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.
Today’s guest post comes from Ritu Kaushal, a San Francisco Bay Area-based author and the blogger behind the popular HSP and empath-centric website www.walkingthroughtransitions.com. Her writing has appeared on Tiny Buddha, Sensitive Evolution, Elephant Journal and Having Time amongst others. She recently released The Empath’s Journey, a book I highly recommend that every INFJ, INFP, and empath add to their arsenal of tools on how to survive as a Highly Sensitive Person in today’s world.
As an INFP writer, I have struggled over years with many of those same things that artists have always struggled with. When we are just an acorn, when our creative being has still not taken root, we are masters of self-doubt. After all, many of us haven’t been taught anything about what the creative process actually feels like.
So, when the creative instinct surges inside us, we feel like we’ll short-circuit. When it asks us to take a step forward, we can’t quite muster up the trust. Where will you take us, we want to ask? Will I be safe?
Over the last few years, the experience of writing my first book has helped me take a few more steps in faith, both in trusting myself and trusting the world around me. This process has culminated in my first book, The Empath’s Journey, which weaves together my personal experiences as a Highly Sensitive Person with insights from different psychological theories.
Working on my first book as well as the journey to actually starting has taught me a few things that might give you an insight into your own process as an intuitive INFP writer.
Throwing our hat over the fence is good for INFPs: In my 20s, I was cursed by that “fortunate-unfortunate” temperament that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about, the curse of having too many loves. I loved words and imaginary worlds. I was interested in photography. I loved dance and had learned Odissi, a classical Indian dance form from a nationally-renowned teacher for a few years and had gone back and forth about whether I should follow dance more seriously.
For many years, I went this way and that, never quite making up my mind, often feeling like I didn’t want to close down any option. Looking back, I see how this was partly a lack of faith and partly my INFP mind wanting to keep all my options open. In the meanwhile, life was “happening to me” at my corporate job where I felt increasingly like a cog in the wheel, unnamed and lost as a creative person.
It was only when I threw my hat into my writing self’s corner during my late-20s instead of trying to keep all possibilities open that I started making progress creatively. I decided that writing was the creative expression I wanted to consolidate and build up from. I could, of course, follow all my other loves, but this was going to be my main focus. Once I gave up my double-mindedness, it was then that I started moving forward.
As an INFP writer, we can channel the energy of our many different loves in writing: When I wrote The Empath’s Journey, it was heartening to see how all my different loves, instead of being distractions, were, in fact, now tools in my arsenal. When I had written a lot and emptied myself out, it didn’t mean I was blocked. It meant I had emptied all my words and needed to now dip into the realm of images. Then, doing art, something that seemed to nourish my very heart, filled me up and gave my writing another forward thrust.
During this process, it was also amazing to see how the energy of different activities magically translated into a piece of writing. Towards the end of writing the book, when I was trying to tie together the different ideas I had talked about in the preceding chapters, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt as if I didn’t quite know how to make the joins.
During this time, my husband Rohit, who loves giant 3,000 and 5,000-piece puzzles, was working on a small-for-him and overwhelming-for-me 1,000 piece puzzle. Usually, all I do is find him a few pieces. But this time, feeling frustrated that I wasn’t making progress with the book, I played for a bit. I let him give me directions and tried to emulate his patience as I sorted the puzzle pieces. In the end, I did maybe one-fifth of the puzzle. That gave me a real feeling of delight. When I wrote afterwards, I felt like I was translating this exercise in patiently fitting the different pieces into my last few chapters.
What was even more wonderful was that when I completed the book and my Beta readers read it, they told me how they had felt that the last few chapters were pieces of a puzzle coming together. Almost magically, the energy of puzzle-making had gotten transferred into the writing.
Since I began working on the book, I have noticed this translation of different loves in other people’s work as well. For example: the celebrated Indian-American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni loves to paint. If you read her writing, her descriptions are almost visual. They are saturated in color, in light. It’s prose that feels very much like poetry.
Intuitive, imaginative writers can dip into the energy of different forms. INFPs, with their love for many subjects, can channel the feeling of all their different loves, all their sacred spaces into their writing. Our varied interests don’t have to paralyze us. They can be part of our writing process. They can be the fuel that gives us forward momentum. They can also be the pauses that help us rest. Their energy can weave in and out of our writing, and make it a living, breathing thing.
The Writer’s Voice Is Made up of Many Different Elements:
Writing a book has shown me how much writing is a “practice art,” where you learn most when you are down in the trenches. Before I wrote the book, I only had a limited understanding of “voice.” When I had workshopped some material in SF Grotto, a writer’s collective in San Francisco, I had come across different kinds of writers and understood viscerally that voice comes, first of all, from the markings of your own soul. Fundamentally, it depends on who you are, whether you are sarcastic and witty or imaginative and dreamy.
But writing The Empath’s Journey expanded that definition. It showed me that “voice” is constructed. That doesn’t mean it’s fake or artificial. What it does mean is that the way our voice comes across is made up of a series of creative decisions that add up to a whole. For example: I decided to include a few Hindi words in The Empath’s Journey because the book talks about how relocating from India to the United States nudged me towards rediscovering myself as an HSP and emotional empath. I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too many foreign-sounding words, so I consciously included only a select few Hindi words (and also translated them).
Using these words wasn’t just a stylistic choice. It tapped into my very feelings, into the pangs of homesickness I felt in the early days of being an immigrant. Like everyone who has left a home behind, language is one of my threads back, and I wanted to share those words and the feelings they contained with anyone who might read the book.
Even now, when I think of India, aflame red-flowered palash trees, the fragrance of Khus or Vetiver and the intoxicating beauty of Raat ki Raani (the Queen of the Night, as night-blooming jasmine is called) are precious fragments of my own self. So, they held a place in a story that talks about synthesizing a new home in a new country where nostalgia was mixed with feelings of overwhelm as I noticed scores of tiny details and again wondered how to relate to being “too sensitive.”
This was just one creative choice I made while writing my book. Another was deciding what personal incidents to include. Like many other INFPs, I am paradoxically both very reserved and also write from a personal space. So, sifting through and deciding what I wanted to share and what I wanted to keep private was a real exercise in learning to express my truth and my voice and deciding the parameters of what I felt was fully mine to share. These were just a few of the things I learned while writing The Empath’s Journey.
Completing it also showed me that I did have the patience and persistence to do it and not just dream it. It showed me that I didn’t have to transform to begin anything. I felt resistant time and again and wrote through it. The process was mostly hard work, but there were also some precious moments of feeling like everything was flowing, as if notes of music were cascading through me, as if I was sounding out the right words.
The experience taught me that “I am not enough” might come lashing out at me again and again, but that I can work in spite of this belief. I am something. I don’t have to be perfect to be myself. I am an artist who creates from everything that is flowing through her.
As are you.
If you are reading this, you have a dream. Our dreams can get choked with all the weeds that grow in our psyche. But you can reach inside and pull them out. The worlds that you spin, your very tendency to explore different directions as an INFP writer doesn’t make you into a dilettante. It makes you unique, someone who can piece together different elements into new combinations, someone who can combine different threads to create a new pattern.
The light is already there. You are the prism that makes it visible. Will you let it come through you? Will you let yourself shine?
Ritu Kaushal is a San Francisco Bay Area-based author and the blogger behind the popular HSP and empath-centric website www.walkingthroughtransitions.com. Her writing has appeared on Tiny Buddha, Sensitive Evolution, Elephant Journal and Having Time amongst others and has been shared thousands of times on social media. Ritu’s work pulls together different threads, combining personal and imaginative storytelling with insights from proven psychological concepts.
By and large, the biggest problem I run into with struggling authors is the challenge they have around marketing themselves. I hear a lot of different reasons for this: “I’m too introverted.” “I hate anything that has to do with sales.” “I don’t want to be fake or phony,” etc. I get those reasons, because way back in the day when I felt like I had an allergic reaction to anything that had to do with marketing, I told other writers I hated marketing because of those very same reasons.
But, here’s the thing. That really wasn’t the whole story.
For me, and for a lot of other authors out there, the real reason behind this aversion to marketing is something deeper. It’s something more personal, more emotional, and way more complicated.
Authors are artists, plain and simple. And being an artist in this world is not an easy existence. From the time we are children we know we are different. We see the world in a way that others don’t, and when we try to explain our observations and thoughts about it, we are usually met with bewilderment from others, or even downright scorn. So, we learn early that it’s safest to keep our viewpoint to ourselves, and this significantly impacts our self-expression.
Sadly, I have talked to dozens of writers and artists who still carry memories of when someone told them they shouldn’t keep writing or that their creations didn’t measure up to some ridiculous standard. These hurtful memories, and the protective shell we have built around ourselves in the aftermath, are what come into play when we feel that overwhelming resistance to marketing that we can’t fully explain, even to ourselves.
So, it’s no surprise that so many authors shy away from marketing before they even get started.
You can do a quick Google search and find thousands of articles and videos on book marketing. Tips and tricks and hacks and how to do it and how to get better at it and on and on into infinity. But if your emotional alarm system is set off by the thought of marketing, and all that old baggage from the past comes up, the content available might as well not even exist. Because you won’t really want to look at it, and if you force yourself to do it, you will emotionally shut down as you go through the process and be unable to engage with the material in a way that will serve you.
When this type of rooted-in-the-past, deeply entrenched resistance comes into play, the idea of marketing grows into something like a huge ugly monster, a giant boulder in your path, or a locked gate guarded by demons who only want to see you fail.
But in reality, at its most basic level, marketing is nothing more than the act of telling other people that you have something to sell, and you think they might like it, and here’s why.
To get to a place where the huge ugly monster of marketing can turn into something that is non-threatening, and possibly even something that is interesting and kind of cool, it’s helpful to start taking baby steps outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes this can be as simple as starting a blog, or posting on Facebook to let your friends and family know that they can read your writing on Wattpad. Sometimes it means expanding your current marketing plan by increasing your advertising budget or trying out a new platform that feels unfamiliar and a bit daunting. Whatever it is, it should be something that challenges you, but doesn’t feel outright terrifying. Something that feels like you’re taking the training wheels off, but you’re not yet diving straight into an extreme motocross race.
The more baby steps you take, the more you will get used to how it feels. The first time you take an action outside of your marketing comfort zone your brain will probably be highly aware of the waves of anxiety and self-doubt your action has provoked. But, as you keep taking these little baby steps, you’ll notice that the anxiety and self-doubt lessens over time, for the simple reason that our brains get used to things. Again, it’s like taking the training wheels off. The first time you wobble and feel like you’re going to fall, but after that you get used to the wobble, and then you start to be able to control it until you’re not wobbling at all.
If you’re really interested in conquering your fear of marketing, take a few minutes to do this quick exercise:
List 3 small things you could do this week to improve your marketing plan.
Pick one thing on the list and do it today.
Tell two friends who you trust about your plan to tackle the other two things on the list. Ask them to help hold you accountable to it.
Check in with yourself 7 days from now and look at what you accomplished. If you followed through on all 3 things, treat yourself to something nice that feeds your creative soul.
That’s it. You just did some marketing. And you can do it again. If you take small baby steps like this, over and over, it will add up. So do your writing a favor, make your 3-thing list, pick your thing and DO IT TODAY.
Because you’re a writer and you got this. There is nothing stopping you from making your writing dreams a reality.
West Is San Francisco is the sequel to my gritty addiction memoir Between the Shadow and Lo. It’s weird, it’s dark, and it covers the first four years I spent in San Francisco working for a private detective, getting sober, and finally almost losing my mind to a cult-like startup and its sociopathic founder.
If you’re into transgressive fiction, autofiction, memoirs on alcoholism, or anything to do with narcissistic abuse, extreme codependency and/or fucked up toxic relationships, you’ll probably like it. You can now get it on Amazon in paperback or ebook.
All my life I’ve gotten into random conversations with people where the subject of our life trajectories comes up, and I always end up feeling kind of weird. This past weekend I hung out with a friend who told me he decided on his career path in high school, diligently researched colleges, applied himself strenuously to his field of study, threw himself at the best internships available, and then went on multiple rounds of job interviews with companies he had also heavily researched, and that’s how he ended up in his current job. He made a choice based on the menu of job options available in our society and then did everything he could to fit into that choice.
What about me? he asked.
This is when I felt that all-too-familiar weird feeling I always get during these discussions.
I explained that I only applied to one college, based on me just really having a “strong feeling” that I was supposed to go to that school. And during my time there I realized that if I could be anything, I wanted to be a mad poet, a rebel writer, a crazy artist, and a drunk-in-love-with-life free spirit. I also realized this choice was not available on the job menu society offered so I decided to study the things that made me happiest—art and literature and history and philosophy. When I got out of college my heart called me to explore the big city and meet as many interesting people as I could, so I spent the next four years in dive bars in Seattle, working at a bookstore by day for the little income I needed to get by.
I then detailed my next few jobs, which were a string of experiences that seemed completely random—a private detective agency, startups that failed spectacularly, and now my current business as a writing coach. Somehow, I explained, I made it to my destination anyway. I actually DID become a mad poet, a rebel writer, a crazy artist, and a drunk-in-love-with-life free spirit. Somehow, every experience I had was leading me to where I needed to be.
And then I glanced back at my friend’s face and saw that he was giving me THAT look. That confused/astounded/slightly horrified look I always get whenever I try to explain myself or my life path to anyone who is, for the most part, a normal person. This time though, instead of sighing and looking away, I smiled.
I smiled because I know myself now and I love what I am. I’m an artist and a highly creative person. I’m an INFJ and an eccentric writer. I never wanted to be Jeff Bezos. I always wanted to be Jack Kerouac. For the longest time, I felt badly about that. I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit into any of the little boxes society offers us. I couldn’t give my teachers satisfactory answers when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Because every time I said, “poet,” they rolled their eyes and said, “no, but seriously,” and every time, it broke my heart a little.
It wasn’t until I was almost 40 years old that I realized there is no job application for the job I want on this earth. There is no listing for it online anywhere. There is no guide on how to get it, no degree I can get that will help me land it. There is no one else who can tell me where to find it.
The ONLY things that will be of any help to me as I search for this job are my intuition, my soul and my spirit, my creativity, and a great depth of awareness around how open or closed my heart is at any given moment. My connection with nature, my belief in humanity, and my compassion for myself will also come into play. These are the things listed on my resume, made only for the Universe to read and for other poets and writers and artists to understand.
This is one of the biggest reasons all of us creative types find society so hard to fit into: because none of us are even interested in the conventional box. Sure, we might work as an administrative assistant or call center rep to pay the bills. We might even enjoy and engage in our job as a teacher or librarian or graphic designer. But always, always at the bottom of it, deep within our soul, our true job here is to be a mad poet, a rebel writer, a crazy artist, and a drunk-in-love-with-life free spirit. So, not only are we not interested in the box, we also know that the box can never hold us, and the more we try to fit into it completely, the more we can feel our soul withering and dying on the vine.
If you are an INFJ or an INFP, a writer, an artist, or a highly creative person, or just plain weird and eccentric, and you’re not happy with your life, look around and see if it’s a box problem. Namely, are you still trying to fit into one in some way? It might be a current job you’re in, a relationship that you’ve outgrown, or even just self-doubt that causes you to hold back in your writing or art. But whatever it is, if it’s a box that’s stifling you, it’s not hard to identify it. Because I’m sure you immediately thought of it as you read those sentences above.
It’s time to go through your life and clean out what’s not working anymore. Even if you don’t have a plan for what’s next, get moving on throwing out the old, outdated crap that so clearly isn’t in alignment with your true self. Look around, make a decision, and then do it.
I got an email from a writer the other day asking about transgressive fiction. She had seen my previous article, What It’s Like to Be a Female Author Who Writes Transgressive Fiction, and she was curious about a couple of things. Number one, she wanted to know how I fueled my ideas to write in this genre, and two, she wanted to know how I handled the reactions of my friends and family members. In particular, did any of my friends and family think I was just writing about my “twisted fantasies”?
This is something I’ve heard from many writers who are drawn to write transgressive fiction, but are also afraid to try it. Almost all transgressive fiction writers struggle when getting started in the genre, and there is an obvious reason for this. When you’re first starting out as a writer—no matter what genre you’re writing in—you tend not to know a whole lot of other writers and you haven’t built up any sort of reader base yet. So, your friends and family are kind of who you’re stuck with to use as your first beta audience. And if your friends and family don’t happen to enjoy the genre you write in, or worse, they’re completely unfamiliar with it and it actually is a big turn-off for them, then it’s easy to get all your writerly hopes and dreams crushed due to the assumption that the problem is that you’re not a good writer, not that you have the wrong audience.
So this happens to all new writers, to a degree. But I believe it’s especially hard for transgressive fiction writers because of the subject matter we deal with in our writing. You can go by the Wikipedia definition of “drugs, sexual activity, violence,” yada yada yada, but what it really comes down to is that transgressive fiction writers explore topics that make other people uncomfortable. And we do it to challenge readers. We do it to make people look at things within themselves that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise looked at, and ask themselves questions that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise asked.
When you’re working with art in that way—using aggression and darkness wrapped up with intelligence and beauty—to push people to grow, you’re bound to get back a lot of resistance, and projection.
For example, if you write a story about a character who experiences sexual fantasies rooted in an ugly trauma from their past, and you tell that story as honestly and vulnerably as possible, you are definitely going to get readers who freak out on you. Some people will have experienced similar trauma and have a big reaction to your work—whether that’s relief or anger—and others will just feel threatened that you’re even talking about such things and lash out at you. These are the people who might snidely comment that you’re just writing about your own “twisted fantasies.” It’s a way to deflect from the piece of art you’ve produced, a way to subtly undermine it so no one has to talk about it.
But that’s why transgressive fiction is so valuable today more than ever. Transgressive fiction is an art form that unearths the dark, ugly, weird, uncomfortable parts of ourselves and brings them into the light. It is a genre of writing that challenges and pushes and yes, at times, even violates. It deals with fear at the deepest level and demands growth at any cost.
So, of course a lot of writers are scared to dive into it, or even dip their toes into writing it. The thought of moving so violently outside the box of mainstream writing, of expressing the wildest facets of our creativity, and then feeling that pushback from others and being labeled “twisted” or “obscene,” well, it’s daunting.
But here’s the good part: If you do have that calling deep inside to write transgressive fiction, and you start writing it and putting it out there, the most awesome thing happens. You will start to find other writers like yourself. You will find them on Amazon, publishing books like the ones you’re writing, you will find them on social media, and you will find them on creative hubs like TransgressiveFiction.info. They ARE out there. And then the next time you write a story that is dark, crazy, insanely weird, and totally profane, those people will be eagerly waiting to read it and discuss it and encourage you to write another one.
But if you want to find your people, you have to come out of hiding. You have to express your creativity as authentically as you can and own it. You have to commit to sharing it with the world.
This is true for ALL writers, no matter what genre you choose. If you have a head full of ideas, but you’re not writing any of them down, or a drawer full of stories, but you’re not showing them to anyone, then the chances of you finding your people are near zero. And you’ll be stuck for God knows how long wringing your hands over the reactions of your friends and family to your writing.
Not only do I know it’s hard, I’ve been there. I know that sometimes it can feel damn near impossible to share your writing with the world. But you gotta do it. The time is now.
No more excuses.
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.
It’s one of those normal-not-so-normal days for me. I slept badly, woke up feeling frantic, and drove to work obsessing about everything and nothing. During the course of the morning I alternated between short manic bursts of energy and then feeling completely raw and like I was walking around in the world with no skin on. I know the energy bursts will taper off until I’m left with only the raw feeling, and then I’ll need to withdraw totally. How I’ll feel tomorrow is a crap shoot. I might be okay, or I might feel down and low-key depressed for most of the day.
However I feel though, I know I’ll make it through. None of this is new for me. In fact, it’s so familiar that I don’t even really stress about it anymore, which might sound odd but it’s true.
It’s just my anxiety. And it’s been my pretty much constant companion for my entire life.
If someone asked me what triggered my anxiety this time, I could give them a list of possible reasons. The holidays are approaching, which makes me feel pressured and overwhelmed. I’ve been experiencing a bit of conflict in my interpersonal relationships, which makes me feel off-kilter and worried until I can get back to harmony with certain people. I’ve also been downloading a new idea for a novel into my brain, which definitely throws me for a loop every time it happens. I’m hearing voices and seeing images of the main character and his story arc as I go about my daily business and I can’t shut it off.
So, a lot is happening. And nothing is happening. Life is happening. I’m just anxious about it.
As I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself, I have noticed that whenever I experience a spike in creativity, I also experience a spike in anxiety. I’m almost sure that the new novel that is being birthed in my brain at the moment is responsible for most of my anxiety this time around. I’m in a state of receiving, you see, and I’m not really sure what it is I’m going to receive. I’m trying to remain totally open to the experience, ready to hold space for the characters and the story, no matter what they bring to me. But that’s scary all in itself. I have a million questions that can’t be answered at this time. Like, what if this idea for my new novel doesn’t work? What if only fragments come through and I’m not a good enough writer to piece the whole thing together into something coherent and readable? Also, the main character feels questionable. And violent. What if he’s too much for me to take on?
At this point in my life as a writer, I know that huge uncertainty is just part of what you sign up for when you’re going through a creative surge. For high levels of creativity to come in and do their thing, the environment must also possess a certain level of instability. Creativity can’t get down and boogie when the structure trying to hold it is too rigid. Creativity wants to make its own shape. Preconceived notions about what that should look like be damned.
So, yeah. Instability. It’s necessary. But it triggers my anxiety big time.
The other piece of the anxiety puzzle, for me, is the fact that I’m so sensitive. Like, to everything. Maybe normal people get a strong case of nerves when they hit the “publish” button on Amazon, but I feel dizzy and nauseous for days afterward. And I’ve never done well with criticism of my work. When I write something that’s important to me, it feels like I just coughed up my still-beating big bloody heart all over the page. When someone criticizes those creative efforts, it feels like they kicked me square in the chest and I can’t even breathe.
Of course, too, whenever I put my work out into the world, my insane overthinking brain starts up again with the questions. Who am I to say these things and voice these opinions? What if I’m wrong? What if, really, I just wrote a bunch of bullshit and slapped a cover on it and called it a book? What if I’m a pretentious idiot? Or worse, what if I’m just completely mediocre? What if the world would actually be better if I stopped writing?
You might say that every person has fears and doubts like these, that it’s all part of being human. But for a writer like me, when I’m in the grip of anxiety, these thoughts and questions play on a never-ending loop and the weight of them feels physical. It freezes me in my tracks as I’m walking across a room. It drags me down and gives me the strange feeling of vertigo at times, so that I have to sit down, wherever I am. Then I question myself from a different angle. Am I being melodramatic? Are these feelings even real or am I making them up? How can anyone feel so strongly and be so sensitive about their art that it makes them feel physically ill? Aren’t I being overindulgent, yet again?
I don’t have a “solution” for this experience, although I have learned strategies and coping mechanisms over the years. Breathing exercises, shifting perspective, reframing my thoughts. All of that works, to a certain extent. But the reality is that I am what I am. I’m a highly creative, extremely sensitive, emotional tornado who is also an intuitive artist, ready and willing to ride the white rapids of the creative experience.
I’m done fighting who I am, but that doesn’t mean the bouts of anxiety get any easier.
I’ve been writing seriously for about 12 years now, and while a lot of things have changed along the way, one thing has pretty consistently remained the same: I always seem to feel dissatisfied with my writing life.
Sometimes I’m unhappy with the writing itself, but experience has shown me that almost all bad writing can be improved if you just work hard enough at revisions. What I’m really talking about is something different, something deeper. It’s an insidious feeling of never being where I wanted to be, of always striving to reach some goal, and then reaching it and still feeling like I didn’t get what I wanted.
For many years I thought this feeling would go away if I got an agent and/or published my work. But then I started publishing, and while the euphoria of that lasted for a little while, it also faded eventually and the feeling was back. So then I started looking forward to the next book I would write and publish, and the next, until I realized one day that I was always obsessing about the future. I was constantly envisioning what it would look like when I had five books published, and then ten, and then more.
This restlessness and dissatisfaction spread into other areas of my writing life as well. I always felt like I should be working more on my blog, reaching out to media for more interviews, and other authors for more opportunities to collaborate. I should be working on getting more reviews and doing more guest posts for other sites. No matter where I was, no matter how good things were going, my mind was always focused on the future. I was always striving for more, more, MORE.
Because of this agitated feeling I carried with me about my writing life, I tended to rush through whatever stage I was in while writing my novels. I was always in a hurry to get the first draft done, and then get through revisions. Right before I launched any book was pure hell, nothing moved fast enough and obstacles seemed to throw themselves into my way on purpose. I would lay awake at night stressing over the smallest details and trying to come up with a better plan tomorrow so that I could move through the process faster and more efficiently.
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I had a huge epiphany, which resulted in a creative breakthrough:
I wasn’t enjoying my writing life very much.
And my unhappiness had nothing to do with the writing itself.
I was miserable because my brain was going haywire trying to predict and plan and prepare and PUSH things into existence. I was uncomfortable in the present moment because I really had no idea how to look around and enjoy it. All my life I had been driven and motivated. Ambitious. I didn’t just like to read books, I read voraciously. I didn’t just enjoy writing, I wanted to set the world on fire with it.
I wasn’t just okay with where I was at, wherever that might be. I always wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere in the future, where the idealized fantasies my brain played on a loop had all come true and I was magically not anxious, not afraid, and not uncertain in any way.
Well, something happened a couple of months ago and all of a sudden it was like this light clicked on in my mind. I suddenly got it. After years of devouring self-help books and trying to shove myself into “being in the present moment,” something snapped into place for me and I finally saw what being in the present moment actually means.
Maybe it’s because I went to a big magical creative conference in Santa Fe this September. Maybe it’s because I just turned 40 years old. Maybe it’s because my dad died last year and it became apparent to me how short life is. You know, I really DON’T know. All I can say is that I get it now. I see things completely differently and it has changed my writing life.
The point of this whole pursuit we call writing is not to get somewhere with it. It’s not winning awards or getting the approval of others, or being interviewed or selling millions of copies of our books. Those things are nice but not one of those things are IT. The point—the whole IT to this thing we call writing—is to experience the process of creating something that is uniquely ours. Sometimes that experience will be joyful and we will love what we are creating, and sometimes it will be ugly and painful, but no matter what it is, it works. Because the point is to just be with it, as it is.
And to do that, you gotta let go.
All your fantasies and plans and frantic anxious mind loops that go around and around and around and never stop…yeah, all that stuff. You gotta let it go. It’s not helping anything, it’s only taking up your emotional energy and mental space. It’s only holding you back from experiencing your writing right now, in this moment. Today.
So, wherever you are, just stop for a moment. Look around. Take a long slow breath and be in it and be grateful for it. Because this moment will never come again.
It’s that time of year where I’m flooded with phone calls from panicked writers who are trying desperately to prepare for NaNoWriMo. For me, the end of October is always filled with these kinds of last-minute coaching sessions, in which I talk writers down from the ledge and convince them that all will be okay and that they CAN make it through NaNo.
From all these years doing all these frantic phone calls with writers, I have noticed a pattern. Writers who have done NaNo before definitely seem to have an easier time of it, because they already know the thing that first-timers have to learn on their own:
You can prepare all you want, but that doesn’t mean things will turn out the way you expect.
This is a very hard truth for the human mind to accept. We are a culture engaged on a constant basis with the high level of fear that runs through our society, and many of the things we are afraid of are future-oriented and media-driven. This makes it difficult for us to stay present with what is happening in our own experience right now in our own lives.
We are so afraid of what might happen—of the unknown experiences that lie on the horizon—that many of us are in constant planning mode. If we have a plan, a to-do list, a strategy, a bullet-pointed outline—some sort of concrete, logical thing that we can show someone else to prove that our idea is a good one—our efforts won’t be wasted, and we have proof that we somewhat know what we’re doing. We can tell ourselves that we are safe. Everything will go according to plan. We are prepared.
Except, this is a lie. The reality is that you can prepare all you want for things, but in the end, life will go how life will go. Events will occur that you never saw coming. People will enter and leave your world without warning. You will grow and change in ways you could never even have imagined. Life is life and most of the time, it has no interest in adhering to our plan, our strategy, or our bullet-pointed outline.
And making art, in any form, is just a microcosm of life.
This is the single most important thing to keep in mind as you race your way through the crazy month that is NaNoWriMo: Writing a book (or even just 50,000 random words) is not something over which you can exercise full control. Yes, you may have a plan in place and that may be helpful to you, up to a certain point. But after that point you’re just basically strapped onto a rollercoaster and the ride has started. It’s too late to get off, even if you take some twists and turns you weren’t expecting and feel like you’re going to crap your pants.
Another important thing to remember: NaNoWriMo tends to work for writers because there isn’t time to get caught in the same old hang-ups you’ve had for years around writing. You don’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence with your story idea anymore. Either you’re in, or you’re out. NaNoWriMo demands that you commit your most precious resource to the creative process: time. And once you experience an entire month of ruthlessly devoting time to your writing, it changes you in a deep way. After NaNo, you have no more excuses. You KNOW it’s possible, it’s just a matter of doing it.
So, you’re all in. You’re making the time and you’re writing. And you also feel like you’re on a rollercoaster that you can’t stop and you can’t control. How do you get through it and keep your sanity intact?
You have to just go with it.
Now, I know all you control freak perfectionist writers out there are reading that sentence and feeling VERY unsettled by the thought of “just going with it.” But it really is the thing that will save you during NaNoWriMo. Start with your plan, yes, and try to stick with it, by all means. But…if the plan goes awry, if your story takes a turn you weren’t expecting, or things don’t pan out the way you thought they would, don’t be afraid to let go of control and fall into the flow. Don’t be afraid to let yourself be carried along by your own creativity and the natural rhythm of the intense life experience that NaNo can be for writers.
Letting go is probably one of the hardest things we can do as artists, and as humans, but it is also one of the most rewarding. When we let go of our attachment to what the outcome should look like, or how it should feel to us, we open ourselves up to so many more possibilities. Magical possibilities that we’ve never even dreamed of, because we were too busy trying to plan everything out. Making art is one of those magical possibility portals in life that can take you to places that will blow your mind.
NaNoWriMo is almost here. You might have your plan in place, but are you ready for the real magic? If you’re willing to let go and go with the flow of life, you might just get even more than you bargained for out of the whole experience.