I went through a bad burnout period a couple years ago that took me nearly two years to recover from, so I got used to treating myself very gently during my recovery. I tried to give myself the compassion I would give my best friend. In fact, even the compassion I would give a stranger would be better than how I had gotten used to treating myself!
So I was surprised to find myself hearing over and over this idea of — am I truly giving this writing life my all?
It’s a growth mindset and I’ve been feeling myself itching to move from a stable recovery back into growth again. That’s probably why I kept noticing — but quite possibly it was also a matter of hearing what I need when I’m ready. I think God was pushing me to consider some areas of my writing life anew.
I “accidentally” had a Disney movie with Mark Wahlberg on in the background while I was working last week — “Invincible” about a professional football player who was a bartender and former teacher the week before. He was waiting to find out he was cut from the try-outs, but he didn’t get cut. However, the coach yelled at him during the first game that he needed to start giving 100% or he was out.
That was such an inspirational movie that I turned on “Miracle,” which I had already seen a couple times (meaning: so I could work and ignore it, use it as background noise), about the US Olympic hockey team that beat Russia back before they started using professional players. Again, the coach was incredibly tough on those college students, pushing them to give 100% or get out.
Trying again to turn on something I could ignore, I put on “The Blind Side.” Again, I’d seen it several times, didn’t have to get caught up in the story, and I genuinely dislike American football so…ignore, right? But these stories aren’t about sports so much as they’re about the underdog doing more than they think they can.
Fully inspired now, I turned on “The Rookie” today and specifically looked for the most inspiring parts because…the movies weren’t the only things reaching out for my attention.
We’re having a prayer and fasting week at church so I’ve been praying specifically over my writing business. The Bible verse in my Bible app was about — “are you trying hard enough?” The devotional there led me to a book about creativity (The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus), and the excerpt on Amazon ended with the author asking himself if he was trying enough, praying enough, expecting enough.
Then, because apparently God wanted to be very clear that He’s talking to me and didn’t want me to think some of these things were coincidences, I opened up a devotional book (My Utmost For His Highest) I hadn’t read in a couple years and turned to today, February 9. At this point, I can’t say I was shocked to discover it was asking, “have you given all you have?” And it reminded me to stay aware of my “why” — why am I doing what I’m doing? Because that’s what will keep me going.
By the time I’d had all of these things filling my brain, I was full of questions. Am I giving all I have? Am I giving 100%?
And you know what I decided my answer was? No.
Even though I’ve been working 6 days a week, and 3 nights, too, every week for months to build my writing and coaching business, I’d say I’m giving about 98%. Like Vince, the teacher-turned-bartender-turned-professional-football-player in “Invincible,” there is a small part of my mind that isn’t sure I can do this and is ready to lead the way out when I fail. (Vince was sitting on his bed with his duffle packed waiting for the knock telling him to go home, he was cut.)
Like Vince, it’s easier to say, “Look how far I’ve come, I should be proud of my accomplishments,” and have my duffle bag packed and ready for when someone points out that I’ve failed to build this business but boy, you sure tried hard.
But like the coaches in those movies, and the writer of the Bible verse, and the writer of the devotional — someone is pushing me to just believe and give that last 2%. Because it will change everything!
I was an A student in school. While I tried to get 100% on tests just for the fun of it (and for my pride), I was happy to get a 90 or 95 or whatever other number gave me the highest grade. Sadly, being an A student doesn’t prepare you as well as being a C student. I didn’t learn to work for it; I learned that 98% is generally more than enough.
But 98% is not enough in professional sports.
And apparently Someone is trying to show me that 98% is not going to be enough to achieve what I very much want to achieve.
I genuinely and passionately want to write books that change people and change the world, and I absolutely want to help others finish and publish books that do the same.
But it’s going to take 100% of me to do that.
What are you thinking about right now? What do you need to give 100% to?
I am tempted to sit down beside you and just cry.
Instead, I’m going to tell you to buck up, bucko!
I know, I hated hearing that too, but we’ve all been there, done that. Instead of being the company misery loves, I’ll offer this. I sold my first three books and then spent years trying to sell another one. When I finally figured out what was wrong, there was no stopping me. I also had a good friend who was rejected 40 times, and when she finally sold a book her career took off. Every writer’s struggle is different and how we deal with it is too.
In my case, I defaulted to my comfort zone — analysis. I certainly could put a sentence together, but when I reread my rejection letters, I realized my storytelling was lacking. Instead of flying by the seat of my pants as I had early on, I now sought out ways to educate myself about structure. I also realized I was afraid to delve into my characters. They were cookie cutter, and I needed to be more invested in their lives. I asked myself if I was writing in the correct genre. When the answer was no, and I switched genres my career turned around. Finally, I asked myself if I understood the publishing businesses well enough to navigate it.
The bottom line was this I needed to learn a craft. Writing isn’t just something that happens magically. You need to stretch your creative and business muscles, learn the game, and then make it your own. Information is out there. Embrace it, understand it, and use it. If you’re having trouble being objective about your own work, seek out an editor. If you can’t afford an editor, find a mentor. If you can’t find a mentor, find a friend who loves to read and who is very honest to give you feedback. If the world is telling you to quit, figure out why, and then show the world they were wrong.
Do your level best to ignore those negative feelings —there’s probably few writers who haven’t felt doubt. Keep writing. Everyday. Storytelling is a craft and like every craft it takes practice to perfect. Rejection is a part of that process and is often the most instructive tool a writer can receive: why was the work rejected? Work on strengthening the weaknesses that caused the rejection. Same with healthy criticism.
Simple is not always easy, but it really is simple. If you want to write, then there is nothing that will stop you. Just keep on writing and improving, writing and improving even more.
Yes, it’s normal.
Commercially speaking, it’s very hard to know when to listen to the world and when to defy it. Sometimes great works are never appreciated until decades later.
Outside of money, if you feel you have to write, then it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. Most writers find their fingers tapping away at something regardless of negative reviews, poor sales etc. It has to be a hobby you enjoy before anything else.
Welcome to the world of writing.
It is completely normal to feel, from time to time, that this world has conspired against you and that it is secretly or not-so-secretly telling you to quit writing. This quitting option seems to present itself at critical moments repeatedly while creative people are wandering up the road less traveled.
When you feel this kind of despair, you have two simple choices: quit or don’t quit. If you decide to quit, perhaps you can imagine that the quitting is just for a while, not forever. Sometimes quitting for a period of time can be a pretty good choice if you are exhausted and burned out.
But, I would hope that you might choose to not quit. If you choose to carry on instead of quitting, perhaps you could take this juncture to step back for a moment and evaluate what is happening to make you feel this way.
Perhaps you have surrounded yourself with naysayers. If so, get away from them. Perhaps you have driven yourself to exhaustion with self-demands of perfection or self-expectations of production. If so, get some help from someone who can objectively reset those goalposts with you.
Everyone goes through stages and phases of battle weariness when fighting the unknown. Writers face a lot of unknowns and the most intense moments typically happen right before a breakthrough.
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