As the school year comes screeching toward a close (are there really only five more weeks left?), productivity has been a common topic amongst me and my writer-mom friends. There's a lot of concern about how productive we're going to be over the summer with the kids at home, and a lot of my friends have goals to finish their drafts before June. We all know the inevitability that we won't be able to accomplish as much as we do during the school year.
But productivity is always a topic of concern, isn't it? I don't know a single writer who feels like they are regularly accomplishing as much as they'd like to. It's like we live in a constant state of feeling like no matter what we do, it's never enough. We're never moving forward in our careers fast enough. We're never churning out books fast enough. We're never hearing back from agents and editors fast enough. No matter how much we write, or how much we accomplish, there's always this elusive "more" that we can't seem to grasp.
How the Drive to Do More Hurts Your Writing
I don't think this struggle is exclusive to writers. This belief is deeply ingrained into our culture as a whole. But as writers, living in this constant state of fear is extra detrimental because it can wreak havoc on our creative process and our self-esteem, two things that are incredibly imperative in building a successful writing career. Maybe at an office job, we could crunch out numbers faster, or stay up later answering emails, but the writing process can't be forced, and when it is, our work often falls painfully short of what we know we're capable of.
And if we're constantly attacking our self-esteem with beliefs that we're falling short at every turn, how will we have the confidence to share our work?
From experience and front watching other writers progress in their careers, it's clear that this feeling doesn't go away. Once you're published, there's more pressure to write more books quicker. "Published" becomes a milestone of the past and is no longer enough. "Bestseller" becomes the new target and when that's not enough, it's about topping the sales of the last book, and so on, and so forth.
While having goals and wanting to grow is a beautiful thing--it's the essence of life, truly--the shame we pour on ourselves when we fall short--and we ALWAYS fall short--is the problem.
The "Never Enough" Mentality
Lately, I've been pondering a lot about where this "never enough" mentality comes from. Do these expectations truly come from within us, or are they something we absorb from our environment? I sense that it's a combination of both, but regardless of the origin, what it really boils down to is fear. Not fear that we aren't accomplishing enough, but fear that WE, ourselves, are not enough. We convince ourselves that if we just finish this book, if we just get an agent, if we just get a book deal, if we just hit a bestseller's list, THEN we will be enough.
We will be worthy.
We will be acknowledged.
We will be accepted.
We will be loved.
And the reason no accomplishment is ever enough is because none of these affirmations come from outside of ourselves. They come from within. I think we all know this on a conscious level but we're just so darn busy all the time--we make sure of that, don't we?--that we don't stop to ask ourselves:
Why am I trying to accomplish this, really?
And is finishing this book, getting an agent, getting a book contract actually going to satisfy these needs? Is it going to soothe this fear inside of me that I am not enough?
Am I writing out of fear, or out of love?
Writing (And Living) From Love
So how do we turn this around? How do we begin to release the fear and write from a place of moving toward our purpose instead of away from our fear?
The first step, of course, is taking the time to ask yourself these questions. Like they say, the first step to recovering is acknowledging the problem. And this may be the hardest part, depending on how introspective you tend to be. I love journaling for this, because as we know, the act of putting pen to paper brings up understandings that might otherwise go untapped. In what ways are you creating out of fear?
The second step is to try to identify where these fears come from. Oftentimes these fears develop in childhood. They might be passed down from your parents. They might come from a misguided teacher. Maybe you'll be able to identify the origin, maybe not. It's okay if you can't. You can still move forward, recognizing when those fears are speaking to you and not letting them drive your progress.
Third, counteract those fears by nurturing yourself in ways that aren't necessarily related to writing (although, journaling, writing memoirs, and essays--like I'm doing now--certainly help!). Acts of self-love, in whatever form, boost your self-esteem so you don't need to use productivity to patch up the holes. Meditate, walk, do yoga, take long baths, buy a new outfit that makes you feel like a queen (or king).
And most of all, be true to yourself. That is the biggest act of self-love you could ever gift yourself.
Last, have a strong vision and understanding of how your work contributes to the world--outside of yourself. This may take a while to home in on and cultivate, and that's okay, as long as you're working in that direction. You don't have to have it all figured out to move forward. Again, journaling is great for working through your thoughts on this. As you become clear on what you can offer others with your art, you will start to be pulled to move forward in your writing career, rather than pushed.
Why do you, deep down in your gut, write? Do you feel like you're writing from fear or love? With which acts of self-love do you nurture yourself and your artist?
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Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.