There is a lot of wisdom to be found in 12 Step Recovery programs that can carry over quite nicely into the realm of writing or any other artistic endeavor. As you may know, a central theme in recovery is how to obtain and keep your serenity. Let me tell you, when it comes to writing, I tend to have little to none of that magical quality, that sense of balance, peace and general OKness. That is, except when I’m actually writing. Go figure.
My hours, days and hence life, tend to go like this:
7 AM -OMG, this is the funniest, best Space Opera ever written. I will now pause to compose my Nebula acceptance speech.
7:15 AM – OMG, this is the worst piece of crap ever committed to paper. What was I thinking?
8:30 AM – I like this idea, but there’s no market for it. Should I even bother with it? Start over? Go eat all the stale candy canes off the wreath on the neighbor’s front door?
8:40 AM- How will I spend my millions? Will I be benevolent or evil?
9:00 AM- OMG, got a rejection from that agent I met last year. Might as well quit writing entirely. I’m wasting my time here.
And so on and so forth. Occasionally, a rejection or rough writing day hits at just the wrong time, like right after I find out my cat has herpes or the washing machine freezes solid, and I crumble beneath the weight of it all. It is so hard to keep the faith at times like these. It seems impossible to be at peace with perceived failure, to be OK with the constant denial of the dream. I can go down the rabbit hole of despair quicker than The White Rabbit himself and often do. Luckily, I’ve learned a few essential truths that get me out of the hole, and I don’t waste much time down there anymore.
When I’m caught in a spiral of despair and hopelessness, recovery slogans come to my rescue. Short, simple and profound, they stop the spiral and snap me back to reality. In regards to writing my current favorite is “Do the next right thing.”
What’s the next right thing, you might well ask? Well, I’ve got a recovery quote taped above my computer from a little book called Courage to Change. It says, “Today, when faced with choices, I will opt for the path that enhances my self-esteem.” What enhances my self-esteem? Getting words on the page. Even bad words feed me like nothing else. Better than a mani-pedi, better than yoga, better than a raise, a new puppy or yes, even chocolate. So the next right thing means stop moping, sit my ass down in front of the computer and start typing. Pick up that broken scene and keep going. Start a new one. My characters will lead the way out of the hole if I let them.
Here’s another slogan that helps in dark times; “Let go and let God.” When it comes to writing, this means letting go of the book deal, the agent, the reviews, the marketability, the genius or lack thereof, all of those outcomes that have nothing to do with telling the story. I can only write effectively if I let go of all expectation and just let the words flow and trust that I’m compelled to do this for a reason, that God, The Universe, Santa, Rudolph and/or the Winter Warlock, are crazy jokesters who’ve got my back, no matter what the front looks like at the moment. All that other stuff will be waiting for me when I leave the safety zone of the desk.
I could go on and on, but here’s a final one for you; “First Things First”. First write the novel, story or poem, then worry about its marketability, its state of perfection, whatever reactions it might incur, whether it’s any good or not, later. Much, much later. The First Thing for every writer should be to write, painters to paint, sculptors to sculpt. And if you find yourself losing your serenity, chances are it’s because you’ve drifted away from your center, your story.