An interesting conversation took place in an online writing community this morning about entitlement and self-improvement. I’ve seen many a beginning writer sit back and throw a woe-is-me party.
“But I can’t write every day! I have ________(kids! work! crochet class!)______!”
“But you don’t understand! I’m poor! I can’t possibly improve my craft through writing conferences, critique groups, books, fill in whatever excuse you like here!”
There is nothing wrong with having a family, having a job, enjoying extracurricular and enriching activities. There is nothing wrong with being poor either.
But there is definitely something wrong with using excuses as a reason why you can’t meet your dream. Before someone who wants to write begins, he/she needs to ask him/herself, this:
What is your dream?
Neil Gaiman said it best in his speech, “Make Good Art!” (Which if you haven’t seen, you MUST go see, no matter what your dream may be!) If your jobs and decisions aren’t taking you towards that dream in some way, then you’re going to struggle reaching your dream.
I spent 3/4 of my life dirt poor. The kind of poor that makes one wonder about where food will come from next or whether or not we can make the rent. And it sucks. Adversity is so difficult, but it is something one can overcome. Langston Hughes did it. He didn’t stay in Harlem and cry about how hard it was. He educated himself. He worked very, very hard so that he could overcome the obstacles in his way. J. K. Rowling did the very same. She relied on government assistance for a long time while she wrote and wrote, all the while a single parent, so that she could achieve her goals and dreams.
No one said it would be easy. There will be days when you scream. Days when you cry. And days when you give up. The difference is that when those days come, you shake yourself off and keep writing. Keep going forward.
My husband had a very succinct way of putting that this morning. He said:
“You suck. Do better.”
He followed that up with the statement that those words apply to EVERYONE. Everyone has room for improvement. If you don’t try to improve yourself and your situation, then life will be quite difficult and dreams will feel unattainable.
My husband and I are very fortunate. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t know this. But part of the reason that life has been fortunate to us is because we worked hard, which allowed opportunities to reach us that otherwise would not have. My husband’s employer would not have sought him out for his amazing job if he hadn’t worked hard previously to build his skills and better himself. Opportunities can and will pass you by if you aren’t looking for them, if you aren’t working toward them.
No one is going to walk up to you and say, “Let me give you a billion dollars and fulfill all your dreams.” If it were that easy, more people would be doing what they love for a living.
If I want to achieve my goals, self-improvement and self-reflection are necessary. They aren’t the enemy, folks. I am where I am as a writer because of adversity. In spite of adversity.
But still, I suck. I will do better.
2 Replies to “You suck. Do better.”
I think part of the challenge underneath the fear-inducing excuses (thanks cultural-conditioning!) is not knowing *how* to break down your dream into achievable mini-goals that incrementally get you there. The desire of “being a writer” as an example may feel too overwhelming and daunting for many, and easily send one into a negative spiral where you quickly feel incapable. So I find the more specific you can get with setting goals, the better you feel about making progress. Sometimes we set goals that are too vague and again, that feeling of incapability grips us and it feels impossible. Here are some tips I found helpful: 1. Make your goals very specific. Instead of “Finish recording songs”, write “finish recording chorus, start writing bridge for song X.” 2. Set a timer. If you’re just starting out with pursing something, or you’re not feeling great, even 15 minutes is awesome. The point is, it sets you up with a routine you feel like you CAN work with and we know so much of it is the getting started part that can be the most challenging. 3. Take timed breaks. Leave the room. Get a snack or go outside. Then once the timer goes off, get back in there and set the timer for another round. 4. Get up early. Ideally pre-dawn. Something about watching the sunrise and getting your biorhythms going helps you meet the day with more focus and inspiration. 5. Intention-setting. Give yourself 10 minutes in the morning to set intentions about how you want you your day to go and how you want to *feel* as it unfolds. Tap into your capacity for courage, strength, focus and creativity. Remember that it’s okay if you feel scared to pursue something you care about. They go hand in hand and it doesn’t have to stop you.
Agreed. One of my first goals is sell enough books to buy a coffee. It’s obtainable. It’s manageable. Then sell enough to pay the Internet bill, and so on.
I disagree with the pre-dawn stuff, but then, I’m a night owl. My biorhythms do better at night. If I’m up before the sun, I’m in a sludgy-funk all day no matter how much sleep I got. 😉
So I would say instead, listen to your body. 😀
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