The Slow Path to Writing Success (or, What I Learned from Drug Addicts)
Drug addicts, alcoholics, people with suicidal tendencies — and writers. We can all relate to each other.
I work in wilderness therapy with clients who struggle with various addictions and behavioral problems. And I’m also a writer who has spent the last five years writing a book.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels between addiction and creativity. And over the past five years, I’ve learned how they can make us better at writing and at living.
It’s a long road (be patient)
I work with people who realize how much they’ve screwed up. They’ve fought their addictions before, but now the light bulb has just gone off. And they’re ready to make a change.
After this realization, they know what to do. But they are also in the middle of the desert and hundreds of miles from anywhere. This is where the work starts.
The first year I started writing my book, I immediately sent the manuscript off to publishers. Having completed my first draft, I thought I knew what to do and was ready to get published.
The book was totally ignored — and with good reason. At the time, it closely resembled a steaming pile of crap. I thought I was done before the work had even begun.
A support system helps
Wilderness therapy is group therapy. Someone who struggles with depression is cast into a group with heroin addicts and abuse victims. Being in a group stirs up more from within and brings more insight than if they were alone, focusing on a single problem.
During year two of writing my book, I focused on telling my story. My head was so deep in the writing and editing process that I lost all perspective.
Then I brought others in and got group help. Others read my work and critiqued it. I talked with them about their writing. Through the eyes of other, I was able to see more than I could on my own.
Others’ insights took my writing to new levels.
Learn from a master
It’s great to be surrounded by others doing the same thing, seeking and striving for success together. But at some point, a little more expertise is required.
In wilderness therapy, the masters are the actual therapists. Their wisdom gained through experience, education, training, and hard work is priceless. A therapist’s skill set can make all the difference to a client.
In year three, I consulted Stephen King. While he didn’t quite return my calls, he wrote me (and everyone else) a fantastic memoir.
His book, On Writing, challenged how I look at the writing (and reading) process. His mantra of “read a lot, write a lot” inspired me to look more closely at the writing I enjoy and the writing I don’t like.
Then I realized I had a slew of zestfully bad adverbs, enough stale writing to inspire another season of Seventh Heaven, and my metaphors were a drunk sailor on Tuesday.
Get outside your normal environment
Clients go to wilderness therapy to get out of their unhealthy home life. The solitude of the wilderness affords them an opportunity to immerse themselves into a healthier setting.
Being cut off from what they are used to allows for a new perspective on life. This frequently becomes a catalyst for change.
After almost four years of writing, editing, rewriting, and endlessly shuffling words around, I needed a break from my book. So I put my writing on hold and went to backpack through Europe for six months.
I focused on other things, such as Italian gelato, and read a lot of books. It was necessary for me to pull out of the writing process for awhile and breathe, to live something different for a season.
When I came back to writing, I was able to write with a new perspective. And my book became better.
Work on what is in your control (and let go of what is not)
So often I see clients get worked up over things they can’t control. It’s raining again! I’m cold and wet and the whole world is against me! Nope, it’s just raining again.
But there is something you can control: your attitude, your work ethic, and your preparedness. Why don’t you try putting on your rain jacket for starters?
As a writer, I can’t control how others receive my work. Some might love it, and some may hate it. Others might not give two bits (and other rhyming words).
I can’t control if a publisher will want my work. And I can’t control how successful it is. If I rail against the world for things that are out of my control, I’m unnecessarily giving away power (and expending a great deal of energy). It’s a waste.
But I can control how I feel, how hard I work, and how much I prepare.
How to evaluate your process
We all want to write that overnight success, but life often has a different lesson to teach us. As you endeavor to write your masterpiece, ask yourself:
- Am I setting myself up for success?
- Am I laying the foundation of consistent hard work?
- Am I diligent and persistent?
- Am I approaching my day, my work, and my writing, with positivity, hopefulness, and diligence?
After five years of working on a single project, my work is just now starting to pay off. I finally have my this book published. It longer than I thought it would, but I’m glad.
The greatest reward is having something I can be proud of, even if it took half a decade. In fact, I think the fact that it took a long time is what made the journey worth the destination.
So my encouragement to you, dear writer, is this: Invest energy in what you can control, and let go of what you can’t. Write like you mean it, and be okay with the process taking as long as it needs to take.
What project of yours is taking longer than it should? What lessons are you learning? Share in the comments.
Disclosure: The above book links are affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you click the link and buy a book. Just my way of keeping this blog going.