The importance of protecting our inner peace

Flower field and forest

I’ve never quite managed to take a real break from writing. Not because I write every day (I certainly don’t), but because even after weeks or months of not putting in any wordcount, I still think of my story, my ambitions and all the work I still need to do. Always have. And while it may sound poetic, artistic, fantastically dedicated and whatnot, it is in fact unhealthy. Not to mention less productive on the long run than working in bouts and breaks, and that’s one thing that seemed counterintuitive to me but it’s true.

There’s a very thin line between dedication and obsession, and I’m prone to cross it. Also, there’s a very subtle difference between inspiration driving me to write, and pressure chasing me like a blood-thirsty Orc.

It’s probably not escaped you that I have been somewhat absent lately. Less engaged with social media, with writing blog posts, with commenting on other blogs. I have been less active in the overall writing realm, snatched out of it by real-life circumstances.

The first weeks were excruciating. If you’ve ever had a bad conscience because you weren’t writing or “building your platform”, multiply that by ten and you know how I felt. I used to enjoy being up to date and studying all the facets of the industry, from the indie revolution, social media tricks and blogging, to branding and forging fruitful connections. It meant I was knowledgeable and savvy, and I worked hard for it. Then I suddenly couldn’t invest the same energy and time in it, and then I couldn’t get engaged with it at all anymore. And I felt like I was being left behind, falling out of sync with the rest of the writing world.

I was slipping through the cracks.

And you know what? It turns out that’s exactly what I needed. I involuntarily took a vacation from my typical preoccupations and worries, from my work and tasks, and it’s put things into a brilliantly clear perspective.

Friedrich Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher. He has really marked my adolescence, together with Richard Wagner and Marilyn Manson, my discovery of theoretical physics and reading my first science-fiction novel. And one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Nietzsche is this: “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” I’ve learned the true meaning of this quite early in life, and have never forgotten it. But I never really believed that being interested in the writing industry can ever become such an abyss. Especially since I’m not a day-dreamer, I’m quite pragmatic despite my “artistic” tendencies, and I know how businesses and industries function. But it has, it’s become an abyss and it was swallowing me, and if I wouldn’t have been forced to turn my back to it I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it, not for many more years.

My feeling of being left behind slowly gave way to relief.

It’s been almost two months since I’ve written anything new for my novel. I’ve reworked some parts, replotted half of it and reorganized my outline to a very promising new version, learning an astonishing lot about storytelling that I previously hadn’t properly grasped, but I haven’t actually written any text. I could bite my lip and weep in frustration that so much time has passed without a concrete result. I could feel like a slacker, an amateur, a loser. But I don’t. I can’t. Because I now understand things about my story, my writing and the writing world which were previously simply to close for me to recognize. I’ve wandered out between the trees, out of the forest, out onto a wide plane in the bare bright sunlight. And everything looks different from here.

I remember now why I started writing in the first place.

I wanted to explore hypothetical worlds and dig into the minds of hypothetical people, mash together all I’ve ever experienced, wished or feared to experience, grind it down and build something new from it. It was a natural continuation of playing as a child, of inventing adventures and exploring possibilities in a careless, limitless way. I didn’t start to write because I wanted to be published, because I wanted a hundred thousand Twitter followers and an author profile on Goodreads. I didn’t start to learn the craft of storytelling so I could win the Pulitzer or the Hugo. I learn because I want to outgrow and surprise myself, because I want to learn how to speak story, scream story, sing story in such a way that it will outlast me and my own limited understanding. I started to write because I love experimenting with realities, not because I want to beat some Amazon algorithm for a day.

Stepping away from that thick, boisterous forest allowed me to remember what writing really meant to me, and that it’s got so much more to do with REAL, IMMEDIATE LIFE than with the glittery, distant and fake world of the online writing industry.

Sure, in order to sell books and win a free-pass into the “published author” VIP club where they only serve caviar and champagne, we have to know how to navigate the industry. But that should be an appendix, an afterthought, a means to an end, not the damn purpose of it all! We should write and then find an audience who likes what we’ve written, not write with the sole purpose of catching as many readers as possibles. At least that’s not my purpose. That’s like fishing with dynamite—you get a ton of [dead] fish, but where’s the fun? Where’s the thrill of that wiggle at the end of the line and the success of knowing that one fish came to you?

I remembered why I write, and the clarity of those days when my sole interest was the exploration of potential words while living in the skin of potential people. I remembered what matters—the clarity and beauty of fiction before our focus slips to how others perceive it, before it slips out of our hands and the industry turns it into a product.

So I write this down to remind myself, should the need ever arise again: Focusing on how the industry transforms our creation into its product, instead of focusing on our creation, is nothing else than staring into an abyss and letting it suck our spirit dry.

I will write fiercely, naturally, and from that place of inner peace where only truth matters. Not because I strive to prove something, or to see my name listed somewhere. But because I love playing with imagination, it’s the way I explore life.

I will blog because it’s a conversation with you, and I wouldn’t stop calling my friends just because I was busy with other things. But I don’t blog because I’m trying to build a glossy Online-Me that sells stuff to people and feeds the industry machine.

AND I will no longer gasp over every spasm and twitch of the industry. I don’t care how Amazon does business, how much X or Y has earned last year, or how many agents offer selfpublishing services. I won’t invest any energy worrying about things I can’t control.

I’m not riding at the top of any revolution, I won’t change the world with my opinions, won’t pave the way for any new generation. I don’t want to. Those jobs are taken. All I want is to write, to love that I write and what I write, and to enjoy my life. To understand life in all its beauty, not to drown it out with the glare of my browser.

“Take a walk outside — it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.” ~Rasheed Ogunlaru

 

24 Replies to “The importance of protecting our inner peace”

  1. Veronica, you and I must be in similar places with all this. I wrote a post last week for She Writes about platform building and finding the balance. James Scott Bell gave me great advice several months ago about focusing first on the writing and not being so consumed by all the marketing that has really stuck with me. And you saw my Facebook status this weekend.

    Good for you for taking a step back and untangling from all the noise for a bit. It’s about the writing and creation. Yes, at some point we have to market too. But the heart that gives if all life is the creation.

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    1. Yes, Julie, indeed. I guess we all go through this at one point, but it still surprised me just how much of my capacity and my creativity was smothered by paying attention to all those unessential things. I wouldn’t have noticed if I would have just kept going.

      Thanks for the comment and the empathy! 🙂

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  2. You’re absolutely right, for me writing is about the joy of expression and exploration… not of continents or planets, but of concepts and ideas, and that’s rewarding in itself. Everything else is gravy.

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    1. It’s so easy to forget this amidst all the turbulence of modern life, but that’s really all that matters — exploration, understanding and expression.

      Thanks, Peter!

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  3. I love you, Veronica. And not in some stalker-y way that is creepy and weird. I mean that I love your honesty, integrity and passion. You have a fire that few will ever understand and even less will ever experience. You are a kindred spirit. A person who takes what they learn in life and applies it TO their life. Keep writing, keep being who you are and for God’s sake, never stop sharing your insights with the rest of the world unless you feel it does you harm.

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  4. Hope you’re doing well. And yes, I did notice your absence. But I’ve been doing this far too long to be surprised. We all need a break here and there.

    It’s how we keep not only our perspective, but our sanity.

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    1. I’m fine, Jay, thanks. You know, I used to think that not getting any wordcount done for a couple weeks was taking a break, but as long as my mind doesn’t escape the hurricane of thoughts and worries revolving around writing & publishing, it’s not really a break, just denial. 😉

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  5. I am constantly amazed at how you touch on what has been on my mind each time you write a blog.
    Not too long ago, I noticed that our writing group needed, me especially, to take a hard look at organizing the structure of a story…and lo, you wrote an excellent piece upon structure.
    Recently, I have been suffering with the feeling that I am falling behind because I am not twittering every day or posting Facebook or even understand Pinterest. I can’t keep up with all the blogs out there. I grew anxious I was falling behind.

    Instead I run to my iPad to submerge myself into my next book because writing, and yes, editing, is so much fun. Playing with words, creating characters and then yes…wahaha…doing terrible things to them to see what they do is fun, fun, fun…okay, maybe that went a little too far.

    I wrote the book my father couldn’t, and then they wanted me to publish…I finally published it and then they expected another book. Okay. I wrote more and now I’m expected to hit the best seller list using social media. Time to step back and breathe. Huff, huff. Look around. Recenter.

    Thanks for showing me that’s okay.

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    1. LOL, yeah, it really sounds like we’re going through similar things at the same time. 😀

      We write because we love to tell stories, everything else is noise surrounding the publishing end of the business, which is difficult and tricky, yes, but it takes up much less than the creating end, and it makes no damn sense without the creation and telling of stories.

      It’s definitely okay to ignore the noise when we create. It’s necessary. If we don’t shut out the noise and focus entirely on writing when we write, we’re not doing it justice, we’re just bridging the time until we can truly worry about the publishing industry. I don’t think I need to say what a huge mistake that is… we all know it.

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  6. “not because I want to beat some Amazon algorithm for a day.” PREACH, sister! 🙂

    I fell off the twitter bandwagon for the same reason. Having joined twitter, I only wanted to friend people in the industry, and keep up with all the great blog articles and advice and news of mergers, etc. And I retweeted any article I thought I may want to access again. Then all the advice started to run together, and I couldn’t keep up with the industry news of good vs. evil in the garden of self-pubbing. So, I just took a break myself. Redid my son’s room. Took some vacation. Did some sudoku puzzles. Watched Food Network and made some polenta soup. I’m not out of the game, but I’m resting between innings. After all, writing is what I do for *fun.* Gotta remember that.

    Thanks for sharing with us all, Vero. I’m sure we all can see a part of ourselves and our own journey in yours. 🙂 BIG hug from Texas to you!

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    1. I write for fun too, Courtney. I take it seriously, but I don’t do it to put food on my plate and never will (unless I earn as much as Stephen King, I won’t quit my day job). I want it to complete my life, and maybe bring joy to a couple others too, nothing more.

      It’s so easy to forget what really matters when all we see online are people getting hysterical every time Amazon coughs, raising the pitch-forks every time a big-time publisher makes a business decision based on anything else but glorifying authors (they’re in the business of making money, not enabling others to make money, where’s the surprise?!), and hoards of frightened “aspiring writers” who invest 80% of their time making noise on social media, 20% writing something quickly and poorly, and then 100% desperately trying to market their product. That’s SO NOT what writing fiction is about, and it’s so easy to slip into that state when we don’t check ourselves.

      Thanks so much for the heads up, Courtney! Big hug right back to you from Zürich!

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  7. Good for you, Vero.

    It’s so easy to get lost in this industry, just by doing the things that it seems like you should be doing to nurse your career. I remember when I first started to take this whole writing thing seriously, and how proud of myself I felt when I deleted all of the time-wasting bookmarks on my browser. Goodbye video game news sites, goodbye message boards, etc, etc. I pat myself on the back like a champ.

    Now here we are a few years later, and what do you know? All those bookmarks have been replaced by OTHER time sponges. True, these are all related to writing and publishing. But just because it feels essential, doesn’t mean it is essential. At the end of the day, the only “job” I am obligated to do as a writer is to tell stories. If I’m doing that, I’m doing my job. All of the other stuff is gravy. And gravy can be delicious, but too much is probably bad for you.

    In other words: I feel you on this one, Vero. And as you know, very soon I’ll have a lot of unplugged time to think more about these things myself. Maybe the lesson we’re both headed toward is that sometimes paying attention to all of the fingers pointing this way and that way can only serve to distract you from the path you’ve been carving by yourself all along. 🙂

    Good luck!

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    1. It’s tough to stay clear of distractions, as you well know, particularly if they have something to do with writing. It’s tempting to believe we’re doing stuff for our career, for our writing, when in fact we’re spreading our focus and reducing our writing energy.

      Thanks, and good luck to you too! 🙂

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  8. I understand the importance of blogging, tweeting and “building your author platform”. I’m not as invested in that side of things as I probably should be, but there are only so many hours in a day and very few of them are free for me to do as I please. Writing and honing your craft has to come before the marketing.

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    1. That’s right, H.L. It’s important to understand the industry and how marketing fiction works, but focusing on it more or before investing our energy in writing better is a mistake.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  9. Another great post in a long, long line of great posts, Veronica! Wherever you are, you’re one of the smartest, if not THE smartest, people in the room. Thanks for a thoughtful, intelligent essay.

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  10. I absolutely love this post. It seems that you have begun to understand a lot about writing. To truly connect with readers and stories you have to be familiar with our own world and the people who reside within it. Not only does taking a stroll though a grassy field or beside a flowing stream bring you inner peace, it also helps you to better understand people and nature. Even if you’re writing about a fantasy world light years away from ours, you still must know what makes people tick so that you can create a completely new and interesting culture based on what you’ve observed in your own life. A writers soul is in the mountains and streams, not the flow of money.

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