Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Love Yourself. And Get Back To Work.


So Elizabeth Gilbert is maybe a bit of my guru. Maybe that makes you throw up in your mouth a little. Maybe you saw Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and then wrote Gilbert off forever. Maybe you think it's cheesy that she went off on a quest around the world and then made a bajillion dollars.

Maybe you're just a teeny bit jealous that she came home and made a mint.

Whyever you don't like her (and yes, I made up that word), I don't care. She is a fabulous writer, an in-depth researcher, a crafter of tales, a believer in telling the truth as she sees it, and a tireless supporter of flying one's own freak flag.

So it makes me thrilled to no end to read today her advice on writing. Specifically, this part:

"As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness (which comes from a place of kind and encouraging and motherly love)."

This speaks to my soul, as both a somewhat undisciplined writer and a person who really needs to say nicer things to herself in her head. Every week I send out anywhere between five and ten queries for writing jobs, either in response to a job posting or just out of the blue. Usually that generates one or two writing opportunities a week, most paid, but some just because I like the assignment, I support the mission of the publication I am submitting to, or I want to get more exposure. Do the math, though: if I send out ten queries, that means I get, every week, eight instances, minimum, of radio silence. Sometimes all ten.

But that's not even when my inner anti-cheerleader kicks in. She fires up when I am working on my personal writing, the stuff I do for me. She asks me why I think I'm so special, or what I think I can add to the already overflowing cup of information. She is the reason why it is so hard to sit down and write my own work. She is the reason why the above statement is so profound: writing is a process, not a product. It teaches me just as much about myself as I offer up to other people (and often way more of the former). The learning curve is steep, and I need to allow myself the grace of the climb.

She continues to address the other part of the equation, though: discipline.

"I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: 'It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.'  Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work. This is a path for the courageous and the faithful."

The world owes us nothing. When bad things happen, we ask, "Why me?" When good things happen we say, "Oh, I deserve this." I deserve nothing but what I am willing to work for. After basic human rights that should be afforded all on earth (don't get me started; that's another post entirely), anything I can earn for myself is what I deserve. I could have moved to Maryland and been a teacher. I could have gotten a nine-to-five shuffling papers or tended bar or some other such job. I chose instead to write.

I don't for a minute fail to recognize how much I have to be grateful for. This is a path for the courageous and faithful. And a big part of that rests in gratitude for how many advantages I have started with. When things get hairy and procrastination and doubt and resentment creep in, the only way to beat it back is to get back to work. Even if that work is writing lists about all the things I should be doing or outlining a chapter AGAIN. Even if it's cutting and pasting an introduction the old-timey way, with scissors and black duct tape because that's all I have.

Gilbert reminds me to stay on the path. Her work is a testament to her advice. What courageous path are you on, and who helps you to stay on it?



  1. Today, you are my Elizabeth Gilbert. Or the vehicle by which Elizabeth Gilbert told me exactly what I needed to hear, at the least. I have been struggling with those exact feelings of inadequacy and defeat the past few days, and had been struggling to muster up some motivation to get back at it. I think I'll print this and hang it somewhere I can see it every day. Maybe some post-it notes with the most pointed lines on my computer screen. I need to remember these words.

  2. That is so how I felt when I read her post. I am glad it spoke to you, too. :)