I’m sick of new years. I’m tired of New Year’s Eves, and birthdays, and anniversaries of different dates—and the wishes I make every time that this year will be different. This will be the year I finish a draft of something, and I send it in. And maybe this will be the year I finally become what I’ve been waiting to be (what I am not finished without becoming)—an author.
And then, every year, without fail, I make the same wish again… because nothing has changed.
Yet… I can’t help it. The hope of a fresh start, of a new me, of just enough disappointment and failure to tip me over the edge to motivation, real motivation… It inspires me every time. And I make a wish, and a promise, and even a plan… and it wears away in a few days and I’m back to normal.
But not this time. If you would have told me ten years ago if I would have reached this age without being an author, I would never believe you. I would have been crushed to learn it was the truth. I am crushed now. But I realized on the eve of my birthday that the only thing standing in my way, the only thing keeping me from reaching my next birthday with a different life (and not reenacting this failure every birthday for the rest of my life)… is me.
It’s not like there’s someone holding my hands behind my back keeping me from typing. It’s not like there’s some law preventing me from being published. It’s not like there’s a disease infecting me, keeping me from thought or action. It’s not even like there’s any actual people telling me I suck or my ideas are stupid or anything (if anything, I have lots of people encouraging me).
It’s just me—my fears, my doubts, my inability to commit.
[I will add that I am talking about the ability to produce finished drafts here—publication and readers and success may very well be out of my hands; but they are definitely out of reach if I never finish a draft, which is certainly in my hands and mine alone.]
But you know what the upside of that is? The only one I need to fix all this, the only thing I need to change—is me. There’s a lot of people out there with a lot more real and serious problems that require much more involved solutions (if there are solutions at all) that would be envious of the simplicity of that. No need for impossible miracles. The only thing I need to change is—me.
So, to that end, another round of plans and goals begins—but I will focus my entire will, all of my discipline, whatever strength and hard work I have in me on this. Because if I fail before even trying, there is no one and nothing to blame but me. Neil Gaiman, at age 21, realized that he didn’t want to be an eighty-year-old man talking about how he “could have been” a writer, and so he started writing.
As many ‘revelations’ as I’ve had over the years, I’ve learned to be wary about expecting too much of this one. But I’m not going to expect a miraculous shift in attitude that does the work for me—I’m going to fight with everything I have to make the change myself.
Step One: Silence the doubts.
I’ve written a lot about doubts, and I’ve pretended like I know how to fight them. I don’t. They sneak in all the time, in every voice, making me feel schizophrenic. I don’t know the ‘key’ to getting rid of them. But I believe the best way to start is to shut out everyone else’s voice. The voice of your parents, your teachers, your friends, internet trolls, reviewers, your favorite authors, writing books, everyone and everything. Develop an attitude of listening only to yourself—even if it means being ‘rude,’ being ‘dumb,’ being ‘silly,’ being ‘wrong.’ When you’ve been trained to be nice and polite and to do ‘right,’ it is very hard to develop an attitude of “who cares?” Especially when those voices sound right. But you have to fight those voices, throw your own out there no matter how it sounds, and trust that you’ll find your way.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic switch that shuts off the voices so you can hear your own. And if your inner voice is as battered and silenced by the others as mine seems to be, it may take time for it to learn to speak up again. But you can’t wait around for those things to happen—you have to make them happen, one moment at a time, and learn how to write anyway in the meantime.
Step Two: Commit.
I’ve also written extensively on commitment, including a two-part “How-To” series that is really a joke. But the key to being a prolific writer (no guarantees on quality, I’ll admit freely) is to learn how to commit, at every level. From the ‘big idea’ to the tiny details of character names and settings and even sentences, writers make choices constantly, and with each choice comes a commitment. Probably the biggest reason I waffle and doubt and give up is my inability to stick with any single choice long enough to actually finish a draft. Most of the time, not even long enough to start a draft.
As for how to commit… Well, despite how my previous posts have sounded, I still have no idea. I believe in the ‘advice’ I’ve given, but I’ve yet to be able to put that into practice. Just like silencing the doubts, it’s about fighting moment-to-moment to stick with what you’ve chosen even as you begin to doubt. Even when the choice you didn’t make starts to look better. Make a choice (you can think out reasoning for the choice, but be aware that the reasoning may begin to look weak or could easily be overshadowed by reasoning for the choice you didn’t make); try to stick with it moment by moment; and write anyway in the meantime.
I had a third step (Dream Big) that is all about building motivation and realizing that you are the only limitation, but as I was writing it I wasn’t sure if it was true—or the best way to express it. I might fine-tune it and post it another time, or I might not. That said, I do believe that building big dreams and confidence are a great way to build motivation in order to overcome your own fears.
The key is to write anyway. Write always. Don’t wait for writing to happen; make it happen. I hear these stories about authors who just wake up one day and are compelled to write, like they can’t even control themselves, and I want to just wait until that happens to me because it sounds a lot easier than forcing myself to write every day now. I hear about stories that had to be written, that wouldn’t leave the authors alone, and when my stories never do that I wonder if I’m doing something wrong—if I should wait until a story speaks to me that way. But what if it never does? Am I willing to give up my one and only dream because I’m never hit by the muse? Or am I going to make it happen, one teeth-gritting day at a time, even if that makes me a commercial hack, because this is what I want?
I’m done waiting. And I’m not going to celebrate another birthday waiting for the muse to arrive. I’m going to go hunt her down and make her work, or I’m going to go ahead and work without her. If that makes me a bad writer, fine.
At least it makes me a writer.