The Loneliness of Being a Writer and How to Make it Better
The air had spring on its breath. Sweet, muddy, messy, fecund, dog poopy, chirpy, blooming, trashy, sexy spring.
Taking a long, deep inhale through my nose, I opened my mouth to sing for the trees. A group of us were gathered in a clearing beneath red pines in a city park. Raising our voices for Tree Sisters, serenading the trees' bare branches, trunks, roots.
We sang for them because they always sing for us.
They sing when we’re choking them with toxins or chopping them down.
They sing with a trunk full of oxygen so we can breathe cleaner as they absorb our poisons.
They sing with their shoots unfurling into leaves, fruits dripping from their branches so we can taste their juices and be nourished.
They sing to provide habitat to birds and other animals, and to keep the soil from eroding and washing away our homes.
Can you hear them singing, dear reader?
When I gather with other women, even if it's only for a couple hours, I can feel my spirit soar. And that's exactly what happened on this day around International Women's Day. My energy strengthened as I re-calibrated. My well filled up, so that I hummed along with my book writing for at least a week after.
As writers we like to paint ourselves as separate from others. Writing's a solitary activity that demands we shut the world out. While this is mostly true, we writers sometimes take this too far when we think we've no right to ask for help when working on a book project.
Perhaps it's because we feel shame exercising our creativity while the world spins out of control. Or because we don't value what we do, or we don't want to be a bother. I definitely have some of that poor me mentality when it comes to plodding along with my art-making. The long-suffering artist must take on the pain of her art in silence. She must weather the challenges on her own; slay the dragon of her mind with quick jabs and slashes. After all, hasn't it always been like this? Well, for some of us I suppose.
Truth is, for many of us there are people behind the scenes of our lives working, helping out, sweating, so we can make shit happen--creatively speaking.
The sister who takes care of a writer's child once a week so she can advance in her manuscript. The mom who has a child around the same age who the writer does trades with so both can work on their passion projects. The husband or wife, partner or lover, who gets the writer and will step up to give that person space to meet her milestones, even though it may seem impossible for that helper. The boss who lets the writer take time off to go to a writing retreat because she values creativity and self-exploration in her employees.
To verify whether this is true or not, read the Acknowledgements at the back of any book to see all the people who had a hand in helping that author finish her, their, his work. The many names of people shifting their lives and schedules because they know how important it is for that person to put her book out into the world.
If you watched the last Oscars you may have been struck by just how many people mentioned their mothers as having a hand in their success. Or that school teacher, partner, or friend who said, Keep going! You're doing great!
No, dear reader, you're not alone.
No time to read this? Have a listen to me on SoundCloud. You can even do it while dressing your kid in the morning or brushing your teeth.
Here are some ways you can enlist your villagers, your tribe, your loved ones, so that you can feel less alone and write.
1) Make a pact with a trusted friend
You know when you were a kid and you made those secret pacts that you’d be friends for life and all that? Well, this would be a creativity pact where you’d encourage each other to do whatever it is you said you’d do: art, macramé, sculpting, dance. Let’s say you meet once a week or twice a month and go over your to-do list. Your accountability partner can help you troubleshoot any blocks you’re facing and you in turn can do the same. Once you get started with the right person you’ll find this kind of support invaluable to your success as a writer. Accountability’s SO important!
2) Start an in-person or online writing group
Get some people together for a writing group that meets once every two weeks or so. Share your writing, feel supported, and help others see their work to the finish line. If you wanted to do more knitting then you’d start something like a Stitch and Bitch group where you all meet at a cafe once a month. Well, think of your writing group like this—a group of likeminded people coming together to share, bitch, and write!
As much as you may try, you really can’t do everything yourself. If you have a little money to spare, hire someone to clean, take your calls, or complete tasks associated with your business that aren’t the most exciting for you. Hiring people (or scheduling family members) to attack your to-do list will free up space in your head for writing and give you more time to devote to writing as well. By the way, this is another way of not only telling people what you’re up to, but also of making sure you keep writing!
Perhaps you’re a mom with two kids who can’t squeeze five extra minutes out of your week, never mind 30 minutes. You’re used to doing pretty much everything yourself and so it can be a challenge to ask for help. Do your kids ever go on play dates? Do you have access to childcare or do your mom and dad live nearby? Consider the supports you do have in your life and reach out to them for solutions. Sometimes situations appear impossible but then when you connect with people who genuinely care about your wellbeing and that of your family, you may discover that they offer solutions to your dilemma that you hadn’t thought of.
4) Shout it from the rooftops
Years ago when I first began to take my writing seriously I would hide the fact that I was writing from loved ones and others because I thought I might fail at it. It was kind of like my dirty secret between myself and, well, me. I now realize that this so-called secret didn’t serve me very well. In fact it hurt me. A lot. If I’d told everybody and their relations that I was a writer, then they would’ve been nicer to me when I said I was busy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they also probably would've let me be.
Show others that what you do is important to you, otherwise people won't take it seriously either.
5) Organize retreats
It’s a known fact that a supportive community helps you achieve your goals. A couple times a year I organize a writing retreat with a writing buddy or two or three. Scheduling time in advance to get away and write not only helps me advance in my project, but it reminds me that I'm not completely crazy and that there are others out there who are writing.
6) Hire a writing coach, an editor
A writing coach is a great way to obtain support, feedback, and to see that you're progressing with your work. I offer writing coaching and the opportunity to review your manuscript and give you detailed feedback on next steps.
The day we sang for the trees there were hundreds of other women in 19 countries singing as well. We couldn't see them but we felt their energies. It filled my heart to receive the warmth of the women and realize that we all struggle in different ways to show up as ourselves. As writers we may think we're alone, yet we need to change that story of the lonesome writer in order to put our voices, our stories, and our hearts into the world.
Writing Prompt - Cultivate Awe
It feels the same as any other day. You wake up, get dressed, have coffee, check your phone.
Except that this day is nothing like other days. And that's because today you're cultivating awe. What is that, Lissa, you may ask. Well, (I may answer) it's looking at your everyday surroundings in a new way. It could be the view out the window, the rain splashing against the roof and the sound it makes, or the cat sitting on your sofa, the leaves shivering on the trees outside, the way the sun hits a spot on your floor. The smell of the coffee on the stove....
These are just some examples of how, when focusing on a small thing, you can learn to cultivate awe and see the world in all its beauty and complexity.
And so for this prompt we will be focusing on one thing in our environment as we write. It can be sounds, scents, sights.... Focus only on this and only this for 10 minutes as you write.
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