We’ve all heard the old adage, When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Well I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make a margarita, thanks anyway.
Every writer has moments, days, even weeks, when it feels like the universe is conspiring against them. Sometimes it’s because it feels like the muse has left the building with no forwarding address, or because life has thrown you the proverbial ‘lemons’ and your so tired of trying to figure out to do with them, you end up throwing them in a blender, adding a little tequila, lime and salt – all the while secretly hoping you won’t run out until the pain is numb enough you no longer care.
Like lemons, which are corrosive by nature, those uncontrollable life events and situation can eventually begin to erode our dreams, our passions and ideas until before we know it, we’re wondering if we even have what it takes to become a successful author, let alone finish that novel or short story or memoir we’ve been working on for God knows how long.
As those who follow me know, my sister and I just recently helped our parents downsize into a retirement community so I could move in and help care for my father, who has been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. What you may not know is, within days of making that decision, my life went from one of focused intent, to feeling like a fish thrown up on the beach without any hopes of ever being able to find water again.
Now I’m generally an optimistic person and make valiant efforts not to allow myself to wallow in the pools of depression and self-doubt – at least not for longer than five or ten minutes. But between caring for my parents and struggling to find time to sit down, undisturbed, while I work on the next novel in The Remnant series, I was beginning to experience serious, prolonged, moments of self-doubt. Especially whenever I logged into my Facebook or Twitter account and started reading how much success my fellow writers were having.
(In reality, one or two success stories, out of thousands, isn’t really all that crushing. Even so, it sure as hell felt like it at the time.)
But . . . the universe does have her moments of benevolence, as she proved when I was scrolling through a back log of emails the other day and came across Joanna Penn’s (thecreativepenn.com) newsletter. Inside was a link to an article by author Steven Pressfield, entitled “Killer Scenes and Self-Doubt“.
In the post Pressfield talks about the muse and how writing, ‘Virtues of War‘, a novel about Alexander The Great, helped him remember why he needed to tell Alexander’s story and how in the telling, he was finally able to overcome years of the self-doubt.
Why bring it up? Well, the whole point of this section of my newsletter is about sharing the journey of becoming the writer I some day hope to be. And part of that journey is learning to deal with the lemons of life, as well as the things within and without, which contrive to erode my confidence and self-worth.
Writers, like all artists or entrepreneurs, battle demons of self-doubt on a daily basis. It’s a beast that must be slain over and over again. Caring for my parents has not only made setting aside time to work on my novels difficult, but on those days when I do manage to grab time, it’s getting harder and harder to pick up where I left off. Which invariably has led to moments of despair as the demons of self-doubt tickle my ear with words that make me wonder if I even have what it takes to write the bloody thing?
Like me, Pressfield is a firm believer in the muse. The neshama or soul. The spirit within all of us that speaks of destiny. Purpose. Desire. Passion. That spiritual aspect of our lives that helps to answer the burning question inside all of us – Why am I here?
I may not be Jewish, but I do believe in destiny. I believe that every one of us has a divine purpose in life that only we can fulfill and that by simply living our lives to the fullest, taking risks and not being afraid to fail, is all part and parcel on the journey to get there.
Now I’m not sure how spiritual turning lemons into margaritas actually is (though the Gospel’s record Jesus turning water into wine), but I do believe that part of the neshama Pressfield talks about, means our lives are the culmination of everything we’ve experienced, said, thought and wish we’d done. Good and bad. Happy and sad. Ugly, beautiful or something in between. It’s all part of the tapestry that makes up, Us.
So if learning how to overcome the demons of self-doubt during this season of caring for my parents is something I have to do, something that will ultimately add to the tapestry of me as a person and a writer, then it would be in my best interest to lean how to embrace it.
Not in a ‘martyr’ kind of way. (Trust me, I’m no martyr.) Not even in a ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, kind of way. But in a ‘Who I am is part of the fabric of who I will be as a friend, mother and lover, which in turn flows over into who or what I am as an author and the kind of stories I’m destined to tell’, kind of way.
As a side note, I’ve since learned that while caring for others it’s important to set healthy boundaries. And one of the boundaries I’ve set is that for four hours a day, three days a week, I and my laptop leave the house and go sit in a nearby cafe that doesn’t offer WiFi.
Not surprising that it only took me a few days to finish what I’d spent literally months, trying to write before.
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