About a year after I got married, my husband saw a book on freelance writing in a bookstore.
He bought it for me. Which was a lovely gesture.
Then I got it home, read it, got inspired, and decided to give it a shot. I would send out pitches to magazines! I would get published! I would get serious!
After about three months, I experienced a remarkable transformation.
I was a nervous wreck. I felt frightened and miserable. And I felt sure I was a complete and total failure.
So not the most rousing success.
It takes a lot more to shake my sense of equilibrium now. But don’t get me wrong: self-doubt is always ready at hand. I often wonder what exactly I’m doing when I’m writing. It is hard—hard—to keep going when I’m not feeling particularly successful. It’s hard to keep going when other parts of my life are in shambles or in flux. It is well-nigh impossible when my sense of self is a quivering mass of Jello.
More and more, I’m learning to be okay with stopping.
Well, not just stopping: reevaluating. Abandoning things that wear me down. Opening my mind to new ways of thinking when I feel boxed in. Broadening my definitions of success. Seeking help when I can’t approach my goals in a healthy ways.
Lately, I have been thinking about that freelancing book, and what went wrong. On paper, it looked great: I set goals for myself, I tried taking baby steps towards writing for an audience. I took risks. I put myself out there.
I did everything I have been writing about lately.
Except I felt like I’d been through a cheese grater.
A big reason was I just wasn’t ready.
- I had a lot of emotional healing to do.
- I still hadn’t figured out how to finish creative projects successfully (this is a hard, hard skill).
- I hadn’t really found my voice (something I’m still working on).
- I had a lot of work to do on writing craft (And still do).
- I looked at someone else’s success and tried to fit myself into his box, his methodology, and his process. It didn’t fit me, and I wasn’t skillful enough to change it (This never trips me up anymore. Ahem).
Adding a bunch of publishing goals on top of my bewilderment did not help me succeed.
I needed to work on craft for a few more years. I needed to find more community. I needed to find more confidence. And I also needed to find abundant grace for my strengths and my weaknesses.
I won’t lie to you: learning to do creative work is hard. It will not simply come after following five steps, making a list of goals, or writing x words a day.
None of that advice is helpful if it makes you feel like crap.
First, find joy. Find the healthy place of creation. Rest. Heal. Do the work that makes you feel good, that lifts up your soul.
Make success about doing the work. No—not just doing the work. Doing the work joyfully. Find the way to get there, and the rest will follow.