Finding Joy in Tiny Victories

You may have heard or read about authors or other artists having problems with depression or other mental disorders.  I’ve often pondered why this is the case.  Perhaps it’s because we have to be so connected to and aware of our emotions and the emotions of our creations.  Perhaps our lives were predisposed to depression and mental health problems, and that’s what led us down the path of creative expression in the first place.  It’s really a chicken or egg question we have here.

Regardless, my point today is that depression is real.  Trying to ignore it or pretend it isn’t there won’t make it go away.  So, if you find yourself in a period of depression, anxiety, writer’s block, or a general funk, I’ve found in my own life that it’s important to celebrate the “tiny” victories.  I put tiny in quotation marks because some days those “tiny” victories feel enormous.  Size is relative and all about perspective anyway, right?

So what do I mean exactly when I say “tiny victory?”

I mean anything that seemed difficult that day, that took effort for you to accomplish.  Our victories change size and perspective depending on what else is going on in our lives.  I’ve learned a great deal from my amateur foray into photography.  Take these leaves for example:

20180519_203226

Or these dandelions:

20180519_203503

Zoomed in on them, then blown up even more on the screen, they can look huge.  But I know how tiny they are in real life.  Logically, in my brain I know that.  But sometimes, when life forces us to zoom in on the little things, when those little things feel too overwhelmingly large to us, we can find beauty, contentment, and joy in overcoming those seemingly small things.

To extend the metaphor, a tree can be broken down into smaller parts, like leaves.  And the leaves into tiny fibers.  If when you look at the task ahead, whether that’s writing a novel, or a story, a blog, or completing any major project.  It’s sometimes helpful to focus in on completing the smaller tasks that make up the major project, and celebrating each of those victories to give yourself encouragement for the next step.

To give you a practical example of what I’ve been describing, I’ll tell you a bit of my own story.  Over the past two years, I worked very hard every day at writing a novel, which I then completed the first draft of on January 1 of this year.  I was in a peak creative time, sometimes knocking out one or two chapters in one weekend.  But I couldn’t possibly maintain that level of creative production 100% of the time.  That would be like running a marathon constantly.

I’ve now entered what feels like a more dormant period.  Partially as a respite after running the marathon of writing the novel, and partially because I’m in a period of depression in my personal life.  I’m editing a piece of the novel at a time.  Some days, I may only complete one or two paragraphs or a scene.  I still have to allow myself to count those days as victories for my sanity.  It won’t do me any good to beat myself up for not being more productive right now.  That kind of self-criticism is detrimental to creativity anyway.  So, I give myself space to breathe, rest, and recuperate.

So, as you’re focusing on the tiny tasks and victories, also step back and look at the big picture of your creative career or life.  There are peaks and there are valleys, but all together, they make a beautiful whole.

20180519_203348

Secrets from the Writing Desk

Have you ever had the visual in your head of a writer sitting down at a typewriter or computer with the words just flowing with brilliance and eloquence in one never ending string of beauty?

antique-black-and-white-classic-163116

Well, I have a hard truth for you.  Are you ready?  Writing isn’t like that.  That’s a fiction created for movies and TV.  The uncomfortable truth is that writing is hard.  It will frustrate you as much as it gives you a high unlike any you’ve ever felt.  There will be days when you just want to chuck and all and stick with your day job.  That’s the difference between reality and fiction.  Reality is messy and ugly sometimes, often more than it is beautiful.  Fiction can take all of the ugly things and put them into a neater and more palatable package.

Anne Sexton my pic

Sometimes the only thing that can keep you on the writing path through all of the hard times, the writer’s block, the frustration, the slogging through a million words is your passion for those words.  If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, if you get annoyed with other things in your life because they take away from your writing time, if the you couldn’t stop the words from flowing out of you if you tried, you may be a writer.

Wordsworth writing But is that all that’s required to be a writer?

Sadly, no.  Because once you’ve “filled your paper with the breathings of your heart,” then comes the editing.  The hard work of organizing, tightening, clarifying, cutting, and adding.  The job of a writer is communication, and if your reader can’t understand what you’re trying to communicate, then what’s the point?  If all you want to do is spill your guts on the page, then perhaps a journal would be the right venue.  But if you want to share your writing with others, it’s your job to help them understand.

There are hundreds, even thousands of people who have put their thoughts down on paper.  But the numbers are much smaller for those who have taken the necessary next steps to bring a coherent piece to other readers.  That is the line that separates a professional from an amateur, in my opinion.  A professional keeps pushing through past the catharsis of getting their words on paper, past the blocks, the frustration, the criticism.  A professional is always learning, always trying to improve the work.

20180508_195931

Anyone can wish and dream, but it takes hard work to turn a wish into reality.