Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Slow Path to Writing Success (or, What I Learned from Drug Addicts)

From Jeff: This is a guest article from Eric Hanson. Eric works in southwest Utah in wilderness therapy. He is the author of The Wild of God: A Global Journey. You can follow him on Twitter @ericishanson.

Drug addicts, alcoholics, people with suicidal tendencies — and writers. We can all relate to each other.

Bicycle riding slowly

Photo Credit: Pörrö via Compfight cc

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.

About Eric Hanson

Eric works in southwest Utah in wilderness therapy. He is the author of The Wild of God: A Global Journey. You can follow him on Twitter @ericishanson.

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  • So much good wisdom here. I especially agree with the concept of exposure to a trusted group. The best (and most challenging) thing for me was orally telling my LIFE story to a group of women and then doing it two more times as a leader in other groups.

    Thanks for the encouragement Eric! But don’t go knockin’ drunk sailor on Tuesday metaphors.I’m sure I’ve stumbled upon (and used) plenty of those myself. 🙂

    •  Hey Samantha,
      I’m so glad that you appreciate drunk sailor metaphors. That means you might enjoy my book!

  • Great lessons, and what an interesting parallel.  I have to admit, I’m totally guilty of expecting to start something and see results right away – even when I recognize that I’m chasing goals that need long-term horizons to succeed.
    It’s challenging to remain focused day-in and day-out, but it’s comforting to know that plenty of other people are in the same boat (and that my goals can’t be nearly as difficult as working on staying sober post-addiction).

    Thanks for the great work you do!

    •  Thanks Sarah. It’s only natural to want instant results. We all crave it. Being able to delay gratification and give hard work a place in our life can go a long way.

  • Tifdra

    Great article to put and keep things in perspective. I am launching a freelance writing and blogging business after being a very successful professional salesperson for 18 years. I also have a product that I want to market. I am currently working on a blog to showcase my business writing skills, as all my published articles are literally newsprint, and were done a while ago when I opted to pursue selling (um, hello commissions!) and left journalism off to the sidelines. My blog is about small, unique businesses in Milwaukee and I am very excited to interview and tell the stories of these entrepreneurs.

    My freelance and business projects may take longer than I plan to launch, but I highly agree with your insights on researching experts, controlling what you can and never giving up. It is a scary, yet exciting place when you realize you can control your own destiny and begin with these first shakey steps. Good luck with your book!
    Tiffany, http://www.chicolatediaries.com

    •  Thanks a lot Tiffany. Sounds like you’ve got some exciting things in the works.

  • Very interesting parallels. Sounds like the therapy you provide is quite unique.

    •  It is something I really believe in. The wilderness is such a powerful place for anyone, and it becomes a fantastic environment for change.  Plus I just love being outside for a week at a time, so, bonus!

  • I figured out a long time ago that I don’t know what I’m doing, but I might as well keep going and learning along the way. All good points, but for me the one about getting outside of your normal environment put a few things in perspective. Thanks for sharing, again. 

  • I liked your comparison here, Eric.  I can see the similarities too.  Recovery and becoming better at our craft don’t happen over night.  It’s a journey.  Being vulnerable and being willing to share our weaknesses with others also helps us to heal and to grow. 

  • I’m going to be honest here – I have a severe self-confidence, self-esteem problem. I have heard so many stories of success – written of course, by successful people, not by the large proportion who aren’t quite as successful – it’s beginning to have no impact on me whatsoever. 

    And it’s not because I don’t want others to be successful, because I do, and I have nothing whatsoever against any of the individuals.

    I love your story – it’s awesome, and a total inspiration in many ways to me.But the fact remains inside I beleive I could follow every single advice ever written, every 5 steps plan, every strategy, every right attitude, all the work and investment possible, have all the talent in the world, and it wouldn’t matter. I would still end up a total failure, the exception to the rule. 

    Sounds totally ridiculous right? Yep, it is totally ridiculous. It’s irrational, and probably not true. It sounds bitter, twisted, and childish – because it is. But it’s so powerful I can’t control it when it gets enough fuel – and reading others great stories does this. Because I wants to have my own great story. But of course, no matter what I do, I deep down believe it’s not going to happen – because it’s me. The numbers thing doesn’t matter – apart from when I see others doing the same things as me and doing better. But then I’m not surprised, I just resign myself to the fact I’m simply me, and so it was always going to be that way.

    It’s like I’m fighting against myself all the time, and until I beat these insecurities and consign them to history, I’m always going to have the deep suspicion no matter what I do, I will fail. I don’t want to feel bitter every time I hear a great story of someone’s success. I want to be pleased for others, and still be secure in my ability to be a success, to have enough confidence to give my best to my craft and to succeed, to be the writer I can be. I don’t like my insecurities. I don’t like this bitterness and childish anger I feel, and the resignation in my heart which is so powerful. But I struggle to see a way of overcoming it.

    Your story is awesome, and a total inspiration. But I can’t hide the feeling of resignation and despair it stirs up in me. Anyone any ideas what I can do?

    •  Well I’m disappointed I didn’t get to read your other comment, there was probably a lot of heart in it.  I’m glad you were inspired!

      • Good for you, James!

        • Thanks Jeff – I did remember our chat the other day when editing the post. It’s often hard to stay positive, but I’m trying! 🙂

          • Sounds like there’s some backstory here. And James I’d be interested in talking with you more as well. We can’t control the events going on around us. But we can control our attitude and reactions. Our small choices in each moment carry a lot of weight. I see this consistently with clients I work with. Your daily choices to stay positive will serve you well. I can guarantee you that.

            • Eric, that would be awesome – would love to chat to you further. If you want to contact me via e-mail on jamespressgang@hotmail.com then we can connect & I can share my story with you in more detail. I do find it difficult to stay positive every single day, and especially when things are difficult or play to my insecurities. But I’m improving, step by step. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • As a Utah teenager and drug addict I spent 60 days in one of these wilderness rehabs in southwest Utah.  It was one of the best experiences of my life.  Later in life I worked as a counselor for the same organization and learned from the teens I encountered, though my own addictions were far from over.  That was 15 years ago and today I am engaged in the battle of writing a memoir about a 10-year affair with heroin (clean 2 years).  There is truthfulness in pain, and though I know not the source, I see pain as the purest expression of love – of life’s longing for itself through corrective measures.  In some small way I hope to reveal this in my words.  Thanks for the inspiring words, Eric, and for the work you do.  I look forward to reading your book.

    •  First of all, well done on being clean for 2 years. That is not easy. Good job and keep going.  Your words have a poetic flair – beautiful.  Keep working on your book because someday soon I want to be reading YOUR book.

  • Thank you for this Jeff! When I came across this email I was actually thinking about a totally different subject (a friend of mine who has had many troubles and who I worry about a good deal). These words really spoke to me. I agree that my writing is going to be a long process, but so is the road to recovery for my dear beloved friend. ” Invest energy in what you can control, and let go of what you can’t. (Love) like you mean it, and be okay with the process taking as long as it needs to take.” – that’s what I am taking away with me today.

    •  Thanks for your input Kate. I appreciate that.

      • Eric! I’m sorry, I thought this was Jeff’s post – I should have looked more carefully – thank you for your words, they meant a lot to me!

  • Thanks for this post Eric – it’s an inspiration to keep going, to keep staying positive, and to be patient. These are areas I struggle with a lot, and I’m grateful I’m not alone in going through some of these struggles. I have battled a lot with insecurities, fears, comparisons and also impatience – and this is an inspiration to keep going.

    Thanks for your honesty and wisdom – it’s an amazing story. And we all need to be honest with ourselves about our own weaknesses, and own our own story, before we can grow properly. 

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    •  Thanks James.  I’ve got a feeling that most people (I’m included) can relate to the emotions you have been going through.

  • Marcia Laycock

    Wise words. Thanks. I posted a couple of short thoughts that are similar on my blog recently. Check it out if you have a moment – http://www.writer-lee.blogspot.com

  • Lesa Engelthaler

    wise words. perfect parallels–I had not considered. beautiful images. can’t wait to read your book Eric! thanks jeff!  

  • Eric, your words in this post were just what I needed.  You so confirmed so much for me. I am a NEW blog writer & don’t know much of anything except for the fact that I love to learn; it’s a passion and now trying to write. 

    •  Thanks Helen! And knowing what you love and are passionate about is a pretty darn good place to start!

  • Della

    You convinced me that although I need to keep my eye on the goal (my first book) the trick of it all is to enjoy the journey.  Thanks. 

    •  Sounds cliche but it is so true! For myself, I certainly hope to attain a certain amount of recognition (I’d be lying if I said that was unimportant). But if I enjoy the journey, no matter the destination, how could that not be a success!

  • “Write like you mean it, and be okay with the process taking as long as it needs to take.” The latter part is a bit hard to hear, but sounds like wisdom. Thanks for the reality check. 

    •  It can be a bit difficult to hear, yes.  But let’s look at Jeff for example. He strove for a long time with his first blog with little recognition. That allowed him to be in the position he is in now and be someone who influences a lot of people.

  • DS

    It’s absolutely paramount to understand that somethings you just can’t control.  Great point!

    •  Thanks DS! And when you realize what is actually outside your control, it becomes significantly easier to move forward and focus on the right things.

  • I am writing a book about believing in yourself. As I edit the book, I realize I need to believe what I wrote. Sometimes it is easier to give advice than it is actually take it.

    • I TOTALLY know this one.  I am just about to finish up an eBook myself on personal success and change and as I go through the chapters, I say to myself, WOW, did I actually write this?  I wonder how I’m doing and what the world would be like if I totally followed my own advice :-).  I’m with you on this thought.

  • There really is no overnight successes, just lots of time of hard work paying off instantly, like when you’re hit with a ton of bricks.

    I too started writing, I’m in year two, in no hurry to finish.  I know it’s a process, but I’m remaining optimistic and persistent.

    Thanks for sharing and wish you all the success.  I’m learning from you.

  • Annette Gendler

    Thanks for the nice reminder that others are out there working just as hard. Loved hearing the parallels to dealing with depression and addiction. Your work sounds fascinating.

    •  That’s cool to hear. And I love my work. It’s very rewarding. Camping out in the wilderness with these kids and young adults keeps life pretty interesting!

  • Eric,
    Very well done. I totllay agree with your ideas about wd iters needing “group therapy.”
    I think haveing other writers around that can inspire, push and sometimes give us a much needed KiTP (Kick in The Pants) makes us better writers.

  • I’m reading this and going ‘5 Years is a long time’ :-).  But, I get it.  I wrote my first book last year with the help of a ghost writer that I hired.  It was a longer process than I thought.  But, It was worth it.  I am now just about to finish up an eBook and have ideas for two other books that I want to write.  Who knows how long they will take.  But, I’m excited about the process and the possibility.  THanks for this reminder about enjoying the process.

    •  Robert, I too look back at my own process and think, “man, five years was a long time!” But I learned so much and I won’t take that back. I can only hope my next book takes me, what, half as long?
      Sounds like you are bubbling over with ideas now. Good luck!

  • journal

    i am a big fan of group therapy and wilderness therapy. now, a fan of yours too. great article. i value your work with those who are changing their lives.

  • i like you

  • Great post, Jeff. I’ve self published and sales have been slow, but it’s only been a year. I think I’m right on track. Book II comes out on May 1, 2013. I’m slowly gathering more support people, and I keep writing.

  • Vicki

    thanks — I needed to be reminded this morning to get out of the environment…thanks again and keep writing!

  • Brighter7

    Jeff, you have me packing my gear. I love heading to the wilderness to gain a new perspective. For my Get Cognified project, it’s taken me five years to script a program for people to take online. I’m really scratching the bottom of the barrel now financially, but am rich in the wisdom I’ve gained. I’m launching it soon. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • Glad you’re encouraged! And yes, get into the wilderness at any excuse. It’s just like milk, does a body good.

  • Lisa

    Okay, my book has taken over 5 years so far. And I started writing in earnest 5 years before I started it. Ack.
    Thanks for this – it’s good to know others are on the same “slow train” that I am. On the bright side, now that I am “done” my first draft – yippee! – I can certainly see how much I have grown as a writer over the last 5 years. So it wasn’t wasted time, but yeesh. Still a long ways to go, methinks, before I can approach a publisher. And I’m not getting any younger….drat….

    • thanks for commenting Lisa. It can be quite discouraging at times. I know I suffered from that often. It sounds cliche but if you are learning, its not a waste of time. And like Jeff says, at some point you need to ship it!

  • renee

    Wow, this helps! Thanks for sharing.

  • Krizelle

    Wow! Everything really happens for a reason. The message of this post is just what I needed for the day. Earlier, I received a feedback email from a writing coach regarding the novelette manuscript I sent him last December. His response was relatively late. But I think that’s part of the “slow process” that I had to wait patiently until I heard from him. With his comments, I think I am ready now to take on more of this slow process to improve my masterpiece. I may take 5 years also and I may need to travel to other places as well so that I can put more depth to my story. But, yeah, I’m very willing to take on my first journey as a novelist slowly but surely. I hope I will succeed. Go! Go! Go! 🙂 Thanks for this helpful post! 😀

  • Thanks to you, I am a writer. It’s only been of late that I’ve attended to this in a serious manner. It never dawned on me there was a connection between addiction and creativity, to which I fit both. I’m learning to how to make writing a habit, every day at the same time. I’m learning the importance of having more eyes because we’re myopic by ourselves. As with anything we seek to improve, it’s important we surround ourselves with stronger, more experienced writers in order to build our writing muscles. One day, I’ll have published a book and remember the path it took to get there. Great article. Thank you.

  • Aussiewriter

    Dear Eric Your thoughts are very helpful to me. I’ve been working on my first book for over 3 years and sometimes feel discouraged it has taken so long – especially since I recently met with a publisher and to my surprise she didn’t want to offer me a huge contract on the spot 😉 She said it needed more work. Writing is teaching me a lot about the unhelpfulness of fear, vanity and false pride. And the importance of writing with love, patience, trust, diligence and a positive frame of mind. As it turns out I’ve also been sober for 10 years after struggling with alcoholism (writing is one of the many gifts of sobriety) and I’ve learnt so much on that journey too. Thanks again for your post.

    • Well done on your sobriety. That’s not easy work. I am glad you found this helpful. I believe the vast majority of writers, including successful ones, take a long time to achieve their goals. Its too easy to see success stories without the long road of hard work and time that got them there. I like your thoughts here. Thanks for commenting!

  • Liam Ho

    Thanks for the tips to writing. It has helped me as a reminder to how to improve my writing. Writing does take time doesn’t it, but… it’s always worth the wait.

    • We writers have to appreciate delayed gratification don’t we?

  • Chas

    The timing of your post could not have come at a better time for me. After a long time (decade) away from writing, I’ve recently begun again. Things were progressing — or at least I thought so. I’ve been seeking a writer’s critique group, knowing I needed to work on things, and, after several weeks delay, thought I’d found one. Until today, when they emailed me my rejection.

    Alone, or in a group, my focus is on progress. Thanks for the good advice.

    • Hey Chas, picking your writing back up is the best thing you can do. Nice work. And you have no control over how others will receive your work. So don’t let it control you. And keep going!

  • FromHisPresence

    Wow, awesome post, thanks so much. It’s easy for me to forget how long it takes to really do something significant. I’ve only been blogging for 5 months and when I started, I “promised” myself that I wouldn’t judge my progress until I had been at it for a year. Ha! That “promise” went right out the window. But you’re right, I’ve got to maintain perspective and just keep plugging on. Thanks so much for such a postiive, encouraging post!

    • Oh man, I do the same thing all the time!

  • Michael, thanks for the encouragement to keep at things. This long-haul, do-the-work, mentality isn’t glamorous, but it sure works. By the way, I loved your use of King’s favorite adverb; made me laugh.

  • This is timely because my friend and I (who is also a writer at heart) were just talking about the things we would like to write and some of our imaginations. We also talked about the recent news about student who committed suicide. Both of us admitted that we have dark side and dark thoughts that even though we don’t have suicidal tendencies, we have a deeper view about death. Of course we can relate to each other and this guest post is a real eye opener.

  • Getting ready to launch my first published book and it’s been a long intense project. I’m not patient at all but I know that taking these steps and being patient are what’s going to pay off.

    • Yep, I have a hard time being patient too! That’s pretty much everybody. Good luck on your book launch!

  • As a writer who is beginning in the field, this post spoke volumes to me and cements the fact that any one person’s craft is developed through a process and a journey. The fact that the reward is in the journey itself, not the destination, is a soothing reminder as we press forward to improve and refine our craft.

  • feel perfect =)

  • Allison

    Wow. This is…wow.
    Never thought about writing like this. What a new insight. Thanks. 🙂

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