Suck it up, Buckaroo
I grasp the importance of pushing through in writing (and in life). I deeply admire those people who tell their personal Skinny to shut the hell up. I’m inspired by the stories about author’s getting rejected a hundred times before finding an agent. I mist up when I hear about someone beating cancer against the odds.
I want to have that steel gut, that stubborn resolve, and those big of cojones.
Except, in the moments where it’s actually time to push through, it can feel insurmountable. When you’re bruised, broken, and exhausted…when it’s far easier to turn on Top Chef reruns and ignore the rest of the world…how do push through when you’ve got nothing left?
By no stretch of your substantial imagination am I an expert of picking myself up after getting knocked on my ass. However, here are some of the things I’ve learned that have helped me in various situations find just that iota of strength to push through.
When I hit a wall in a book a while back and I was complaining to my mom about it, she pointed out that my storytelling is a voluntary exercise. That I choose to do it. “Suck it up, Buckaroo,” she said.
I swear, my mom is a fantastic, loving human being. And while this saying might be read as harsh…I consider it just a little bit of tough love. Sometimes we need a reminder that what we do is because of the choices we make. My writing, my engineering job, my wife, and my kid are all results of my choices. And unless I’m willing to make some more harsh choices to change these things, I’ve got to make the best of them.
Countless times this saying has come to my mind when I’m in the dumps. And almost an equal number of instances, it’s pushed me just hard enough that I get back on the saddle.
Whenever I hit a particularly knobby writing block, Talia’s advice is always to throw myself into something new. Find my Slutty Next Novel to distract from the current pain. Often just getting the words flowing somewhere is a powerful enough force to get them flowing everywhere. Sometimes, it’s not an option to start a whole new novel. If so, then I journal for 10 minutes about why I can’t write or do a blog post or jot down a grocery list.
It won’t hurt anything, right?
Circumvent the Problem.
I hear this advice all the time. If I need to push through something hard, do the opposite for a time: walk away from it. Upon returning with a little fresh air in my lungs or some dark chocolate in the gut, I'll find the pushing much easier.
I think this idea can be useful in a grander scale too. This past summer, I wallowed a bit…I was unhappy, irritable, and plainly a pleasure to be around. No matter how much I worked on a new project or long walks I took or fancy coffees I allowed myself, I couldn't break out of the rut. While down in LA last August, Donna sat me down and told me I should take a month off writing. An entire month. No jotting down ideas. No outlining. No character development worksheets. Hell, thinking about writing as little as possible.
It scared the bejesus out of me. What if life without writing was so much better that the one month became two, the two became a year? On the drive home, I decided that if life was truly more enjoyable and satisfying without writing, then I should allow myself the option to NOT be a writer. The only way to know was to take Donna’s challenge.
And did the month become two? Nope. Life was easier. I had so much more time. My DVR emptied. My TBR list shortened. I was rested, exercised, and frequently clean-shaven. I wasn't happier. In fact, I was dying to get back to writing. By truly stepping away, I didn't push through, but circumvented the problem.
Listen to your non-writing friends.
Sometimes I need the opposite of “Suck it up, Buckaroo.” I need someone I trust and care about to tell me that I’m not worthless, that the Skinny in my head is blind/deaf/dumb, and that I’m good. I’m not talking about pure cheerleading here, I’m talking about honest feedback on my worth as writers and as a person.
During this summer’s dark spell, I was on a business trip with a coworker/good friend. At dinner, he noticed my mood and asked about it. I explained to him I’d just received two hard rejections over email while we were at the table. He asked more questions and at one point, I mentioned how pointless my pursuit of writing feels at times and I wondered if it was worth all the pain.
He said, “It’d kill me if you gave up. So few people have a passion in their life. I’m jealous.”
I thank God for the Muses daily for all of their support and love, but having my coworker, who’s never read a word of my work, give such support…was a different flavor of special.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your non-writing friends/family about your writing life (of course, let them have water and bathroom breaks). I tend to believe they view my “hobby” as pointless and consuming, when often the opposite is true.
This list is far, far from complete. And none of the items work every time. But if one fails, I try another or form a new one...on and on, until I’ve sufficiently sucked it up and am back on the horse.