Photo by Travis Swicegood
I hit a wall of resistance with my writing at the beginning of the week. The Muse had run away, and she did not want to co-operate.
Now I can see why. I kept criticising myself for not doing enough, not writing enough, not being productive enough. It’s been a month now since I officially quit the Day Job to write full-time, and what did I have to show for it? All I kept telling myself was more, more, more! I was bad. I was lazy. I needed to work harder.
The Muse does not like being criticised, especially when she’s already scared and uncertain.
In the past, my response to this has been to tell myself off, to push myself harder, to judge and criticise more.
We tend to use very male language for dealing with resistance and low productivity. We treat ourselves like we’re lazy and stupid. We act like it’s a war, or a gruelling exercise class. “Power your way through”, “blast your way through”, “battle this”, “conquer that”. Books like Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles are all about that. I own several books like that, and have read and used them in the past.
But like Boot Camp, the effect doesn’t last. It’s a fast boot up the backside that might work for a few days or a few weeks for me, but wears off. And my backside was getting sore from all the kicks I’d given it.
The biggest mystery of my life is where my time goes. I’m always busy, always doing things, and yet nowhere near as productive as I’d like. As you can see from my sidebar stats for 100 k in 100 days, I still seem to do more writing about writing than actual story writing. I like to use stats like that to beat myself up. And I do beat myself up with them. Often.
Oddly enough though, all that criticism hadn’t helped me become more productive. The more I criticised and judged and beat myself up, the less I wrote, and the less I enjoyed it.
Time to try something else
Maybe fighting myself isn’t always the best way.
Maybe it’s doesn’t have to be war.
Maybe we can love our resistance and learn from it, instead. Time to take a chance, try a different way.
My resistance was telling me I was afraid of being criticised. My resistance was telling me to stop constantly judging myself against some external parameter (like amazingly prolific writing buddies), and appreciate how much I’d achieved instead.
The truth is, of course, I’ve achieved plenty this last month, I just have so many ideas and plans it feels like I haven’t done enough. I want to do more and I want to do it faster. I am my own toughest boss, waaaay tougher than my previous boss!
I need to make allowance for the fact that I’m working my way into this writing business, finding my rhythms and the work patterns that suit me best. When I worked for myself before, years ago, running an online bookshop, it was simple. Find books, list books on Amazon, pack and post sold books. Three easy tasks. The number of different projects I have on the go now makes the fourteen hour days I often put in back then look a doddle!
I’m currently writing three different stories, all parts of longer series. I’m working on my blogs and social media activity for both my pseudonyms ready for when I publish. I’m teaching myself cover design. I’m doing writing courses. I’m working on some non-fiction articles and learning how to use paid article sites like Squidoo and Hubpages. I’m setting up two different websites for microbusiness ideas that might bring in trickles of income. I’m working out systems for keeping track of what I’m writing, how much I’m writing, and what I’m doing with what I’ve written. I’m researching markets and publishers.
I also have a life beyond writing. I’m having a big declutter and selling stuff on eBay. I’m planting lots of fruit trees and other food plants in the garden. I’m fixing up the old cutie of a bike with front and back baskets, and sewing the shopping bags for them instead of buying expensive panniers. Plus, the trade off for quitting the outside job was that I’d support my husband more with his Mum, and she’s not been well.
Phew, I’m exhausted writing all that!
Actually, I’m very happy. When I write it all down I can see that I am doing enough, it’s just that it’s scattered over multiple projects and spread thin. Those 100 k in 100 days numbers are deceptive. I’ve spent two weeks researching and writing notes for a new story, a historical set in a period I thought I knew enough about but have discovered I know nowhere near enough about. I’ve edited a story, which is great for productivity but doesn’t show in word count.I’ve done a lot.
In another couple of months, some of these projects will be completed. The websites will be up and running and won’t need so much attention. Some of the stories or partials will be submitted and I can forget them till I hear back. Then I can go deeper into the stories I have left. And it’s not as manic as it sounds (and feels at times). I get bored easily and work best like this, when I can skip between projects. It’s just a matter of time and getting used to my unique work patterns.
Creating a life with value
So I need to stop beating myself up, beating my creative self up and making her want to run away and hide and not talk to me.
My Muse (and me too!) needs gentleness, cajoling, encouragement, not whip cracking. This isn’t Boot Camp. Cathy Yardley is right. it’s not about beating the Muse into submission. It’s about making writing more enjoyable than anything else. She talks about
following dreams and being able to sustain a living without working every second of the day, being mindful of your own style, your own process, your own voice. And not feeling guilty for being yourself! It’s possible to live a sustainable, creative life, despite the obstacles and the fear…
I like that. I want balance and value in my life. I want ways I can bring in an income and give to others, without my work consuming my life.
I want a life that’s something worth living, not a Boot Camp.