Sunday, October 11, 2009

Being and Writingness

I heard somewhere recently that when we visualize ourselves reaching whatever ultimate goal we have – whatever sort of success we are looking for in life – we are setting ourselves up for failure. This, of course, is an overstatement, and it’s also not really that innovative of an idea, either. But we do hear motivational speakers and self help books rely on this somewhat wrongheaded approach: if you keep your mind in this fantasy world of where you want to go, it will motivate you to take the proper steps to get there.

What I heard recently is that, in fact, we should be visualizing ourselves taking the small steps that will lead the way to whatever that larger goal is. That we shouldn’t distract ourselves from the practical, concrete things we need to do by fantasizing about ourselves in some dream version of the future, which may or may not come to pass. This, of course, is just another self help nugget – and self help nuggets, as a rule, are not very helpful – but I think there is more truth to this idea than this visualizing yourself having reached the ultimate goal hooey.

This idea is essentially the same method as making small, attainable goals that will lead you in the direction of where you want to go – and feeling good about yourself when you reach each of those small goals. The big problem with the other method is that you can reach small goal after small goal and actually be doing quite well, but still be years away from reaching that ultimate goal that you’ve been dreaming about. The result is that you might feel discouraged, might feel like these small steps aren’t getting you anywhere, might just give up altogether.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had these elaborate fantasies of myself becoming rich and famous off of my writing. I would think about how great life would be one day, when I wouldn’t have to have another job outside of writing (and filmmaking, which was my other big dream at the time), and when I would have regular meetings with an agent and with editors. When I would have plenty of money to live comfortably and live well and, more importantly, make my living off of an activity that I enjoyed doing, anyway.

Here’s how it would go: I would sit down to write, be at it for maybe half an hour, give or take, and then I would start thinking about how good I believed this thing that I was writing was. How this was definitely going to get accepted somewhere. How this was going to set me on that path I had been desperately trying to find the entrance to: that fabled path to success. And then I would start thinking about what would happen next, and what would happen after that, and where it would all lead – that final image of myself as a successful professional writer.

I was one of the biggest writing clichés: the person who wants to have written rather than to write. I wanted to skip all those steps inbetween and just get to the point where I would wake up in the morning with nothing that I had to do but write. But of course, I had time to write; I was wasting it fantasizing about success. Those steps that I wanted to skip? Those were the steps where you actually, you know, write things.

I have this theory that most of us – maybe all of us – enter into that stage somewhere early on in our development as writers. We begin writing, of course, because we enjoy it, but once we start to realize that we’re kind of good at it, and that there are people out there who make a living off of being good at it, well that’s when the trouble begins. The important thing is that we move past that stage.

I’ve reached a point now where I pretty much just assume that I won’t ever get a book published by a major publisher, that I won’t ever make enough money to live off of writing. And the surprising thing is that this is actually a very freeing realization, because now my focus is on meeting these small goals I set for myself. Writing for X amount of time every day. Submitting to X number of journals each month. Getting the kinks worked out of Y story and better developing Z character. Now I actually feel like I’m sort of living the life I want to . . . right now. I don’t have to fantasize about a future that will probably never happen because the point is that I want to write, and as long as I squeeze time out of my days to do this, I would say I’m living the dream. I am a writer.


Master Dayton said...

Hey Ash,

I completely agree. I was a very prolific writer when I was younger - and still am although much of it now is freelance work. I definitely didn't dream of press releases, ghost writing and editing someone else's soon to be published novel, or Internet articles when I was young - I dreamed of the great American novels that would change the world and get me painted on a Barnes and Noble mural someday between Steinbeck and Hemingway - preferably with my back to Fitzgerald. But here I am, I make a living with my words, and I'm with you. It's not the dream I thought I wanted when I was younger - but I still get several stories and poems published each year, I know I'm good enough to get a novel published, and meanwhile I really enjoy my life and get just as much satisifaction out of my freelance writing as my creative...and that's a really good thing.

Shane "Master" Dayton

Ashley Cowger said...

Exactly! And I wonder if those other dream lives might not have been that fulfilling, anyway.