With the arrival of 2019, I was gripped by an urgency to get on with this writing project. I wasn’t writing enough, I felt. Not writing enough. Not writing fast enough. The material was not gripping enough. I had a list of all that was I doing wrong and my inner critic assured me that it was all my fault. If only I’d worked hard enough, this book could be done by now, my inner critic said, looking at me in disappointment and shaking her head. After all, an entire year was now over and I had little to show for it. When someone asked me how the book was going, I would give an answer based on how much work I’d done that day and the level of discouragement I felt. To one person, I said it might take my entire lifetime to finish and so, please, don’t hold your breath. When another person asked, I simply smiled and tried to look mysterious. To another, I said that I have the first 2/3 roughly written out but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get my heroine to the end. This last was as close to the truth as I could manage. I vaguely knew how I wanted to do it but I just couldn’t visualize the plot twists and scenes to get her there. It was like I’d hit a wall. Is it so hard, one well-meaning friend asked? Don’t you just sit down and write? I told him I did sit down and write. How hard can it be, he persisted, to sit and write out a story? Anybody can do it, he concluded. (If you are a writer, you will meet at least two people who will ask you this. Every human being is a storyteller, which is why so many of us try to become writers. We all think we can do it.) Well, I thought, anybody but me. It wasn’t the writing itself that was hard. I was stuck trying to figure how to get my heroine out of all the mess she was in. What was the point, someone else asked, what did you want her to learn? So, you see, there is all this figuring out to do and not just for the heroine. You have to figure out what each of your characters is going to do, what their outer and inner arcs of learning are, and you have to do it in a way that is plausible. Was I then not as smart as I thought I was? Perhaps there is a more important question you should ask yourself, my inner voice continued, momentarily forgetting that she had lured me onto this path: are you a writer?
It wasn’t until I was well into my forties that I knew I wanted to be a writer. It is amazing to me how oblivious I was until then. Books are the keystone of my life and words, my most powerful tools. (If this was a book written by Erle Stanley Gardner, this would be the Case Of The Cringing Cliché. Sorry!) Though one could argue that different phases of our lives call for new goals to emerge, writing should’ve been an obvious choice for me at every phase in my life. But I’m not sure why I never considered it.
Some people know from a very early age what they are going to do with their life. Be a doctor or an artist or an engineer or any of a thousand other vocations. The wanting and the direction of their ‘bliss’ is clear to them and they pursue it. (Or they don’t. But that’s another story.) For others, personality, availability of opportunities, familial or societal expectations, and economics factor into the decision. There are peculiar, individual sets of circumstances that influence us when we make any decision. Dear reader, it is fantastic if you know what you want to be when you grow up because that is like the powerful headlamp a miner wears to see into the darkness of a cave. It is immeasurably more thrilling if you know what you want to do, create, build for the rest of your life. If you don’t know it, I am sharing insights that I hope will help. Some I have learned from my own experiences and others, from teachers everywhere.
a. Joseph Campbell said, “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Follow what interests you. You’ll never know where it’ll take you. Sometimes, it’ll just be to the next step and at others, it’ll take you a longer distance.
b. Be open because what you want to do may change. I used to run a small business and I found that I didn’t care about selling anything that I didn’t have a hand at creating. I don’t want to make it overly simple but sometimes that’s the only way: recognize when something doesn’t make you happy.
c. Just because you’ve found what you want to do and what makes you happy, it doesn’t mean that you won’t hate it on some days. It doesn’t mean there won’t be hurdles in your way that discourage you. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any failures or that you won’t be disheartened by it. It doesn’t mean that there is a guarantee that it’s going to make you financially secure. What it does mean is that you dedicate yourself to your craft, you do the best you can, and, like one of those big balloons, you release it. You let it go, detaching yourself from the outcome. (There are many kinds of letting go, as we’ve talked about earlier.)
All this to say that I spent time pondering if I was, indeed, a writer. Would I keep trying even if it took me years to write anything? Yes. Would I ignore all the naysayers and stubbornly persist at what brought me brief spurts of intense joy? Yes, and all the naysayers would have to stand in line behind my inner voice. Would I care if no one read what I wrote? Yes, you will, my inner voice said quickly, trying to be kind and making sure I was honest with myself, but, she continued, we only have to worry about that if you actually finish the book. True. So, I head back to my desk because my heroine was in trouble, I still didn’t know how to get her out and I had to write.
Book note: I just finished reading The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey and really enjoyed it. It has something for everyone, those have their path figured out and those who are in the process of figuring it out. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend the audiobook because you’ll want to hear it more than once and hearing life advice from people in their own voices makes a bigger impact. Coming soon: Day 8. (Click for Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)