Okay, I admit it: I am writing this blog post for myself today, just as much as I am writing it for all of you, my lovely audience. Why? Because even though I have made a career out of writing, there are still plenty of days when I doubt my own abilities and talents, and I recognize the need to talk myself back into what I know, based on the hard lessons about writing and life that I need to learn and re-learn.
The reason this happens is that writing is that I am called to do. Even when I am away from it, writing calls to me. There isn’t really any other way to articulate it. It’s as if web development is a jealous lover, and writing, my one love in this world that is good and true, eventually beckons me home. There are plenty of days when I wish it wasn’t the case. But the truth is that when I skip several writing days in a row, I get moody. I am easily irritated, and I don’t sleep particularly well. I have been at it long enough to know why and to know that I will be able to up-level my mood once I start writing again.
Unlike my blog on web development, this website really has no strategy behind it at all. Here, I write about whatever is in my heart and whatever I think will be useful for other writers. If I have come to an important insight about writing or have learned a new technique for plotting a novel, this is where I share it. And today, I will share with you how to stop sabotaging your writing dreams. This is a piece I wrote to talk myself back into writing, to make me feel okay about my need to do it. This post did the trick, and if you’re struggling with allowing yourself the time and space to create, I hope it will help you, too.
Here are some ways we hurt ourselves as writers and artists and potential solutions we can implement whenever we discover we are sabotaging our own dreams of finding success as artists.
1. We Unfairly Compare Ourselves with Super Successful Writers
Comparing ourselves with authors and screenwriters who are much further along on their journeys is unfair. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way even goes so far to say that’s “artist abuse.” And yet, I have done this many times. Maybe you have as well.
For me, it is challenging to admit that I have not always prioritized writing and that I could easily have achieved more success as a writer had I not distracted myself by pursuing other goals. When I engage in an unfair comparison, it is usually between myself and Shonda Rhimes, who just signed a 9-figure deal with Netflix. That is absolutely amazing. And I think what’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I signed a 9-figure deal with Netflix yet??
Besides raw talent, prioritizing writing, and truly building her life around it, Shonda Rhimes has an absolutely unshakable belief in herself and her abilities to achieve whatever she desires. It is magnificent to see. I got to witness this while taking her course on writing for television through Masterclass, and on the day that I heard her discuss this, I decided to develop the same unshakable belief in myself and my abilities.
Solution: If you find yourself unfairly comparing yourself to a writer who has achieved more worldly success, the solution is to develop a belief that it is possible for you to achieve the same level of success IF you work hard at it and make your writing or art a high priority. You can start preparing your mind for success by simply declaring, “If Shonda Rhimes can nab a 9-figure deal with Netflix, the same success for me is possible, provided I strive to become one of the best television writers in the industry.” Work at your craft. Repeat that or a similar mantra every day. Submit your work. Then watch the offers roll in. Yes, this takes time. But it really is that simple.
2. We Unfairly Compare Ourselves with Unsuccessful Writers
I joined a best-selling author mastermind group a few years ago. I got a cool e-book out of it, but it was largely a waste of time. A number of people in the group asked questions that they could frankly find out with a simple Google query. Okay, so they’re not all web developers like I am, but I kept thinking, stop wasting everyone’s time with questions you can look up yourselves.
Others in the group (yours truly included) failed to take action. There was much shame in this for me because I went through the motions of writing the book and even paying a professional editor, only to determine that the book “wasn’t ready” for publication. For those of you who are perfectionists, you can probably relate, but deep down, perfectionism disguises fear. Successful people take action anyway, learn from their mistakes, and try again.
And finally, there was a third group of people who took action but didn’t put in enough time to be taken seriously as new authors. More than one published a book, only to see it languish because they did not receive any reviews. Another person received reviews, but they were not positive, and this discouraged him from pursuing writing.
Solution: As writers and artists, we need to find a happy medium. We need to work hard at our craft but not so hard that we never hit the publish button or submit our work to contests. One of the better solutions I have found is to set a deadline for myself. This is why writing contests are such a wonderful thing. If there is a contest, then I NEED to submit my work by the deadline. And, if the contest costs some money, then so much the better. There is NO WAY I would submit anything to a contest that causes me to feel a financial pinch, so I KNOW I need to submit my best work.
If you want to get your work out there but are living in fear that you will receive negative reviews, then a contest is a great way to continue to hone your skills, challenge yourself, and — if you win — possibly give yourself the confidence you need to finally put your work out there for a wider audience. If you don’t do well in the contest, then it’s not a problem. It just means that your work wasn’t enough to get you on the map yet and you need to stick with your plan to work hard at your art.
3. We Fail to Set Aside the Time to Write or Create
While he worked as an executive at an advertising agency, James Patterson wrote for two hours per day. In his writing course that I finished recently, Patterson said that he wrote from 5 – 7 am every morning before going to work. That is the only time he could set aside, and even though he did not want to write early in the morning, he forced himself to do it.
Likewise, the author and screenwriter Alan Watt recommends writing for two hours each day. There is something magical about writing for two hours. I have the luxury of being able to set aside two+ hours every day for writing, but I recognize that not everyone is able to do that.
In the end, so did James Patterson. In the course I mentioned, he recommended dedicating at least one hour every day to writing, but he said you need to find an hour.
Personally, I think you could continue as a writer if you find 30 minutes each day during the week day and a total of two hours over the weekend. This modification is really for those of you who know you are artists but busy raising children, have extraordinarily demanding jobs or a combination of both.
Solution: Even though I have none of these obligations, there are times — especially around the holidays — when I find it challenging to set aside a two-hour block for writing. The solution is to divide the total time into more manageable chunks.
Let’s say you work full-time and you’re a single parent and you want to write. You could squeeze in an hour of writing time each day by waking up 30 minutes earlier than your kids and dedicating part of your lunch hour to writing. While I know this is not ideal and given the hectic, unpredictable life that simply comes with being a parent, you will still accomplish quite a bit in a year’s time even if you only are able to hit 70% of your writing sessions. Assuming you work at your writing every day, that’s still five hours of writing time each week.
If you have a tough week and can only squeeze in three hours, then don’t beat yourself up. At least you are still working towards your goal, and that’s really what this is about.
4. We Refuse to Believe in Ourselves
It is all too easy to buy into the starving artist myth. We see many writers and artists prioritize their passion only to struggle financially, and who wants that? I certainly don’t, and I’m sure you don’t either. As creatives, we need to STOP engaging in either / or thinking. It’s incredibly harmful, and we unintentionally sabotage ourselves and our dreams by telling ourselves that we can’t have all the wealth we desire if we pursue our art.
When you really stop to think about it, the idea of not allowing ourselves to make money as artists and writers is utterly ridiculous. After all, digital marketers don’t engage in this form of deliberate self sabotage. Neither do politicians or investment bankers. As artists, we need to make a conscious choice not to marginalize ourselves and tell ourselves that we do not deserve worldly success because we choose to write or make art.
Solution: The solution is to bypass your “thinking” conscious mind and reach the realm of your unconscious, which is the part of your mind that truly controls your behavior. I personally started to achieve much more success in my life by engaging in a practice of affirmations and visualizations. If you don’t think this works, then guess again. This is the subject of the movie The Secret and countless books on the law of attraction. I have used these practices in my life for years to turn my finances around, earn more money, get accepted into a competitive MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program in creative writing, get published, and win writing awards. And if this practice has worked for me, I know it can work for you, too.
My process for affirmations and visualizations is very simple. I decided on a few goals to work towards, and each day when I wake up, I say the goal out loud, close my eyes, and picture myself achieving the goal. I also strive to feel what it is like to achieve the goal I am visualizing. I repeat this process before I go to bed each night. And finally, I write out one goal every day on an unlined piece of paper ten times. While you can do this anywhere — even on the bus on your way to work — it is helpful if you can write out your goal in peace and repeat it to yourself as you write. This is the three-part method I learned from Victor Boc, and I find it to be incredibly effective. Boc also advises to give away 1-5% of your net income, a practice that can help cure you from being addicted to money, and I find that to be effective, too.
5. We Lack the Grit and Perseverance We Need to Succeed
The one thing that all successful people have in common, whether they are artists or work in an entirely different industry, is that they persevere. Even when they face rejection and seemingly countless people saying “no” to them and their goal over and over again, they do not quit.
Do you keep going at all costs or do you quit when the going gets tough? It’s important to be honest here because one precursor to success is taking responsibility for your life, which includes your successes, your talents, and yes, your shortcomings. If you haven’t yet achieved your dream, then chances are you either need to more fully develop your talents or keep going despite apparent setbacks.
A definitive lack of grit can take many forms, including deciding to go for an “easier” goal. This is really a variation of problem #4, Refusing to Believe in Ourselves. I am guilty of this myself, as in pursuing a career as a web developer. I told myself that writing is too hard, but once I started working in the tech industry, I saw that becoming an in-demand web developer is just as demanding. Yes, the money is good for technical employees, but passing a coding interview is not for the faint of heart, and even talented developers face much rejection.
Eventually, I discovered that anything worth working for isn’t necessarily easy. The idea of working hard at what you love every day so that you can one day land your 9-figure deal (see #1) comes only after you have been truly and 100% committed to your goal for awhile.
Solution: There is no magic formula for developing one’s grit. The best thing you can do is to continue to write or make your art, no matter what else is happening around you. No matter how many rejection letters you get, keep going. If your son has dyed the cat pink, keep going. If you are getting divorced, keep going. The only time I would say that your art is a secondary priority is if you are facing some kind of familial or financial crisis. Take care of you and your circumstances. Then get back to work.
I hope this article has inspired you to say “yes” to your dreams. If you continue to face challenges or have your own thoughts to add, feel free to leave a comment below, and I will get back to you shortly. I truly wish you the very best as you continue to move towards your goals.