle of a WIP…The End. I finally finished the novel I’ve been feverishly working on for the past seven months. For me, seven months is a record-breaking length of time to write a novel, but with this one, I just couldn’t help it. It was one of those novels that forced me to drop everything and write it, whether I wanted to or not.
You would think I would feel happy. You would think I would be out celebrating. But, I feel the exact opposite. Now that the book is out of me (the sloppy first draft anyway) and I know the entire story of my characters, I kind of feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest.
What is wrong with me?
Well, actually nothing. In fact, for writers, this is pretty normal.
It is something not a whole lot of writers talk about, however. It’s that weird, low, tired, slightly depressed and/or super bummed feeling you get when you finish a novel, or any other big creative project that’s been consuming most of your thought space for a long period of time. We assume that we should be throwing a party and telling everyone we know that we finally finished. But, while a deep sense of pride and accomplishment might be present, we are also, unavoidably, just plain sad.
The depression that might hit you when you finish writing a book happens for a couple of different reasons. Number one, after finishing such a big work, we are at our lowest creative ebb. The tide has gone out. Way, way out. Our creative muscles have been stretched to the max as we pushed ourselves through the marathon of writing a book. Now, we’re depleted. We need rest and nourishment and time to recuperate. This is all part of the normal cycle of any life endeavor. You push yourself and expend a lot of effort and then, at some point, the rubber band has to snap back to its original shape.
That’s the first reason. However, the second reason isn’t so obvious.
Writing a book is pretty much the same as being in a turbulent and emotionally charged intimate relationship with another person. We make demands and the book makes demands. We figure out we have to compromise. We discover things about ourselves as writers that we never knew. On top of that, the book surprises us with its own twists and turns. We’re tested, broken apart, and then stitched up anew.
In a word, it’s intense.
And it’s not like we go through this process with a cold and sterile collection of sentences that happen to make up a story. No, we go through this trial with our characters. Our feisty and curious, funny and beautiful characters that we love so much, and that we know, now, almost better than anyone in real life. So, when we come to the end of the road, is it any wonder it feels so brutal to say goodbye to them?
That’s how I’ve been feeling this week, after writing my last chapter. Yes, I know revisions lay in my future and my characters will live forever on the page and blah blah blah but it’s not the same. Never again will I be in that space with them that is so fresh and alive, where I’m learning everything about them and they’re showing me magical new pieces every day. Never again will they surprise me and take a huge left turn in the story when all along I expected them to go right.
Never again will they show up as just a whisper in my ear, begging me to see them and write their story, begging me to acknowledge that they are alive and real.
The wise rational part of me knows that’s okay. This is as it should be. It is the natural cycle of the creative process. I have to say goodbye to these characters and this story because my consciousness needs to make room for new characters and new stories to come into my field. I get that. I really do.
But, I’m still sad. And I can’t pretend that I’m not.
If you’ve just recently finished a book or a big creative project and you’re feeling down in spirits, just know that it’s normal. And it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to question if you’ll ever get inspiration like that again, or write another book that will pull you in so completely. It’s okay to not want to do anything for a little while but sit on the couch and eat cookies and watch bad cable TV.
As writers, it’s all part of the process, and the more we embrace that, the better every one of our endings will be.
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Being stuck in a certain place in your story is different than writer’s block. Writer’s block is a condition that paralyzes writers and prevents them from ever getting started in the first place, or derails them so completely they can never finish that first draft. But being stuck is more like running your car off the road into the mud. You know it’s possible to get out of it, but it still feels like a big messy unpleasant obstacle in your creative life.
Right now, I am stuck. I am just about in the middle of the last quarter of my novel, and I am most definitely in the mud. Things were going so well up until now. I was writing consistently every week and my plot and characters were moving along at a good clip. And then, I hit this wall. I got…stuck.
However, this time around I know a few things that I didn’t know before. This is not my first rodeo with literary mud, you see. I’ve gotten stuck many, many times before.
And this time, I realized it wasn’t my fault.
When we get stuck in a sticky patch in our story, most writers blame themselves. We nearly always feel like we’ve done something wrong. We didn’t do enough research, or we didn’t outline our chapters carefully enough. We didn’t sufficiently think things through and now we’re paying the price. Nearly all the time, when a writer gets stuck he or she immediately goes into self-judgment about it.
But, we’re forgetting one crucial element.
As the writer, we do not control the story.
Now, this is a hard pill for a lot of us to swallow. What do you mean I don’t control the story? It’s MY story! is usually the first argument I hear. Well, if you truly believe that you have 100% control over your story and all your characters are pretend people that you have 100% control over too, then I have news for you. If it really is that way for you and your story, then you’re working with puppets and you’re settling for pulling their strings, when you could be working with living, breathing, larger-than-life, rich and complex characters and stories that take the reader’s breath away.
But to get there, you have to give up control. And you’re going to have to face the fact that your characters DO have thoughts and feelings and attitudes independent of you, and your opinions on where you think they should be headed.
So, all that said, if you’re stuck in a sticky patch in your story and you feel like you can’t move any further, chances are that your character doesn’t want to move any further, and they have a very good reason for dragging their feet.
In my coaching work with writers, the number one reason I see characters suddenly halt and refuse to go any further is trauma. It could be that the next scenes you’ve planned to write involve the character being abused in some way, or revisiting a past emotional wound that is still festering. It could even be that you’re about to send them on a job interview that they don’t want to go on. It doesn’t take a huge thing for characters to start dragging their feet, or even outright kicking and screaming because they refuse to go on.
Let’s take my story, for instance. The first half of the novel was all about my main character finding his true love and starting a relationship with her. Let me tell you, this guy was on cloud nine. I wrote a bunch of scenes of him confessing his love, finding out she felt the same way, the two of them spending intimate time together, and him finding out more about her past. Those scenes just flew out of my pen. Not only was my character more than happy to share everything with me, he wouldn’t shut up about it either.
Now though, we’ve come to a different part of the story. Now it’s time for my character to return to his childhood home and face his father, who he’s been estranged from for over 20 years. Now my character is suddenly more than silent, it’s like he’s totally gone. A few years ago I would have been thrown into despair because I would have assumed I’d done something wrong and that was why my “inspiration” had suddenly dried up. Now I know, though, that it’s not my fault at all. My character is just hiding. He’s not talking because he’s terrified and he’s completely freaking out.
And from what I know of his dad, I’d be freaking out too.
This is what has made all the difference in my creative work these days. Because I now understand that my main character is just like a real person. He has thoughts and feelings and fears and the whole messy package of what it means to be human going on inside of him, just like I do. He’s not able to just be easy and breezy about helping me write these scenes in which he has to confront all the toxic baggage from his past. Bottom line, he’s going to need a minute. And I need to give him his space.
When my character is ready, he’ll talk. I know this because I’ve taken the time to build a trusting relationship with him. And when he does confide in me again, I’ll take it as slowly as he needs to go.
If you’re working with a character who has been through past trauma, or is currently going through a difficult time, just know that the best thing you can do is to treat them just as you would any other real person in your life who was dealing with the same. Bring in compassion, actively listen, and know that everyone works within their own sense of right timing.
As a writing coaching who works almost exclusively with Highly Sensitive Writers, I hear the same phrases from a lot of different clients. “I’m an introvert, so I hate putting myself out there.” “I’m not that assertive.” “I prefer to stay in the background.” All these statements might be true in one way or another, but the reasons behind the statements tend to remain vague to most people, even if they are the introvert in question.
Even though the introvert awareness movement has made incredible gains for introverts over the past few years, most of us still struggle with limiting beliefs around what it means to actually be introverted. We might be out and loud and proud about NOT being extroverts, but at times we still assume that to be an introvert means that, basically, we are shy. And shy people don’t like the spotlight. So, when we try to put our finger on exactly what it is about marketing that makes us feel so, well, turned off by the whole process, we usually retreat back to this assumption. We are introverts, and therefore, we don’t want to call attention to ourselves. Because on some level, we are just plain shy.
This isn’t exactly the whole truth, though. Because being Highly Sensitive and introverted comes with a big ol’ package of other stuff that affects how we feel about the marketing process, and it goes way beyond the fact that most Highly Sensitive introverts don’t enjoy the spotlight.
For instance, most Highly Sensitive introverts are also intellectually and emotionally gifted. We are interested in ideas and theories that most other people find boring or weird. We are also big picture thinkers, so we see much further into the future than others, and we see the long-term consequences of decisions and choices that others neglect to examine. It’s hard enough to have these traits as an adult living in an instant-gratification, consumer-driver culture, but it’s even harder when you’re a kid.
When I was growing up, I was a huge nerd. And I don’t say “nerd” the way it’s fashionably used today. I mean I was a nerd who was very uncool and who didn’t fit in. I was always saying the wrong thing, acting the wrong way, and failing to realize that I needed to be a certain something in order to gain the approval of my peers. My feelings were easily hurt and I seemed to care about things that none of the other kids who surrounded me did—like animals and the environment and art and literature.
Because my adolescence was such a struggle for me, I learned how to get through it by going into survival mode. My fellow students did not hesitate to let me know that the things I cared about were weird, the way I dressed was weird, and the things I said were weird. So, I kept my head down and my theories to myself. When the teacher asked for anyone’s opinion, I kept my mouth shut. As an introvert, this came naturally to me anyway, and it just made a lot of things easier, overall.
I believe that most Highly Sensitive Writers had childhoods exactly like mine. I also believe that most Highly Sensitive Writers are still recovering from those years in which they felt rejected, mocked, and ignored, even into adulthood. I believe that most Highly Sensitive Writers, when putting their writing work and their books out into the world, now, still have to deal with those ghosts of the past.
And THIS is one of the biggest reasons that introvert writers struggle with marketing. Not because we’re “shy.” It goes so far beyond that. It’s because we still have wounds from being the weird kid in school all those years ago. We’re still dealing with trauma from being the black sheep in our family, and never, ever feeling understood. We’re still processing what it means to be Highly Sensitive, empathic, gifted, or intuitive, and we’re still struggling with owning a value system based around compassion and integrity that is at odds with so much of the dominant feeling in the world today.
So, yes, it is hard for us to get comfortable with marketing. It can be nearly impossible for us to ever feel truly secure in promoting our work. But it can be done. We CAN make the choice to keep learning, keep experimenting, and keep growing, even if all our shit from the past gets triggered every step of the way.
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Writer, chances are that you’ve gone through much, much worse than learning how to market a book, and you’ve still come out on the other side.
Now, you know exactly who you are, and this is your time to shine.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in the unique position of having my fingers on the collective pulse of writers today. I talk to unbelievable amounts of writers every week. Some of them are my clients, some of them are new people thinking about becoming a client, and some of them are completely random strangers from the internet who email me to talk about writing. I talk to sci-fi writers and memoirists and bloggers and romance novelists and everything in between.
The thing that always astounds me is that almost every single one of these writers, sooner or later, brings the same problem to me.
They’re afraid of failure.
Now, that’s a short little sentence that covers a crazy wide range of stuff, but most people don’t know that. Most writers assume that their ideas of success and failure are THE ideas of success and failure the world over. So, if they want to be the next Stephen King, they assume every other writer does too. If they want to quit their day job and earn a full-time income just from writing, they assume all the other writers want that too. Most of the time, for most of the writers, it does not occur to us that our idea of what constitutes “failure” is highly personalized, and actually fluid. That is, we don’t usually realize that there is more than one way to think about things.
When we think about being a “failure” as a writer, we tend to get very black-and-white about it too. If my debut novel doesn’t sell over 10,000 copies, I’m a failure. If my novel isn’t finished one year from now, I’m a failure. And on and on and on. We make quick decisions about what we need to do and where we need to be in order not to be “failure” and we most often don’t see that those numbers, time periods, and concrete items we decided upon are not the goals in and of themselves.
So, what is the goal?
That’s when we come back to that tricky word, “failure.” The goal, obviously, is that we don’t want to be a failure. We don’t want to feel like a failure because, let’s face it, we already sort of do, and it’s a miserable place to be in.
But let’s keep digging. Let’s keep peeling away the layers and look at what’s beneath all this failure stuff for writers.
The truth is, when we say we don’t want to be a failure, what we’re really saying is that we want to feel liked and loved and seen and heard and approved of by our peers and the world. We want to feel good enough. We want to feel just plain enough. And that, my fellow writers, is a very slippery feeling to get a hold of and then hold onto. Because your feelings of “enough-ness” will fluctuate on a daily basis according to your moods, the state of your relationships, outside stressors, and a whole host of other, external things that you cannot control.
But what we do—or what our wonderful busy little rational egoistic brains do—is convince ourselves that if we can reach certain writing goals then we will feel good enough. We will feel like we are enough. And those critical sneaky voices in our heads will shut up, the panicky jealous feeling we get when we see another writer’s success will subside, the cold fear in the pit of our stomach at the thought that we might possibly die unpublished and unappreciated—all THAT stuff will magically go away.
Yeah, about that stuff. It doesn’t go away. Pretty much…ever. No matter how many books you publish or awards you win. That stuff comes from a deeper place than praise and accolades can reach.
But even though that stuff might never go away, it is possible to gain a little perspective on it. We can shift our attention off of the failure illusion and look at what’s really important and then start to go from there, building different writing goals for ourselves that are realistic and full of enthusiasm and self-compassion.
The thing is, we’re all going to die someday. And I’m not saying that as a toss-away YOLO cliché statement. I actually mean it. My mom died when I was just about 12 years old and my dad died just last year. I’ve had some time to think about death, and about what I want to do with my life while I’m here, and what I’ve seen most clearly is that we all get just a handful of years. Whether we get 85 of them or 35, it’s all just a handful in the grand scheme of things, really. You can spend these (very short) years throwing all your time and energy at chasing “success” and wringing your hands over possible “failure” or you can get busy living. You can sit down, right now, and write the next chapter. You can jump online, right now, and see what it will honestly take to self-publish that novel that’s been sitting in your bottom drawer. You can choose, right now, to spend the afternoon with a cup of tea daydreaming about your characters and where they want to take you next.
So, it’s up to you. It’s up to all of us writers. The thought of failure is always going to be there, hanging around your door, scurrying around in the shadows, trying to make your life miserable. But I tell you what, you focusing all your time and energy on it isn’t going to slow down the passing of the years.
So, right now, my fellow writer, sit down and do the work you were born to do.
Every time I embark on writing a new novel, it’s like total amnesia sets in about the last time I wrote a novel. The beginning is incredibly fun. The characters are fresh and new and interesting. They’re the irresistibly charismatic people I’ve just met at a party who I want to talk to all night. The story itself is intriguing. I can’t wait to find out what’s really going on and how it all turns out. Eagerly, I set to work and I just know it, this is going to be the best book I’ve ever written.
And then…I hit the middle.
It’s always at the same point, too, at least for me. Just a little past the halfway mark. This is the point when the story has committed itself to a certain trajectory, when the characters have made decisions they can’t walk away from. And this is also when I start to feel distinctly trapped by the book. I can’t back out now, I’m in too deep. Besides, I do love my characters and I want to stand by them and see the story through. But when I look ahead, everything looks dim and confusing, and somewhat bleak. I’m not sure how any of us are going to get out of this alive.
This sounds melodramatic, but this is my reality as a writer. Writing my way through the middle of a book sucks, and I hate it.
The other piece of this, which I think I share with a lot of other writers, is that I tend to judge myself harshly when I’m feeling this way. I know there are writers out there who would give anything to finish one novel, much less have the luxury of complaining about hitting the middle point of a novel that is one in a list of many. I know there are writers out there who are struggling with other demands placed on them from financial pressures, ill health, or the needs of loved ones that have to take precedence over their own at the moment. This makes me feel even more guilty. Shouldn’t I just shut up and be grateful for what I have and slog my way through this latest novel with a smile on my face?
Well, no. That’s not quite the way it works.
The truth is, that wherever you are as a writer, it’s hard. Each of us is going through our own thing. Right now, my thing is struggling to write my way out of this novel. Sometimes my thing is feeling like crap because I got a bad review. A lot of times my thing is dipping into despair because I’m not sure anyone will even like or appreciate whatever it is I’m writing at the moment. All of these things are valid, and all of them feel unpleasant and difficult to go through. Me clubbing myself over the head with self-judgment and guilt is not helping anything.
So, that’s the first piece, I think. Moving from self-judgment into self-acceptance. If you’re stuck in the middle of writing a tough novel, that’s where you’re at. And it’s okay to feel like it’s hard and annoying.
The second piece that can help us get through the slog of writing the middle of a novel is to realize that a novel unfolds in stages that are very similar to real life. Of course the beginning is fun—it’s the time when all possibilities are still open. As in real life, even if we had a rough childhood or adolescence, we also had the certainty that any path could still be taken. We could decide to be a sea captain, or a stockbroker. We could move to Australia, or Africa. We could do so many things because we still had so much time. It’s the very same way with a novel. As you write the beginning, all paths are still open to your characters. They could do this thing OR this other thing. The possibilities are endless, and the future feels magical.
However, when you reach the middle of a novel, much like reaching the middle of life, the possibilities have narrowed. The fact is, our characters HAVE made choices now and those choices affected everything else. They DID choose to be a sea captain over a stockbroker, or to move to Australia instead of Africa. It’s much harder to work with the characters because the story itself has narrowed and we just plain don’t have as much room to maneuver as before.
This is my little-over-halfway point that I reach in every book that causes me so much difficulty. I’m still committed to the story, yes, but there is a very deep, very real part of me that mourns the loss of possibility. I can see the future of the story now, even if only dimly, and it doesn’t seem very magical anymore.
But the thing is, this is what life is all about. This is actually how the natural cycle of everything is supposed to unfold. Everything has to narrow itself at some point or nothing concrete would ever happen. Every person has to choose, sometime. And even if they choose to do nothing, that’s still a choice in itself.
Every one of us, at one crossroads or another, has to pick a path and walk down it.
So, if you’re currently slogging your way through the middle of a book, let yourself know that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel frustrated and tired and like the magic of your story has maybe, just slightly, worn off. It’s okay to feel like you want to chuck the book into the ocean, or a bonfire. You don’t have to feel guilty for feeling any of those things.
Because the middle is hard for everyone. In novels, and in real life.
When I first started learning how to market a book I was resistant, to say the least. I have always shied away from marketing and sales, in any form, my whole life. I’m an introvert, and a Highly Sensitive Person. I’m also kind of a hippie, and definitely an INFJ personality type. While most of my friends in college were taking business courses and trying to land juicy internships, I was writing poetry and grappling with existential dread.
I thought that I would never be able to learn how to sell anything.
All that changed though when I wrote and published my first book, The INFJ Writer. The book had a message that I knew could be helpful to a lot of people, in a really deep and meaningful way. It was a book with an authentic message that I wanted all my fellow intuitive souls to hear: You’re not weird. You’re actually gifted. And the world badly needs your gifts at this time.
So, I was solid in my belief in the message I wanted to spread, and the book I wanted people to read. But I knew that my belief wasn’t enough. If I ever wanted to reach a larger audience, I was going to have to learn how to market and sell my work.
And that’s where the resistance came in.
I didn’t want to be fake, that was the most important thing to me. I could spot fake people a mile off and any sort of phoniness felt sleazy and icky to me. I didn’t want to aggressively push myself forward either. I had spent much of my life observing the way most of Western culture functioned all around me and I’d drawn strong conclusions on how damaging extreme aggression and the ego-centric approach could be. So, I definitely didn’t want to do that either. The problem was, if I didn’t want to be fake and I didn’t want to be aggressive, I wasn’t sure what else was left.
Fortunately, the Universe led me to the lessons I most needed to receive. I started by hitting the “publish” button on The INFJ Writer and then I did what came naturally to me: I started building genuine relationships. I looked around on social media and reached out to people who seemed to be on my same wavelength. I bought and read and reviewed books by other indie writers as often as I could. I wrote blog posts with the intention of being helpful in whatever way I could to my fellow artists. And slowly, over time, my relationships blossomed and grew into a community of people who were always there to support me.
This is the kind of marketing that INFJs, INFPs, and any other Highly Sensitive Writer can truly benefit from, and it’s honestly the only kind of marketing that we have any chance of being good at. Because we are just never going to be those people who think of sales numbers first, and people later. We’re never going to feel comfortable schmoozing, or doing the hard sell, or throwing our business card at people we hardly know. That’s just not us, and it’s never going to be us. And that’s okay. Because we’re moving into a new kind of world.
These days, an INFJ or INFP writer has a huge advantage when it comes to learning about marketing. Because all of us live within the online landscape now, and in this brave new online world there are just too many choices available to waste time on people who are phony, manipulative, or won’t stop blasting others with spam messages urging them to buy products they don’t really need. What DOES work in today’s world is actually authentic people who actually care about the really cool thing they created that they actually believe can help others.
That’s a marketing message everyone can get behind.
If you are an INFJ or INFP writer, or an introvert, or a Highly Sensitive Person, then chances are that you’re also highly creative, you write or make things that you would love other people to experience, but you’re resistant and intimidated by this whole marketing and selling thing. That’s totally okay, because you’re not alone. There are a whole bunch of us out there and we’re all scared. But guess what? We’re all doing it too. Every day, more and more people are self-publishing their books, starting blogs, selling their artwork online, and sharing themselves over social media. Even if you’re the most introverted of introverts, it can be done. And it can be done in a way that aligns with your most deeply held values.
If you’re reading this article and you’re nodding your head because this is you, like this is SO YOU, then check out my new book: Firefly Magic: Heart-Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers. It’s got chapters on all the things I’ve talked about above, plus a bunch more on how to shift out of feeling resistance and fear around marketing into feeling empowered and excited about getting your work out into the world.
Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers is for any HSP, INFJ, INFP, introvert writer who knows they need to learn more about book marketing but also feels huge resistance to it. If you’re a Highly Sensitive Writer who “hates marketing” or feels you don’t naturally have what it takes to get good at it, Firefly Magic can help.
I dive deep into dissolving outdated belief systems, fear of rejection, and even issues around money and abundance. Whether you’re already published or just starting to think about building a career as a writer, Firefly Magic is made for you.
I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to give up on writing.
This is not something people usually expect to hear. My circle of friends and colleagues know that writing is something I am deeply passionate about; it’s the thing I sacrifice my free time and extra sleep for, and the thing I seemingly never stop pursuing.
But what they don’t know is how many times I have really, seriously, TRULY thought about throwing in the towel.
The thing about writing is that most people only see the end result. They see the polished novel that went through 12 different rounds of revisions, or the gorgeous cover that you had to go back-and-forth with your designer over for months to get just right. They might remember you proudly announcing that you had started your novel, or finished it.
But most people never see all the back-breaking labor, and the soul-breaking trials, in between.
Most people never see us when we’ve spent three years writing the first draft of a novel, only to decide that the best thing we could possibly do is bury the whole thing in the backyard. Most people don’t realize the feelings of disappointment and sadness we go through when our novel has been on the market for two years and we’ve haven’t yet broken the $500 mark in sales. Most people don’t know that it’s rare that we ever feel truly supported or understood by someone else when it comes to our writing dreams, and that for the most part, we feel like we’re operating all by ourselves, isolated and alone.
These are things writers go through. On a regular basis. Sometimes we have good days and sometimes we even have brilliant days, but we also have a whole lot of these challenging, difficult, just downright icky days too.
As a writer, this is when you have to dig deep to access your inner reserves. A superficially positive attitude isn’t going to cut it, and neither is the method of kicking yourself when you’re down. If you’re serious about being in it for the long haul then you must tap into something deeper and way more sustainable.
What I’m talking about here is spiritual stamina.
Spiritual stamina is the ability to shift perspective as needed and see the bigger picture. It’s being able to identify a deeply meaningful vision for your life as a writer and an artist, and also being able to return to that vision in times of stress and fear. It doesn’t matter if you’re not religious or you’re not someone who attends a church. Developing spiritual stamina as a writer is a very personal, individual, intimate process. It’s not about joining a community—although that might be part of it for you—it’s more about building a bedrock of inner belief in your destiny as a writer that you can use as a touchstone when the going gets rough.
Developing a spiritual practice around your writing can be extremely helpful in building this inner foundation. Your practice can be anything you want it to be. Maybe you say a prayer or set a personal intention before you start your writing for the day. Maybe you make it a point to use affirmations focused on your writing goals throughout the week. Maybe it’s even something as small as deciding to spread kindness by complimenting one writer in your community each month. Whatever your spiritual practice around writing includes, as long as it soothes your heart and puts you in touch with your soul-level purpose as a writer on a regular basis, then it’s working.
Developing spiritual stamina is also known as keeping the faith. When you keep the faith, you know that each trial that shows up in your life will come and go and that, no matter what, you are always on your right and true path as a creative being. When you keep the faith, you also know that no one else can do the exact, unique, beautiful thing you are doing with writing, and that your writing is a soul expression of pure YOU. When you keep the faith, you know that even if you feel alone, you never really are, and that the Universe always has your back.
Keeping the faith is not an easy thing to do. That’s why it’s called a “practice,” because you have to keep showing up and doing it.
If you’re confused about your purpose as a writer, or you’re having trouble keeping the faith, you can do a few simple things to get back on track. Take some time alone and journal about the reasons—the really deep reasons—you write. Take even more time to meditate and ask yourself those same questions. What do you want to write that you’ve always dreamed of sharing with others? What do you want to write that you’re most afraid of? WHY do you want to write at all?
Searching for the answers to these questions can be challenging, and you might not find the answers right away, or even for many years. But if you begin the search at all, then you’re halfway there. Ours is not a world that encourages you to turn off the noise, turn away from the drama, and go within to ask questions that feel uncomfortable and daunting, so taking these first steps is a victory all on its own.
But you’re a writer. And really, that’s what you were born to do.
So even if it’s been a hard week, a hard month, or a hard last few years for you, take a deep breath and come back to yourself. Come back to the living truth inside you: You are a beautiful, brilliant, creative being.
And, as a writer, you have enough faith to move mountains.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as a raging alcoholic in her 20s. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers. She currently lives in San Francisco.
If you want to be a writer, there are countless MFA programs, online courses, and more advice than one person could ever read on the internet. There are a bajillion writing guides on Amazon. And if you jump around on social media for even two minutes to see what writers are up to, you will quickly find more how-to guides, tips, tricks, hacks, and everything else an aspiring writer could ever want or need.
So, with all this information available, why is learning how to write still so hard?
When there are that many solutions around a topic, but the people are still ceaselessly thirsty for more, it seems likely that the solutions offered aren’t really quenching the thirst.
I’m always asking myself that question above, too. Why is learning how to write so hard? And—while we’re at it—why are all the other parts of writing so hard? Why is finishing a novel so hard? Why is believing in your story so hard? Why is all of it SO DAMN HARD?
I rarely stumble across the answers to these questions, but this week, I think I might have found a very important clue.
I just finished a phenomenal book called The Way of the Human Being, by Calvin Luther Martin. The Way of the Human Being is a study of the differences between Native American philosophy/spirituality and Western (“white man”) philosophy/spirituality. Martin is a professor who lived with various Native American groups, and also taught Native American philosophy in college programs and prison education programs. This book knocked my socks off, and no matter what you think of the rest of this blog post, if you are a writer or artist, I highly recommend you get a copy ASAP.
Anyway, onto the good stuff.
Martin says that Native Americans recognize that every story has its own life force, its own independent spirit. This spirit or soul (which also exists in all people, animals, plants, lakes, and mountains) is called inua or yua. A story’s yua is a gift to the world, and the storyteller participates with the story in the conversation of the gift.
Viewing the creation of a story this way, we can see how the storyteller becomes creator, mother, midwife, gardener, and harvester of the story’s gifts. The storyteller must listen and wait, and open themselves to the life force of the story when it comes. The storyteller does not control the story, instead, she allows it to move through her and be born into the world. Her dialogue with the story is deeply personal, and profoundly intimate.
This kind of mindset could not be further away from what you normally find in today’s online writing culture.
According to the mainstream thinking on “how to be a writer” you need to have a plan. You need an outline and notes, and you need to follow a structure. If a character isn’t growing enough or changing enough, then you need to force them in that direction. If your plot doesn’t have enough action or suspense, then you need to insert more. You need outside input, constantly. Your beta readers and your writing group should have significant influence over your story. And always, always, you should be writing that dazzling first page that will bring you everything you ever wanted—an agent, a publisher, new readers, success.
What I just outlined above is very much the Western view of things. Just about everything in the world is an object to be controlled, by us, and stories are no exception.
But…if the Western method of “how to bring a story into being” worked for writers—actually worked—then would we really have this explosion of advice and checklists and tips and tricks around the topic of writing?
Something tells me this Western method actually doesn’t work that well for a lot of writers out there.
What if we adopted the mindset and spiritual approach of the Native Americans when it came to story? What if we concentrated on being the storyteller instead of doing things to push the story along? What if we put our energy into the work of dreaming and receiving, instead of planning and forcing?
This is the approach I’ve now been using in my own writing for the past five years, and I’ve seen results that surpassed anything I could have imagined. Characters come to me now, I don’t have to go chasing them. They tell me everything I need to know about the story I need to write—even if much of it is in fragments, or sounds confusing to me at first, or shows up in symbols. The story I’ve been gifted to tell operates on its own time schedule, not mine.
And I’ve never had this much fun writing before, ever in my life.
If you’ve always felt the yua, the life force, in your stories but never had the words to verbalize your feelings before, I strongly urge you to check out Martin’s The Way of the Human Being. And if you’ve always been curious about letting your characters take the reins, but you don’t know how to get started, just sit and talk to them. Ask them what they want to do and withhold all judgment. Record your story as you see it happening in your mind’s eye, and drop all the baggage around what you think it “should look like” or “should be.”
As Martin says, when you are able to “see the life in something,” that something will begin to take on a life of its own.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as a raging alcoholic in her 20s. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers. She currently lives in San Francisco.