It’s only the end of January, but you may have already lost your drive to keep your New Year’s writing goals. An age-old problem. Nearly a hundred years ago, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary:
It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power that bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time . . . Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in . . . keep one at it more than anything.
Austin Kleon put a modern spin on it with a line graph in Steal Like an Artist.
It’s easy to step aside and let life get in the way. It is very difficult to press on and succeed. In Coaching the Artist Within, Eric Maisel writes:
Some determined artists weather even the most severe crises. But for most of us even ordinary, everyday crises stop us in our tracks. Most of these crises are internal, emotional, and existential, crises of faith and self-doubt, crises of self-recrimination and self-incrimination, crises of fear and meaninglessness. A marital spat or a single self-representation—calling yourself “untalented,” say—is sufficient to keep a person from writing the book she may otherwise be close to writing. The “middle of things” that people are always in is, first of all, themselves: their own mind, their own inner conflicts, their own skin.
Sometimes it may seem as if nothing much is going on. You come home from work, have a little dinner, then turn on the television instead of turning toward the novel you hope to write. What exactly are you in the middle of there? Don’t you have a “perfectly free” few hours in which to write? Absolutely not. To believe that just because you have no particular errands to run or duties to perform means that you are somehow not trapped in your own personality and your own culture is not to understand what being in the middle of things means. You are always in the middle of your personality, always in the middle of your stream of consciousness, always in the middle of your culture. There is no exit.
Unless you are impervious to the facts of existence – and no one is – you must learn how to create in the middle of things . . . You must learn how to create even if you hate your country’s policies or your own [writing] style. You must learn how to create even if you are embroiled in a bad marriage or living alone and lonely. You must learn how to create even if you work eight hours a day at a silly job or, sometimes worse, find yourself at home all day with time on your hands.
If you wait for a better time to create, better than this very moment, if you wait until you feel settled, divinely inspired, perfectly centered, unburdened of your usual worries, or free of your own skin, forget about it. You will still be waiting tomorrow and the next day, wondering why you never managed to begin, wondering how you did such an excellent job of disappointing yourself. Tweet This
Maisel told a story of the author James Jones who was one of the lucky few to earn a heap of money from his writing. Jones was a generous guy and wanted to help “some poor writers he knew by giving them enough money so that they could quit their days jobs and write.” And do you know what happened to those writers who finally had all the time in the world to write? They didn’t write a single damned thing.