Warning: I’m about to get Zen on your asses. You’ve been warned.
As writers, we’re hardwired for telling stories. It is the greatest gift as well as the great burden of this writing life.
You already know it’s a gift or you wouldn’t keep doing it. You’ve already experienced the heady rush of writing a really great sentence and the adrenaline high of seeing a rough idea blossom into a gorgeous story. You crave those moments when you get lost in your story–when time loses meaning and suddenly you feel connected to something larger than yourself. Your non-writing friends may smile and nod politely when you wax eloquently about these moments, but they’ll never really understand unless, they too, have discovered their own life’s passion.
We know stories are a gift we give ourselves before we ever share them with the world.
But sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that stories can also hurt us.
Sometimes, when I’ve been inside my writing cave alone too long and I haven’t heard from my agent or editor, I imagine that they are at lunch cackling over what a hack I am. Or they’re shaking their heads and bemoaning how I once showed such potential but boy did I disappoint them. I mutter to myself and shove chocolate in my face and I hate the book I’m writing because they’re right–I am a hack. I’ve peaked. There’s nothing left for me.
Then the next day I’ll get a really nice email from my agent or my editor and everything is fine. They’ve been busy with other clients. I’m not–shockingly–the center of their world, but that doesn’t mean a damned thing about my worth as a human or a writer. Of course it doesn’t. The rational me knows this. But my imagination isn’t rational.
The lesson? Because we write fiction, we are experts in finding worst case scenarios and embellishing them. This is a problem when we use those powers for evil in our own lives.
But there are other ways stories can hurt us.
For more than a year, I’ve been practicing yoga. I’ve been blessed with a really wonderful teacher who has also become my friend. She teaches yoga teachers, so she knows her stuff. At some point in the past year, she said something about not grasping too tightly to our own stories. I’ve thought about what that meant for a while now. It’s not easy to practice contentment with not being in control, but I’m trying.
In Buddhism, there’s a lot of discussion about grasping versus releasing. Our problem is that we believe we have control, so we grasp tightly to preconceived ideas about how things should be or how we want them to be. Reconciling reality against what we imagine reality should be is the source of a lot of pain in the world.
Okay, look, I understand that invoking Buddhism and yoga might have lost some of you, but stick with me a minute because this is important.
We create stories about how our Writer Story must go. We plot out elaborate sequences and world build and self-myhtologize to the point where our expectations are so out of whack that the only possible outcome is disappointment.
The stories we tell ourselves about how this career should look keep us from loving it, and sometimes those stories even make us hate the thing we love: writing.
The thing I want you to take away from this post is that maybe the reality of your writing life could be even better than the writing life you want. Maybe if you stopped grasping so hard for the outcome you want, you’d find the one you need–the deep need that brought you to the page in the first place.
You can either be a rock rooted in the creekbed, trying in vain to redirect the flow of water around you and resenting the rocks further downstream. Or you can be the water, flowing over and around the rocks on a glorious adventure toward who knows where.
I’ve seen fame and success destroy people. I’ve seen disappointment chase talented people away from writing altogether. What I’m saying is, writing can be a journey that challenges and changes you for the better or a soul-crushing struggle toward a golden city you may never reach (and even if you did reach it, chances are, you wouldn’t find happiness there). I’m not against success by any means, but I also have been in this business long enough to know that the truest rewards of writing are not tied to outcomes. Instead they are tied to the process of writing and the growth we gain from seeking truth through our stories.
Stop worshiping your own mythology. Let go of your story about who you should be. Start being present on the journey. May it take you someplace amazing.