When I decided I was going to write a novel, I was really scared. I was also really irritated to be scared. I mean, how many big projects had I completed with no problems? How many times had I gotten up in front of an audience and sung in a foreign language I don’t even speak? (Sometimes even when I knew I couldn’t sing the song in question very well at all.) And yet sitting in front of a computer alone in my study with a blank screen in front of me was somehow terrifying?
To push myself to go through with my decision, I wrote a note to myself on a yellow post-it and placed it on the bottom right of my screen. Here’s what my note says: “Writing isn’t so hard, it won’t take long, and I’m sure I can learn while I’m doing it. No one else will judge me and my work because they are already so busy with their own problems.”
I wrote what I needed to hear, and I read that note a hundred times over the course of writing that novel.
Unfortunately, the note didn’t work quite as well when I was sending my novel out to agents and my short stories out to editors and getting form rejections. It sure felt like the world was judging my work. So I wrote a new post-it and put it beside the first one. This one reads: “Concentrate on doing the very best you can. This is what is important.” This helped me focus on doing my own personal best instead of spending so much time obsessing on everything I wasn’t good enough at yet.
Over the last year, I’ve collected a few more helpful quotations on a white piece of paper taped up on my bookshelf, right next to my screen. Happily these are all up and shareable via the powers of the Internet.
First I have The Happy Stop on the Writer Train, by Dorothy Winsor. This helps me remember to focus on the part of writing I love; namely, the writing.
Then I have Neil Gaiman’s great take on rejection slips. (The last paragraph is the one on my paper.)
Last week, I added Seth Godin’s Exploration and the risk of failure. This reminds me of which category I am in (the second) and the source of a lot of my anxiety (the pull I feel towards the first). It also reminds me that failure is a good thing. (I know, what crazy talk is that? Any other perfectionists out there?)
I love my collection of pieces of paper. I don’t even have to read what’s written any longer to feel a sense of reassurance. And have I ever needed reassurance this summer. Transitioning away from my business has been, in many ways, very wrenching. My brain is still muddled from my Taos Toolbox experience to the point where I second guess much of what reaches the page – which means that right now, the part of writing that I love is not writing after all. I’ve been in a fair amount of physical pain, which distracts me like crazy, and I’ve received a few rejections that have cut to the bone more than usual.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think all of us go through this kind of time, particularly during transitions. And when you are going through your rough transition, or get that especially disappointing rejection note, or start going down the dark and dangerous road of comparing yourself to others, or can’t write well because your brain is buzzing or you have a headache or your ankles hurt so much you’re contemplating chopping them off and good riddance, well, maybe you’ll remember this entry and realize you’re not alone. Maybe you’ll look at your own reassuring notes and be comforted. (Maybe you’ll even add some of mine to yours.)
Maybe you’ll do what I’m going to do today: grit my teeth (although I don’t recommend this for dental health reasons), hold my chin up, and keep going in whatever way I can. I’ll write some bad words, I’ll submit a few stories, and I won’t give up. At least not today.
And tomorrow I’ll do it all over again.