Today is Sunday and I just took a week off work. Because I can. Because I work for myself now. I’m an artist, a writer.
But it’s actually pretty hard work. And that week I took off, I didn’t intend to take off, and I panicked at first, dragging myself to write the first couple of days, pushing myself to catch up, until I finally
gave up committed halfway through, and turned it around into something intentional.
See, this whole self motivation thing is really just about discipline and definitions…for me at least.
When massage work ended abruptly (not a good time to be rubbing other humans), my decision was clear and easy. I’ll just write a book. And so I became a writer. Definition. Four hours a day, five days a week. Discipline.
And I crushed it, plowing through travel journals, refining stories, weaving together themes and emotional processes to flow more coherently and less ‘diary-etically’. I was cranking out 10,000+ words a week. ‘At this rate,’ I thought, ‘I’ll have this book finished in four months!’
I found my groove, I reigned in my mind, I carved out my writing nooks, tested out the chair, the bed, the hammock. I tried early morning starts (well, 8:30), or afternoon sessions. I wrote through sadness and life events, seeing how staying in motion could keep me from dwelling, boosting my confidence that my fickle emotions do not have to keep me from reaching my goals. It was a success story!
…’I hate you…’ says the struggling writer. Or says me, reading this from a funk.
So I need to say. I’m not painting the whole picture. I didn’t just fall suddenly into a writing groove. I’d actually been etching at it for years, chipping away like Shawshank Redemption, to get to where I could finally squeeze through, out the sewer pipe to freedom…(you have to have seen the movie…)
Writing has crept up on me, like a blip on a radar. My whole life it’s been an inkling. The last five years it’s been an idea. And the last three it’s been an intention.
In 2015 I sailed to Hawaii and filled two journals with the childhood story I was sure I would write that year. Then I got a job and distracted.
In 2016 I considered starting a blog and collected some books on writing. Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott. But I was too busy with work and roommates and romance.
In 2017 I took my first writing class since high school, one semester of journalism at a community college. I was single and living in my own little cabin in Santa Cruz, CA. I published my first work in that little paper, and I started the blog…at best I posted twice a month.
In 2018 I sold my first (and only) article to a magazine, Cruising World, for sailing. (I worked on that article for half a year as I traveled, isolating myself in hostel bunks, or boat cabins, or inside headphones.)
Last summer I sold articles to a small town newspaper for a few months. All in all, I’ve earned less than $1,000 on my writing.
This isn’t a sob story, I have been happy, and traveling, and there was a lot of life to live before it was time to sit and write in earnest. And there was (and is) a lot left to learn before I could give myself what I need to make it happen.
One year ago I made a goal of saving $5,000 before I would stop working to write. Just a random goal, less what I actually might need as much as what I think I need. Less reality, more a sense of security. Once again…definitions.
Six weeks ago I hit that mark, and six weeks ago, Puerto Rico shut down for COVID-19. So, undeniably, it was time.
It was time because finally all the factors lined up. Because for the last five years, I’ve been holding a vision, making jumps at it, frustrated by the leash yanking me back, wondering when it would happen, distraught at the thought that maybe it never would.
I was uncertain if I actually might become a writer someday, as things like writers or musicians always seemed like some elusive life path, compared to waiters or builders or teachers or rocket scientists or president.
Elusive because, there is not one clear path. Each has her own. And few are groomed since youth to be artists. Except maybe 40% of children from Portland, Oregon, or 80% from Waldorf schools.
For the last five years I’ve watched myself commit to writing, crush it for a day or two, then quickly fall off, feeling like a failure, but all the while analyzing the factors, to help for the next time.
The next time…I guess that is how I knew this was my thing. I never wanted to quit. I was always able to say, ‘Oh well, not now, but definitely later,’ and believe it. (Unlike..farming, or therapy, or construction, or business…or most men.)
So, I’ve been dissecting and adjusting the factors, reviewing my living situations, my diet, my habits, my emotional states, my creative moments, and putting them all together into a road map for success. And then following that map, in each life choice I make, or especially the ones I don’t make.
I learned that I like to have my own small home, where I wake up in nature (that is for happiness). That I need my own little kitchen, clean and efficient and organized how I like it (that is for health). That I need a place to exercise, and that I need projects, things to do with my hands. Because I need variety (for my mental health), and a way to get into my body, and to switch it up. That too much of the same burns me out and convinces me to quit.
I learned from blogging and articles that I can focus on writing for four hours if I try, that it’s a challenge, but not too much of a challenge. Like an appropriate work shift for this kind of work. A healthy attention span.
And I’ve seen how I plan, how I dissect problems, how I make decisions, and how I get into a state of flow. As it applies to writing, and as it applies to life. All this has taken years! And tons of baby steps. And I’m still learning, and it’s not the same for everyone!
But it’s been wonderful, and so worth it. I guess that’s how you know your passion. That you still love it, even when you feel like you suck at it. And you still want to learn more, and crack the code. It just…intrigues you.
So it’s not like I just sat down and was suddenly cranking along as a writer. I’ve been developing the skills behind the scenes for years. And the stories have been pacing behind the curtain waiting to come out.
The last two years I’ve packed these Europe journals with me everywhere, from old home to new adventure, from heartbreak back to old home, then out again to try again, to see if the next place would be the right place.
Two years they’ve sat on my shelves, their stories leaking off the pages into my background mind, where they silently danced and twisted into place, even as ignored them for new stories.
Like seeds underground, overwinter. When conditions are perfect, they will emerge. Now I see their shoots.
For five weeks I wrote. I pulled skills from all the jobs, all the travels, all the relationships. I followed the sleep schedule, the diet, the exercise that I’ve learned is best for me. I took the breaks I need. I learned to know when I needed to take them.
I shifted positions, I took cold showers when my Caribbean shack got too hot. I ate snacks, I allowed myself coffee on the hardest days. I took it easy on myself, but still held firm to my goal. My reasonable, mid-thirties goal; still maybe a bit over-ambitious, but waaaaaay more grounded and realistic than mid-twenties goals, which were superman-over-the-moon, unforgiving and constantly critical.
And I felt great. I felt, proud. I felt honest, confident. I was using my voice how I’ve been wanting to use it for years. I was watching myself do something I didn’t know if I actually could, or ever would. And as page after page flowed out of me, I started to feel like this dream might actually be something I can achieve. To write a book, or two, or three.
It took this mandatory isolation for me to finally allow myself my necessary isolation. In knowing that there was nothing going on that a young single lady should not be missing, I was able relax and bite into the project that had been nipping at my mind for years; at every superficial social gathering, at every lingering dinner, at every one-sided conversation that left me wondering…why am I here, and not pursuing my dream.
Finally, my isolation was permitted, in all social circles. And finally, I felt calmer than ever for following my own rhythms, for creating what I need to create, unashamedly. I moved how I wanted, I talked how I wanted, I dressed up and even styled (er…washed and combed) my hair, just for myself, for my work.
I felt more beautiful alone and relaxed with my art than I ever felt in those situations I sought out to boost my confidence. Those situations, I realized, where the tension of denying myself usually left me anxious, cramped, irritable, unloving and ultimately, unattractive.
In this space I was calm, and graceful, and doing what was true to me. Filling myself up with my own essence, and crowding out the fear that glued me to anything contrary. The fear to accept myself as I am. In this space I learned how good accepting myself can feel, and in relation, how unattractive anything else becomes.
Then I stopped.
It was week six. The week before I had pushed through another month of travels and emotions and experiences, pushed through period cramps, and pre-summer Caribbean heat. I closed my computer on Friday with a thud, feeling like I had worked a full week, like actually worked. I bought a rare bottle of wine and shared it with a friend, looking forward to my weekend of projects.
Which was a weekend of more heat and now headaches, and by Monday, my body was exhausted, my house out of order, and the engine of my mind sputtering. I panicked and pressed the gas, turned the key, trying to kickstart, wrote for an hour or two, pushing, pushing. But then finally it jolted, shuttered, and died. I took a day off. Then two. I felt terrible, nervous and guilty.
Until…I decided not to. Until I decided to allow myself this week to live different. To lift the pressure of writing every day and take a little vacay, just do my projects, play my music, start the microdosing program I’d been wanting to try (another story).
After all…I’m working for myself. I’m defining my own life. Why wouldn’t I design one that feels good. By this point I trust myself to be accountable, responsible, and to know what’s best. Forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year? Who the hell came up with that? Five weeks on, one week off? That seems fair. As long as I’m doing my best. Once again…discipline and definitions.
I pulled from life experience for perspective, to reassure me. A month is the time needed to change a habit, to set a new routine, to integrate a new skill as an inherent part of you. I’d spend a month sailing, a month meditating, a month immersed in Spanish, a month studying permaculture. All those things I still carried with me.
And now, I’d spent a month living as a writer. I knew what it was about, if not in my bones quite yet, then at least in my muscles, definitely beyond my skin. I knew my inspiration would come back, I’d watched it fade and come back over and over again. And I knew I could maintain a writing schedule, it hadn’t been terrible. I’d actually liked it. I’d felt like…a professional.
Just that I also need breaks. That I can hyper focus and get lost, and ultimately unbalanced and depressed. As much as I need to immerse, I need to catch myself when I build too much momentum. I need to walk away, reflect, and return back to a steady rhythm.
So tomorrow, I go back to work, with a new perspective, a new energy, a new approach. I have established a discipline, a strength, a confidence. And now I will pepper in some different elements. Another month of focus perhaps, with some new definitions.
I’ve decided I will allow myself to float between projects, as I’d been cranking exclusively through journals and made great headway. Now I will permit some editing, in those moments when I have great focus and clarity, or I will try for some articles, in an attempt to feel financially secure. Maybe I will start researching how to find editors, publishers. And all that I will include in my four hours a day of work. My previous discipline was four hours of writing…my next discipline will be four hours of writing-related business. I will spread my focus…Things change.
And I will go back into the world a little more. I took this isolation extreme, and it showed me what this dream is gonna take, but as I don’t think I want to be the hermit kind of writer, I need to see if there can be a balance.
And still the weekends. The mini vacations, where I don’t even let myself write (except songs and journals). Those necessary breaks to clear and settle the mind.
So, month one, the basics, writing boot camp. Establish discipline. A week vacation to rest, integrate. Phase two, variety, balance. Friends, editing, advice. Go back out in the world. A functioning artist-holic. Loosen the boundaries a bit and see how I do. Maybe look forward to another week off after a month. Let’s do this in stages. Week by week, learning, growing. Allowing for change. Refining the process…my process.
Seems like, just like diet, or sleep, or learning, or love, everyone will have a different technique. This isn’t me saying that this is the way to be a writer. Seems like the only constant among us is just to keep writing…or not, I guess, when you need to take space. Maybe the only constant is that it takes time to figure yourself out…or not. Some people might just know. Is there a constant?
OK, how about this. This is my journey. Thanks for sharing;)