To Write or Not to Write?
I know a lot of folks who recommend not writing a book unless you have to. Writing a book isn’t one of those tasks you can check off in one weekend. It requires a commitment, that’s for sure. Writing a book that’s creative in nature, such as a novel or memoir, requires an even deeper commitment.
Now, self-help, business and non-fiction books are often much quicker and easier to navigate than fiction or memoir because they tend to be more straightforward.
But what if your soul is calling you to write (or finish) that novel? What if your soul is calling you to share your story with the world?
(My soul is always calling me to share my story with the world.)
In that instance, I believe you must write it. The cost of keeping your story inside you is simply too great.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
–Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Choosing and Committing
Committing to writing your story is a personal decision, of course—one that often comes down to values and priorities, as well as the current circumstances of your life. Timing is also important.
When my children were babies, I worked on getting three different books out. Even though those books weren’t published, they led me to the books I did publish and helped me build the foundation that I stand upon today.
If your present circumstances are keeping you from getting your book into the world, please honor that. Elder care and childcare are very real priorities, and many of us from the sandwich generation find ourselves caring for aging relatives while raising young children. These are very real challenges that come with their own precious set of gifts.
At the same time, there is a creative price to be paid for putting our stories on the back burner.
That’s why it’s so important we look at the precious free time we do have and consciously choose what we’re doing with it. Are we taking that 15 minutes to nourish our soul or are we using it to scroll through another news feed that will leave us feeling even more depleted?
A few years ago, I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert tell the story of how her novel about the Amazon jungle disappeared. For years, she’d been enveloped in the project—she’d completed her research, sold the proposal, and was just starting to write the actual novel when life stepped in and she had to spend the next year or two helping her soon-to-be husband navigate citizenship. By the time she came back to her project, it was gone. There was no life left to the project, she said. So she moved on to another project.
Now here’s the crazy part: a few years later, her friend Ann Patchett came out with State of Wonder, a novel about the Amazon jungle that followed an eerily-similar storyline as Gilbert’s novel, despite the fact that they’d never spoken about their stories with each other. Gilbert believes the idea jumped from her to Patchett.
Pretty wild, right? But here’s the thing:
Engaging with our creative ideas is what keeps them alive.
This is why none of my earlier books have made it into print. Every so often, someone will ask me if I plan to go back and publish any of those books.
Technically, I could. But my heart’s no longer in them. I wrote those books because they were the books I needed at the time. As I continue to grow and change, I need a new set of stories, a new North Star. The projects that fall under this North Star are the ones I choose to commit to.
And that’s one of the biggest reasons I’m encouraging you to choose a project and commit to it. Don’t wait until your story disappears. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Even if all you have right now is 20 minutes twice a week, that’s still 40 minutes you could be putting into your book. Yes, it’s not perfect. But it is a start.
For some, that 20 minutes is a lifeline.
Alison Umminger, a friend of mine from grad school, wrote American Girls: A Novel in the nooks and crannies of an already-packed schedule. A professor at the University of West Georgia, she wrote her book in 15-minutes snippets while her baby daughter was napping or while she was waiting for the oil to be changed on her car.
Now I’m not saying that this approach works for everyone.
But here’s the super-cool thing about Alison’s story: she made a decision. She chose to invest what precious free time she did have into the novel banging around her heart.
She wasn’t doing that refusing-to-choose thing that we so often do when we’re scared. We go back and forth between ideas and possibilities, starting and stopping various projects instead of committing to something.
Refusing to choose is one of the biggest ways we keep ourselves stuck.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to fully inhabit this body and soul while I’m still here on this planet. To do that, I must choose (and choose again) every day. What will my next book be? Which of the 27 amazing-sounding ideas floating around my head will I follow next? Which one will I commit to?
We don’t have unlimited time on this planet or in this lifetime. What we do with our days, hours and minutes does count. That’s why it’s imperative we choose.
That we don’t while away the hours and minutes of our day.
Now it’s Your Turn
With 2018 around the corner, what will you choose for the New Year? What creative projects will you commit to?
If you’re having trouble choosing, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the very real cost of me putting ________ (insert project of your choice) off?
- What is the cost of me putting this off one more year?
- What is the cost of me putting this off 5 more years?
Let your answers guide you in the New Year. Let them help you organize your values, your time and your commitments as well as your daily, weekly and monthly schedules. Then let them help you live with an open heart.
And when you get stuck (as we all do), come back to this Louise Erdrich poem for inspiration:
Advice to Myself
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
Wishing you and your loved ones much joy this holiday season, my dear. May your transition into 2018 be easy and light!
That’s right – you’ve got to have passion for any project you’re going to spend so much time and energy on. Without passion, you can’t get motivated, can’t get into flow, and won’t do your best work.
And it’s definitely the only thing that will allow an Alison to produce an “American Girls” 🙂
Agreed, Cameron! It’s so important for those heart projects. Am guessing passion played a big role in your book about your mom —