For years now I have been working to see my dreams of being a self-sufficient writer realized. In the beginning, I took small risks and so I had small setbacks. Eventually, I took the plunge into novel writing. My first novel remains unfinished, so that was a risk that ran somewhere in the grey area. I was sad and frustrated when I realized what I was writing just wasn't meant to be, but when inspiration struck, I wrote again. And this time I finished. I created my first novel, but after years of work.... nothing happened.
I felt my novel told the story I had wanted to tell, and so in that aspect, I had succeeded. But after a pile of rejections and no agent, I felt like a failure. Eventually, it just become something people would ask me about that made me cringe with regret. I felt like I had wasted my time, like a failure because I was still broke, and even worse, I felt massively insecure, as anyone would who felt universally rejected. My novel fell into the black hole that so many others do, the empty well where it seems the more you reach for it and call it back the further away it drifts until finally, you let go. With that, it feels like a part of yourself has fallen into that well. You feel like this is it - you tried and failed, and you don't have the strength to go through all of that again. Staring down into the dark abyss of the well, longing for something that always feels out of reach is a heavy feeling. It can spiral you down and away from ever taking another step towards seeing your dream realized. Finishing my novel was my first big writing risk, and with it, came my first big setback that truly knocked me on my ass.
Years later, I am finally writing my second novel. I learned a few things during the time I sat ass to the ground, unable to pick myself up. For one thing, when you're on the ground you're closer to the flowers. Haha. But there is truth to that joking, because I have learned that even when you're down there can be good in it. When you're pausing, you're soaking things in, letting yourself BE rather than DO, which is quiet incredible. Yes, it's painful to fall flat on your ass, but we're not going to focus on that. We're going to focus on how you transition forward.
If you think I'm going to tell you to get the hell off the ground and get going again - you're wrong! That's what everyone was telling me. To write another novel. Write short stories. Quit writing and get the hell on with my life. Whatever step I was going to take next I needed to take it. I needed to do it immediately for my own sake. I find this advice both insensitive and counter-productive. When someone fails to see their dream realized they are told to move on, either try again or do something else.
To me, taking time to pause is a desperately needed concept in our maxed to the limit world. Do you know that people who work shorter work weeks are actually proven to be more effective employees? So don't be afraid to take a breather. You won't get passed by, you'll be doing what others fail to get - that anything worth pursuing is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and you will go far further than your hyper busy peers.
Just because everyone around you is doing the GO GO GO thing doesn't mean they have any clue what they're doing. They're just doing what everyone else is. You will always hear people telling you to keep going, don't give up (see the quote below from Morgan Freeman). But what you don't hear is that you will also need to pause from time to time. Yes, moving on is essential and vital. But so is pacing yourself.
When someone gets out of a relationship they are often encouraged to take a breather. It's important to reflect after a relationship ends. You need time to consider what happened, why it happened, and if you want it to happen different. You've seen it yourself: a person jumps from one bad relationship to another, repeating patterns, and all you can do is wish they'd pause and see why they keep ending up in the same position.
This time to pause, reflect, and if necessary, to heal, is also much needed in our creative and dream fulfilling pursuits. And yet it's rarely granted. More often, we feel judged and afraid if we don't rush to the next thing. We feel we will be seen as failures, we will prove we're failures, and we'll single handedly drag down society by being lazy schmucks (because we can be both the most important person in the world and the least at the same time - or at least our brain will tell us this).
I believe our passion pursuits should be given the same respect, honoring and nurturing our relationships do. And why not? When you write a novel you create a relationship with it. When you go for something you do it because a big part of you cares deeply for it. The longer it takes, the more time you need to pause and reassess after. It's no different than dating. A short term relationship can be moved on from faster than a longer one, such as a marriage. The bigger the pursuit the more time you are allowed to offer yourself before jumping into the "What next."
If you have a dream and you've been knocked on your ass, unsure what to do next, here are some tips, which will hopefully help light the way ahead a little for you:
* Truly take time to just be and enjoy life! Seek out what makes you happy! For at least a few weeks, don't try to do anything (within reason - if you have a day job or kids to care for, do that, but I mean don't try to be ambitious for awhile). Go see movies. Laugh. Take walks. All of these things are ones we feel guilty indulging in, the pressure to GO GO GO will make you antsy, but if you can give yourself time to just be everything listed below will come more naturally and be more enjoyable.
* After you've taken time to just be, ease yourself back into doing. Try channeling your creative or passionate energy into something else. Do what you love, but without pressure. Everyone will tell you to write another novel, or if you're an entrepreneur, to begin again, or whatever it is you're moving towards. Do not listen to your well-wishers. If you're not ready you're not ready. These YOU SHOULD START ANOTHER XYZ NOW champions can feel like emotional bullies as we move through the scary landscape of post-risk. What I recommend is to find a way to stay open but in a way that is gentle to you also. If you plunge in head first and you're not ready, that's like exercising a muscle too soon after surgery. It needs time to rest for a reason. For me, writing screenplays was a wonderful way to stay creative, to write and not to feel the pressure of I must write a novel now or I will die. I also signed up for a song writing course recently. I am not a singer. I will never share this song with anyone. Anything that allows you to play with what you love, but without making you feel anxious over what will become of it, will help you to stay afloat until you're ready to really dive in again. Essentially, do it because it's FUN. If it doesn't feel fun, forget it. Save it for later.
* Find a way to stay away from feeling powerless. Sign up for some sort of short term challenge. I recently signed up for a 100 day dance challenge. Deepak Chopra is also doing another 21 day meditation event. Anything with a somewhat short time limit is perfect. It's enough time to feel accomplished, to remember you have the ability to self-discipline, to feel control over your life, and it'll get your mind off of things.
* Exercise. This can be combined with a short term challenge you choose, say walking or running every day for 30 days.
* Try to avoid "I should" situations, especially ones that make you feel you're in a spotlight. If you start to should yourself take a moment to pause, breathe, and ask yourself what you really want (i.e. I should go to this party, all my friends will be there.... I should go to this church event, people will know if I don't.... etc.) If you need time in to take a bath, be alone, or listen to music, do it. If going to a party where you know someone or many people are going to make you feel on the spot, fuck it. You don't have to go. You only have to honor where you're at (but don't get sucked into hiding, balance is essential with this one).
* Know that this will pass, and that taking this time to honor and listen to yourself isn't holding you back. It's helping you to pass through it faster and to prepare for whatever it is you'll do next. And you will do something. One day, the urge will strike and you'll be glad you rested, healed and recharged your batteries so you can go for it full force!