mountains

Where you’re meant to be

Yesterday I set to work editing my novel after leaving it alone for several months, other than a short research trip to study possible locations for the setting. It felt good to revisit the words, even though I know I have my work cut out for me to fix this rough first draft. Blogging about past affirmations has helped me get to this point, even though the doubts I have been experiencing didn’t have much to do with this specific book, but rather the larger project of sharing words with a world that may find good reason to criticize those words and/or me for writing them. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Today’s affirmation is one that came to me in college when I was second-guessing all of my life’s choices, including being at that particular college. I certainly believe there are times when we need to evaluate our situation and make a change, including moving away or starting over. But this was not that kind of moment, just a more general worry that I was supposed to be doing Something Else Somewhere Else, an existential FOMO (fear of missing out) that the life I was supposed to be living was passing me by.

What helped me was listening to the Beatles’ song, “Love is all you need,” which, dear Millennials, was not my generation’s music because I am an okay Gen Xer :), thank you very much. But the Beatles are worth a listen no matter what generation you are. Love is an essential lens with which to view the world, but the line that helped me the most was this one: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”

Maybe I didn’t have to question every choice. Maybe I didn’t have to have all the right answers or make all the right moves. Maybe I could find my way where I am rather than look for it somewhere else. Maybe the journeys that call to me have nothing to do with my physical location. Maybe I am meant to be here right now doing what I am doing. Maybe I will start to see why and what as I move forward.

It helped then, and it helps now. The risk of criticism and rejection is part of the writing life; whatever happens in this process may be meant to be. Criticisms and rejections can teach me something that I might need to learn, sometimes to revisit what I have written to see how to make it better or to revision what I choose to write in the future. And sometimes what I learn is to grit my teeth, dig in my heels, and write anyway.

Slow Down

Today’s affirmation arrived over a decade ago. I was attending a professional development workshop that included an optional visualization activity in which you identify an obstacle to your success. For me, the obstacle itself was unclear, but my reaction was to whisper to myself, “Slow down.”

Those words made sense to me. In order to achieve goals that matter to me, I need to slow down rather than hurry up. Not stop. Not avoid. Not hide. Keep working but accept that it takes time for the work to unfold. It reminds me of when I took art classes and the goal was to look again and again at the model to see what I was missing in my attempt to draw what was in front of me. It took hours.

I’ve heard and read similar advice in recent years for writers specifically. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sulky about this advice. I don’t want to slow down. I want to be some kind of super-writer, soaring across the pages, generating enviable daily word counts that amaze every reader. Every reader! (Ha. I had to rewrite that phrase because it reminds me of another thing that makes me sulky as a writer is the fact that I won’t be able to connect with every reader. In fact, the only way to connect with every reader is to say almost nothing, and that seems, um, pointless.)

This advice also reminds me, at least as a caution, of one of my favorite pieces of advice from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He describes a man leaning his ladder against a wall and climbing up the ladder as fast as possible. The man appears to be moving quickly, but what good is this effort if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall? In time management terms, you have to slow down at least long enough to find the right wall. Make sure that your efforts are leading you in the right direction.

I suppose this affirmation relates well for where I am right now. I have been taking stock of my writing and re-assessing next steps. It makes me feel restless and uprooted. I am much happier when I am in the thick of a longer writing project. The direction is set, and I can move forward, sometimes quite rapidly. Even then, though, I reach a point when the work grows unwieldy, and I have to navigate more choices and search for changes to make it better. No matter where I am in the process, I always observe other writers generating a constant flow of polished, published works while I move at what is sometimes a snail’s pace within an endless round of not-yet-finished drafts.

Our culture is not a fan of slowing down. I am a bit amused by the memes of people outraged that someone in front of them in traffic is moving more slowly than necessary. The sight of someone paying by check rather than a card seems to wound the people waiting in line at the grocery store. The assumption is that if we aren’t moving quickly, we are falling behind.

But what if the only way to do something well, to say what you mean to say, to fix a problem rather than put a band-aid on it, is to move slowly, thoughtfully, forward? Of course there will be moments when the best response is a quick response, especially in an emergency. And then there’s the siren song of procrastination, so I guess I need to remember that slowing down is not the same as NOT doing the work. It is okay to be slow. This is not a race, not if “this” is something meaningful.

Let others pelt down paths that might lead nowhere. Find your own path. Take one step forward. Another. Breathe. That one step forward is the destination, no matter how small or gradual the movement.

Fear happens.

I continue to review affirmations from my past and how they might support me in the writing life.

When I was teaching middle school long ago, I often pondered the role of fear in attempting something new or challenging. There is a slogan “Feel the fear and do it anyway” that seemed to describe that point in my life, teaching and writing, both of which included a healthy amount of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of looking incompetent in public. All of which I nailed, dear reader.

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, so I googled it just now and discovered a book by that title, which I have not read. I also found an article in Psychology Today discussing pitfalls that can accompany embracing this strategy without nuance. So… let’s leave that slogan aside. I admit I did not find it the most inspiring of affirmations. I like the “Do it anyway” part. I’m all for trying new things and taking calculated risks. But focusing on my fear wasn’t always beneficial.

So looking back on it, I will rename this affirmation to “Fear happens.” It’s not great. It’s not always what we want to feel. But it is neither unusual nor insurmountable. Sure, fear happens. As a police officer in a TV show might say, “Move on. Nothing to see here.”

So when I write, perhaps I can just accept that sometimes there is reason to feel fear. Breathe. Then get back to work.

You are a rock star

Today again I want to blog about one of the affirmations that helped me in the past. I have to admit that this title is actually a G-language version of the actual affirmation.

It might help to explain that I was at a point of transition in my life, shifting from one attempted career/life path to something new that I hadn’t yet fully identified. I didn’t quite articulate it then, but one source of concern was the awareness that I was not meeting the unstated (but well-advertised) standards of success for an adult. I didn’t have a car, let alone a fancy one (I didn’t want one). I didn’t live in an exciting city (I had, but I left). I didn’t go out for cocktails each night or brunch on the weekends with a group of dynamic, articulate, sparkling friends (I had a small circle of wonderful friends, and sometimes we played cards together). When I told people the jobs I had done as well as what I was considering for the future, I received blank or confused looks. My career/life goals didn’t fit their expectations.

I spent some time reflecting on why I had done what I had done, what I valued and what I didn’t value (cars and TV-viewing are actively harming our planet, imho), and how I had taken risks that led me to new and interesting places. Instead of feeling bad about myself for not fitting into other people’s expectations of success, I started to see what was courageous and ethical about my own choices. So I realized I should tell myself every day, girl, you are a rock star.

I have to admit that I’m a bit uneasy with this affirmation right now. I am still happy with what I have done and the choices I have made, but I also know I don’t like to be the source of anyone else’s envy. Indeed, I am always reluctant to go into any kind of competitive situation with an advantage. But maybe I need to remember that this was not about my telling myself I was better than anyone else. We are all rock stars… we all get to define what rock star status is, and we do not have to accept anyone else’s definition.

If I try to lean into this affirmation to aid me in rekindling my faith in myself as a writer, well, maybe that could work. I am a rock star writer because I am bold enough to spend time writing.

Maybe. It is a struggle right now to imagine writing with confidence. Even worse, it seems to me that when I do so, I generate cliches rather than subtle insights. A lack of confidence helps me interrogate my word choices.

Then again, maybe it’s similar to the mindset of drafting versus the mindset of editing. When I write fresh drafts, I am a rock star. When I am editing, I am a rock star’s manager, rolling my eyes a bit and trying to see what we can salvage.

Either way, I am following my dreams.

Why not embrace the metaphor? I picture myself now standing on a stage, thankfully one of my own creation. I am bathed in the lights, energized by the feeling that this moment could last forever. I am lifted aloft by the words, one after another. When I write, there is nothing else I need.

Rock on.

laptop

Relaxed and happy

So one of my oldest affirmations, or perhaps, quasi-affirmation, or well, if I am honest, this was my mission statement in 1994, so I was young, and this sentence is now violating so many grammar rules that I think I will start again. Ahem. One of my oldest affirmations is “Be relaxed and happy like that woman we met in the grocery store.”

Impressive, hmm? Clear as mud. So a mission statement is a statement of what you want to be in the moment, not what you want to accomplish or possess. Around the time I was developing this mission statement, my now-husband and I ran into this woman he knew in a grocery store, and she was super relaxed and laughing as we chatted with her, and I thought, yes, that’s how I would like to be.

It wasn’t all I wanted to accomplish, but there was something admirable about not tackling every activity with a turbo charge but rather taking a breath and appreciating that which brings joy rather than focusing only on that which elicits sorrow, rage, or despair.

As I mentioned, I am revisiting my affirmations to bolster my commitment to writing, so I might explore briefly what this affirmation could mean for me as a writer. Relaxing instead of writing would not be what I want, but relaxing as I tackle my writing projects could be beneficial. What if I allow my writing to be a way to relax and smile, to celebrate the moment?

Can I make progress on anything if I am relaxed and happy as I work? Such an approach defies the Puritan work ethic. Can the act of writing be something positive and fulfilling? Can some of the issues I want to unpack be serious and consequential, at least to me, yet the work itself still allow me to be relaxed and happy? Can I be a caring, engaged part of the greater community and be relaxed and happy? At least, some of the time?

I know that my being stressed and miserable does not help anyone else, and it tends to undermine my ability to support others or create anything worthwhile. Being relaxed and happy does not mean I am not pursuing ongoing growth and improvement. Nor do I have to pretend that it is possible to be relaxed and happy all the time, nor that writing isn’t sometimes a difficult and frustrating activity. Indeed, as I think about it, what I most need is not necessarily to feel relaxed every time I write, but to relax rather than worry about what I am writing or where it is leading. Or how long it takes to get there.