Words to Live By – BE HERE NOW (Sanity for the Modern Writer)Posted: August 5, 2020
The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
BE HERE NOW (Sanity for the Modern Writer)
What does a successful writing career look like to you? Have you ever thought about it? Do you believe you need one in order to call yourself a real writer? It may seem like a foreign notion to you, but many burgeoning authors won’t even acknowledge their favorite creative pastime in a serious way until they’ve sold a few short stories, picked up that dream book contract, or collected enough poems to turn into a collection.
I was like that when I was just starting out. I never gave myself credit for doing the work. In general I have this problem, as I understand it. People are always mystified by my apparent inability to cut myself slack. I refused to call myself a real writer until I’d made my first professional-level short story sale. That took seven years, and the funny thing is, it didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. Oh sure, I was ecstatic for about an afternoon. But then things went back to normal, and a feeling of unease crept over me, the subtle realization that although I’d finally arrived at my destination, I hadn’t moved an inch.
In the last few years, I’ve experienced something of a paradigm shift when it comes to these things. You see, I finally had to admit to myself that no matter how many accolades I could garner, no matter how many times I saw my name in print, the writing itself often made me feel miserable, worn-out, and sometimes, just plain fed-up.
Do you have this same issue? Never give yourself credit for a job well done? Do you feel like a bit of a failure because you haven’t managed to reach your major writing goals yet? Trust me, you aren’t alone. You know the grass is always greener, don’t you? Imagine wandering into that other pasture, that creative promised land you cherish so dearly, only to find weeds and impassable thicket. Yes, you should make and maintain goals, because of course, you might not accomplish anything at all otherwise. And yes, each of us should dare to dream. I can’t stress that enough. Dreaming isn’t the problem. It takes a great beaten child of an adult to believe dreams are for fools.
But why dream if you’re only going to use it as a benchmark for your future happiness? Let’s say you’ve been writing off and on for twenty-five years, and you’ve yet to publish anything important. From the outside looking in, it may appear as though you wasted all that time. Your friends and family may not take your dreams seriously, or even worse, they may openly mock or criticize you for them. First off, if this is the case, you really owe it to yourself to find some new friends. Secondly, how do they know you didn’t enjoy every last second of those “wasted” twenty-five years? How do they know you didn’t have the time of your life, and in fact, wouldn’t trade a second of it for all the gold in Fort Knox?
The truth of the matter is if you can’t be happy with your work now, odds are you won’t be happy later. I mean that. Seeing your name in print will give you fleeting pleasure, but the more you see it, the less it’ll impress. You’ll have to trust me on this, and I’d like you to read this next part very closely, nothing you do in this life will make you happy if happiness eludes you here and now. Signing copies of your latest book or being able to share a cool story with the world via a very impressive and illustrious magazine or anthology, all of that is super cool. But after the proverbial new car smell wears off, you may feel a startling sense of anxiety and emptiness. Especially once you realize, aw hell, now I have to do it all over again.
Like I said, dreaming isn’t the problem. Expectations, however, will kill you every time. Because human beings often believe they cannot be happy until and unless something specific comes their way. I can’t be happy until I’ve found the love of my life. I can’t be happy until I buy my family a new house. I can’t be happy until I’m a bestseller. It’s always the destination that drives us. We so very rarely seem interested in the journey to get there.
Do me a favor the next time you sit down to write. Take your seat, open up your laptop (or grab your pen and paper, if you’re old school) and just sit there. Close your eyes if you’re so inclined. Be present in the moment, don’t think about the work ahead as a chore or a means to an end. Think of the work as the end itself. You are alive right now. Miracle enough for anyone with their priorities straight and their sanity intact. From the infinitesimal outer regions of statistically impossible microspace, you have arrived in all your glory. You’re breathing right now. Your butt is firmly planted in that chair, and you, my friend, are about to lay down some of the best writing of your life.
You can approach this moment as the incredible phenomenon it is. You can set your fingers to the keyboard and put one word after another, and you can experience an act of personal, almost spiritual fulfillment. Not because you expect this piece of writing to set the world on fire, but because for you, this passion, this instant, it’s all there is.
Be here now, as they say. The future will take care of itself, and as for the past, let’s just say ruminating on it too much is a recipe for disaster. No, now is all you have, and now is all you need. Dance like no one’s watching. Remember that many successful authors suffer from what we call impostor syndrome, which is a real shame if you ask me. What is a writing impostor? I mean really, what is one? A writer, set in terms even a chimpanzee could understand, is someone who writes. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
You’re not an impostor. You’re not anything more or less than the writer doing the thing, writing, and writing, and writing some more. And that truly is enough, no matter where you find yourself in terms of success or recognition or even money. Great pleasure and joy can be found in the simplest things, and though I’d never call writing a simple activity, profession, pastime, hobby, loving and fond nuisance, or obsession, the truth is—and you know this deep down in your heart of hearts—no outside thing, no future goal, no perfect outcome will give you the satisfaction you’re looking for.
If not now, when? If not now, when? If not now, when?
Slow down for a moment. Consider how lucky you are, how fortunate, how present and aware and full of life, and then go ahead and rock it out, lay down those beautiful words. I won’t keep you. You’ve got important and timely truths to express, new worlds to birth and share with us, and if you don’t do it, who will?
Until next month, everyone. I hope you can see the value of letting the present be, just be. You may never accomplish your goals, live your dreams, be anything more subjectively impressive than you are right now. But should it matter? Or should you simply learn to love yourself, your work, your creativity, now, now, now?
Peace! Joy! And don’t forget to proofread!
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