Excuses are killing your joy.

Do you see through your own poor excuses?

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I am an authority on the excuses a writer can use to avoid writing. Time constraints make for easy excuses. Obligations to family or job provide a slew of excuses. Exercise is another perfectly “legitimate” excuse. Lack of space, lack of quiet, and lack of inspiration look like valid excuses. These are top-self rationalizations masquerading as true limitations or honorable obligations. They are lies I told myself. Excuses killed my creative joy. Are they killing yours?

Creating is scary. It is terrifying to bring something out of nothing. There is the anxiety of creative blocks, the specter of failure, the gut-wrenching realization that someone is going to hate your work. If you are persistent in honing your craft, if you share your art with others, you will experience all of these fears and more. The excuses act as a salve, a protective layer for the raw psyche. Excuses appear to give you a way out of the misery. There might even be brief moments where you believe your own justifications. At such times the panacea is perfected. Sometime between 3 AM and insomnia, you know the hollowness of your own weak rationalizations. Your horror is a night sweat soaking the sheets. A shower rinses your body clean, but the truth cannot be rinsed out of your mind. You are aware of your faulty reasoning and avoidance; you are hiding from your art. If you’re the sort of excuse-maker I was, it is at this point the despair arises. Problems loom. There is no time, there is no space! In some sense, you are right, because excuses are like cactii or goldfish, and will grow to the maximum extent of their enclosure. Your excuses might fill a house, invisible as carbon monoxide. They’re certainly cramping your soul.

Have you filled your time with pursuits unrelated to your art? Are television, drinking, and drama with your consorts supplanting your creativity? What about those intellectual all-nighters, on a balcony with your smokes? Oh, and if you say it’s the day job that’s stifling you, I’ve heard that one before, too. I used to bemoan that while I could cut out marathon sessions of DEXTER, I couldn’t cut out the day job. I remember feeling like work was an insurmountable block to my writing, and I resented the job. Never mind the fact that it’s the job that gave me the financial security to have a place to live, food to eat, and access to health care so that I could even begin to think about writing. I was not living in gratitude. I wasn’t even really living. Still, my “damn job” excuse was an excellent false justification; not many saw through it. I did, though, and now I know blaming a standard, forty-hour job is a cop-out. Maybe for you it’s not so much the time that’s an issue, it’s a lack of space, or the noisiness of your space. Maybe you have children, roommates, an apartment in NYC where your bed is your table is your ironing board. I have to call BS on that excuse, too. Imprisoned authors have managed to write novels. If a drunkard interred in a Nazi insane asylum can create, then you can certainly find some space. Sculpting and painting present more difficulty in this respect than writing, but writers, you have coffee shops, writer’s rooms, libraries… need I go on? Stop using excuses to barricade yourself away from the terror and uncertainty of TRYING. You are not here to generate excuses. You are here to generate art.

I’m  reading Annie Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE. The cover blurb from the New York Times Book Review states that THE WRITING LIFE is “full of joys.” That blurb makes me wonder if I’ve read the book wrong. Joy isn’t the dominant theme I find in Annie’s discussion of writing. She honestly dissects the despair and impossibility of writing your true vision. She shows the disassociation of living in a world that exists only in your mind, and at first only in pieces. She doesn’t sugarcoat the sheer terror and difficulty of the endeavor, but neither does she countenance excuse. Annie discusses the interesting occurrence of people who want to be “poets” because they are in love with the idea of being a poet, not because they love poetry. In one vignette, Annie relays a conversation where a seeker after the writing life is told she can be a writer if she “loves sentences.” Annie goes on to extrapolate that there is joy in creating if you go one sentence at a time. Now, finally, there is joy in THE WRITING LIFE, but only when the writing is begun, and only when all of the other “stuff” (the excuses, the self-seeking) are abandoned. The difference between those who only want the title of “poet” and those who love sentences is that the latter will suffer more. Creating is the kind of suffering that brings freedom and joy, but only if you give yourself fully to it. That means you have to stop making excuses to avoid the hard work of doing your art.

I invite my Muse by setting aside time in my day for my writing. Monday through Friday, that amounts to two and a half hours. It is not a lot of time, but I make it count. I do not wait to be inspired: I sit at my desk and I write. I do not seek the perfect writing nook: I write standing up on the commuter train on the way to my day job. My commitment to writing is sacrosanct. It is not optional. In 99 of 100 days, any excuse I give to skip writing would be a lie, a willful rejection of who I am meant to be. There are days, though, dark days where I cannot write. I am human, and I’ve missed writing sessions due to illness, or the death of a loved one. I accept that I cannot control, plan, or prevent either of those circumstances. Neither do I use them as an excuse to continue to avoid my writing desk. I recover from illness, I go back to writing. I mourn, I go back to writing. It is how I am meant to live. This is only one aspect to my writing life; I have an entire code for how I do what I do, and how I avoid the pitfalls that life invariably throws at me. I’m calling it Bring Your Joy: A Code for Creatives. I’m still finalizing a PDF you can read, print, and share, but I hope it is helpful to you.

Xoxo,

-aniko

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The Lost Writers

lost writers

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In 2007, the job market was not as dire as it would become, but it was already tumbleweeds in the tech sector in Southern Virginia. I relocated to Austin, Texas where tech was (and is) booming. I had a job within a week, but I had no friends in my new town. That’s where blogs filled a gap, giving me access to the intimacy of friendship without geographic constraints. I discovered several writers’ blogs, and anticipated their posts with the giddiness of afternoon coffee with a good friend.

It would be another four years before I started my own blog. In the intervening years, I lurked rather than commented because I felt weird with how lopsided our “relationship” would be, given I wasn’t blogging. I learned about the illnesses, the envies, the fears, and the joys of many writers I’ve never met. Sadly, none of continue to blog. I wonder what happened to them. Did life crush them with obligations, commitments, or depression? Did they move to a new blog with no backlinks to avoid a troll? Are they dead?

I had a writing mentor at that time. We met in Zoetrope’s Virtual Studio, a forum for writers to critique other writers, rank them, and possibly get a story picked up by Zoetrope for their lit magazine. Most of the writers were newer than I was to the craft, and I lucked into finding IJJ, who was a very experienced writer. At one point, he sent me a physical copy of a story of his published in The Paris Review. (Yes, mind=blown!) IJJ never wavered to tell me when I’d edited out the heart of my story. He called me on my BS and also told me where my writing shone. IJJ was in his sixties, and there were intimations of health issues. The last time I heard from him was in 2007, and he was moving to a new home in the country. He reminded me that while we put ourselves into our writing, strict adherence to our personal reality can diminish the impact of the story. I wrote back, and he never responded. I tried again last week, even knowing his email address has been disconnected for years. He hasn’t logged in at Zoetrope or any other known haunts in the last seven years. I think that he is dead. I am sorry that I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that my writing is better for having his influence. I hope that he knows that.

There are many other writers I’ve met that have disappeared. They stopped blogging, stopped commenting, stepped away from the community. I wonder where those lost writers are. I wonder if they are still writing, and if their silence means they are working on the next Great Novel. I hope they aren’t sick, dead, depressed, or utterly gone from writing. I miss them.

I understand disappearing. I disappeared physically from Virginia, choosing to start fresh without leaning on any of my former friendships. Later, I disappeared from the online writing community, not even connecting with the people in my writing guild. I know what happened to me. In both cases, I felt too raw to connect, too vulnerable. I retreated into isolation because I didn’t know how to cope with what felt like Really Big Things: job loss, shattered dreams (I wanted to be a philosopher of science, imagine that!), broken friendships, living in a new place, the fact that self-publishing wasn’t what I thought it would be, and later, that submission to traditional publishers was what I thought it would be.  There are a lot of situations in life that are overwhelming. My coping mechanisms were faulty, and they left me isolated. I’ve learned new ways to deal with life, and they’re working for me. I banished artist’s envy. I got out of the ambition room, and stopped striving for success that didn’t thrill my soul. I seek fellowship with others on my path. I embody gratitude. I’m entering into a more spiritual mode of coping. I’m no longer one of the lost writers.

I’m busy writing a guide explaining the precepts I followed to get to where I am now: happy, peaceful, excited about writing. It’s called Bring Your Joy: A Code for Creatives. I know it can’t bring back IJJ, RIP. I know it probably won’t ever reach the bloggers who pulled me through the loneliness of 2007, and have since disappeared. It might reach you, though, and be of some help. When it is ready, I’ll announce the release of Bring Your Joy. The guide will be offered as a free PDF download. Expect it within the month. If you’re in dire need now, though, leave me a comment, and I will get you a rough-draft. It’s that important to me to share the message.

If you are a writer or blogger who has gone away from the community, know that someone misses you. We wonder where you are. We hope you are okay.

Xoxo,

-aniko

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