Writing

Nine Challenges in a Writer’s Life

Life as a writer can be unpredictable and complicated. In his book Living the Writer’s Life, Eric Maisel provides a framework for how to approach the various challenges you may face, using nine words starting with the letter C:

Character

Each writer is a human being and heir to all the challenges that human beings face. On top of that, you’ll also have to contend with the personality issues that, if not peculiar to the creative person, are more pressing in him or her:

  • existential boredom and sadness,
  • depression, personality trait excesses,
  • eccentricities associated with intelligence,
  • self-direction,
  • introversion,
  • conflicts between humanitarian impulses and ego desires, etc.

In order for you to lead a self-regulating, creative, authentic life, you’ll have to wrestle with personality issues at least as much as you wrestle with issues of plotting and characterisation. Accept the truth of that and affirm that you are exactly human, nothing more than that but also nothing less.

Calling

How is it that you fell in love with language and books? The question, although it can’t be answered, is nevertheless provocative. It points to a vital connection between a person and an art form that’s anything but casual and that for many is thoroughly obsessional. Writers turn themselves over to their calling, losing freedom but gaining love, and in the process make powerful investments of self that are bound to lead to pain and disappointments.

Imagine loving something so much, becoming so intrigued by something, or getting caught up so much in the grip of something that you spend a lifetime pursuing it. This is what writers do. To care so much about coaxing beautiful sounds out of strings of words – how strange and illuminating!

If you still love your calling as writer, that’s something to remember and affirm. Speak that love out loud:

  • “I love poetry.”
  • “Novels really do mean something to me.”

But if you’re no longer in love with writing, for whatever reasons, then there are only three choices. The first is to abandon writing and look for a new love. The second is to continue with your dull marriage, writing but not loving. The third is to fall in love again. The first choice is dramatic and without guarantees and the second has little to recommend it. The third choice is the one I would ask you to consider: falling in love with your writing again. The affirmations you might create to rekindle your love could sound like these:

  • “I will love writing again – this year by starting on an exciting new project.”
  • “A chill still runs up and down my spine when I encounter the best that writing has to offer.”

Creativity

I’m defining creativity as a certain kind of self-relationship rooted in the need to know and do for oneself. It’s a self-relationship which demands that you not only solve problems but create problems where none existed before. The average person says: “Who cares if you can show a dozen perspectives on a small-town racial drama in a documentary film? Why create problems?” “Aren’t shopping for groceries and timing the stock market problems enough?”

The creative person says, “No. I don’t agree with that attitude.” To support your creative nature, affirm that you’re a problem-making as well as a problem-solving creature.

Capacity

By capacity I mean that sense we have that we are or aren’t really using ourselves “to our full capacity” as the phrase goes. When we aren’t really using ourselves we feel depressed, disappointed, and worse. If you are successful in your writing, you may still be troubled that you’re not realising your potential. This is the usual experience of even very productive creative people.

… The marketplace is both competitive and demanding of a certain kind of work, which, as often as not, isn’t the work that makes one feel really alive. So it turns out, the creative person is embarked on a lifelong struggle to find and create ways to make use of himself. To do this you may have to challenge yourself more, take new risks, make new marketplace connections, and inaugurate preposterously grand projects.

Control

… Every creative person, by virtue of the self-relationship she was born with or subsequently developed, is bound to manifest significant authority, dependency, and control issues. She is her own authority, and may fight tooth-and-nail over the smallest matters. She hates feeling dependent, but at the same time craves the financial and emotional support that allows creative work to proceed unhindered by bad day jobs and loneliness. Most importantly, so much feels out of her control that fighting for control – in the wrong places as well as in the right places – becomes second nature.

If a writer can actually control so little – not the Muse, not the work, not acceptance of the work, not the opportunity to work – but at the same time badly needs to be his or her own authority, isn’t it logical that he or she will “act up” with putative authorities or have charged feelings about asking for help and depending on others? You might want to affirm the following:

  • “I can’t control the world, but I can acquire wisdom about the world.”
  • “I can’t control the goodness of my writing, but I can write every day.”
  • “Independence and interdependence can coexist.”

Craft

The idea of craft needs repeated affirming. There’s always the doing – the repeated doing over time, the writing and rewriting, the getting better, the letting go of knowing for the sake of really knowing, all of which is connected to doing and yet more doing. Unfortunately there’s no necessary linear progression here – one’s 99th story may be better than one’s 100th, and one’s first screenplay may have more good ideas in it than one’s 70th.

But superimposed on that truth is the equally valid truth that one must and should keep learning the elements of one’s craft forever. Affirming the centrality of craft might sound like this:

  • “I love working at my craft.”
  • “I’m continuing to learn about language and ideas.”
  • “Even if I am a master, I’m still only an apprentice.”

Culture

This book will help!

… You’re really and truly embedded in multiple cultures – the publishing world, the world of Tucson or Boston, the world of America, the worlds of advertising and consumerism, and also those worlds with which you happen to identify because you’re an African American, a Christian, a Buddhist, a man, a woman. To loosen the grip of the multiple cultural trances that hold us captive, it’s important that you speak about culture out loud.

You might investigate the world of publishing as an anthropologist would. You might investigate the culture of a particular writing genre by attending its annual conference and observing what goes on. You might try to loosen the grip of American culture by reading only Brazilian novels this year, or only African ones.

It’s not so important which particular aspect of culture you investigate, but rather that you bring the entangling nature of culture into awareness and make mental notes. You can’t operate effectively in any culture if you don’t know how it operates; and you can’t get out of it if you don’t know you’re trapped in it. You might want to affirm the following:

  • “I will keep alert to the ways that culture entangles me.”
  • “This year I will investigate a whole new culture.”
  • “This year I will investigate my own culture, to loosen its grip and better understand it.”

Career

Whereas the host of a wildly popular television talk show can almost guarantee that your book will become a bestseller, you can’t guarantee your own brilliant career as a writer. But you can identify specific career skills – like what it takes to get on that popular television show.

Why not learn some active listening skills and how to apply them to marketplace interactions? Why not teach yourself some rehearsal and preparation skills, so you can effectively answer ubiquitous questions like, “Tell me a little bit about yourself?” or “What’s your new book about?”

Why not teach yourself some anxiety management skills – a breathing exercise, a relaxation technique – so you can have a better shot at achieving your goals and realising your dreams? The following are some affirmations connected to career issues:

  • “I will improve my marketing skills.”
  • “I will learn how the marketplace operates.”

Connections

By connections I mean all of the relationship issues that we human beings face and that writers often have trouble negotiating smoothly – issues of intimacy, collaboration, cooperation, community. It may be that your most natural state is to be alone, either isolated and distanced from others or, in a better-case scenario, actively engaged in what Voltaire called “a busy solitude.”

But you also need human contact and intimacy, not to mention support and marketplace advocacy for your ideas and projects. Therefore, you’ll want to affirm the following:

  • “I will relate more openly.”
  • “I will watch my own shadow.”
  • “I will collaborate and cooperate.”
  • “I will master connections.”

Text adapted and quoted from Living the Writer’s Life by Eric Maisel. For more on Eric Maisel’s work, check out my series on the Creative Process for Writers here, or explore the 15 qualities you need to Be Creative here.

 

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