Three times in my life I’ve chosen to see a health care professional about why and how my life had gotten off track. The last time I said to the woman, “I dealt with this issue when I was in my twenties, and in my thirties. Why do I have to deal with it again now?”
She said, “Because life is a spiral. It only seems like you’re coming back to the same problem. In fact, you’re coming back to a different, more complicated problem because you bring with you all that you learned since the last time you worked on this.”
That’s why the same questions plague us as writers decade after decade.
- Am I really a writer?
- Can I make a living at writing?
- What do I do next?
Are we really writers?
If we are recording words with the intention of telling a story, then yes, we are writers. There’s a reason that screenwriter and teacher Robert McKee titled his writing guide simply Story. Story is the heart of writing. When nothing seems to be working, story becomes our refuge, the place we turn to, as the late singer and songwriter Stan Rogers said, “like a child to home whenever darkness comes.”
Can we make a living at writing?
That one is far more difficult to answer. I’ve heard a lot of high numbers — 75%? 80%? More%? — bantered around by industry professionals about how big a role pure luck plays in a lucrative writing career. Sadly, most of us will never be able to quit our day jobs, so what we learn to do instead is juggle time for writing, running a business, doing our day job, living in a family, having friends, and the whole rest of the world.
Here’s the absolute bottom line: there are 168 hours in a week. We aren’t getting any more, so let’s work on making something of what we already have.
What do we do next?
Here’s the first aid kit that every writers need. You’ve probably seen this list before, but have you thought about it being at the heart of being a writer? When we start to spin out of control, we need to do 6 things.
This is a quote that marked a turning point in my writing. I realized I could not keep going at the pace I was going and continue to be a writer. I had to make a choice between learning to slow down and quitting writing. I’m still writing.
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
~ Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968), Catholic writer, Trappist monk, priest, poet, social activist. and student of comparative religion
Breathe – libraries and the Internet are full of resources about breathing and breathing meditations. Learn the basics and practice them
Drink water – even a 2% dehydration, not enough to make us thirsty, reduces concentration and creativity.
Get enough sleep – The National Geographic program Sleepless in America says that 40% of people in North America don’t get enough sleep. That figure is rising.
Eat healthy and exercise – do I really need to explain these?
We are always spiralling either up or down. There is no standing still. I vote for spiralling up.
Hope to see you back next Tuesday, January 20, for What to do about those pesky To-Do Lists.