"Why not just quit?" Creativity and Self-Doubt

Today my dreams of success in a writing career are very far away. I think back to the daydreams I had as a younger writer, seeing my best-selling book on store shelves; smiling at the next person in line at the book signing that stretched back so far I couldn't see the end of it. The wisdom I'd share with less experienced writers! The love that would radiate from me onto the page, filling my readers with hope and encouragement; the stories I would tell; the way that I'd relate to others through my work.

Yesterday I got a rejection email from a popular blog. "We're so glad that you submitted your work to us, but unfortunately ..."

But this doubt set in before that email. Earlier in the afternoon as I was scrolling through blogs I felt a deep, pressing weight on my spirit. Does the world really need more writers? We are inundated with words of wisdom, drowning in people's opinions. If you want to solve your problems all you need to do is hop online. Everyone has "been there," everybody has "solutions to share."

Who am I in a sea of writers? I'm a tiny drop, an insignificant dot of moisture.

Doubt floods my heart. Ugly, dark words that I work to keep at bay on bad days explode like popcorn, one after the other after the other.

"No one needs more advice." 
"There are other writers doing this work better than you." 
"Why not just quit? You're not really a very good writer anyway." 
"The important people are already giving readers what they need. You shouldn't bother trying." 
"No one cares what you have to say. You're not special, so why should they?" 
"It's all been said already." 

As I sat on the couch yesterday afternoon, I remembered a writer's conference I attended back in 2011. That was a hard year for me, but I knew that attending this conference was important and would change my career. I went in filled with confidence. I had, after all, been writing for three years as my full-time career at this point. Surely, I would be able to offer advice and help to novices, while simultaneously wowing an agent during the pitch session.

Everything went wrong. I felt like an insignificant ant on the plains of Africa. Gazelles leaped by, elephants and tigers and lions paraded past. And I stood in the shadows, trying not to get trampled. The speakers were one thing (I expected to feel awed and overshadowed by these people), but every other writer I spoke with had genius ideas, excellent focus, a plan and a platform. I struggled between pitching one of two ideas to the agent and she didn't like either so in the end it didn't matter. A critique member had written so many red notes on my sample piece I thought she was joking.

I was out of my league. I felt ridiculous. I left that conference discouraged and wondering why I had spent all the time and money on something that not only didn't help me in my journey, but left me worse off than where I'd started.

There have been so many times (including yesterday and this morning) when I just want to quit. I want to give this up and cry "Uncle!" I want to do what regular people do: work at my job and come home and take care of my family and watch Netflix and feel no need or desire to be or do anything different.

But I can't. I've tried it before and was miserable. There is something inside of me, something way down in the deep part of my soul that needs this--needs creativity--to fully be myself. For whatever reason, I was made me this way on purpose. 

That is very hard to accept on days like today, when I feel so stupid and clumsy and untalented. When it feels like the world is running at sprint speed and I'm still lacing up my sneakers, tripping at the starting line.

What I want right now is to give up. What I need right now is to keep going and keep my eyes focused on my own work, my own path, my own journey.

I have this quote pinned up above my desk.

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else." Galations 6:4 (NIV)

I've mentioned before that I struggle with creative envy, and this quote helps me to bring my gaze where it needs to be. But on days like today, it's so, so hard to not want what other successful creatives have.

How do I block it all out--the glamour and glitz, the beauty and success--and focus on my daily steps? By tossing pebbles not pushing boulders. By letting go of what I want and letting Spirit in. By getting quiet and by trying however small it looks, to be a brave creative today.

By accepting that sometimes creativity, like life, is hard and unfair and tiring and overwhelming. And extending grace to myself when I'm weak and fragile.


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