General, My Thoughts, The Writer's Life

Do the Best You Can With What You Have

There’s little need for a post here. If you’re pressed for time, just read the title again, let it inspire some brilliant application for your writing life, then jet off to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun. (Yes, I’m talking to you.)

Of course, if you want to spend a few more minutes in this space (and who wouldn’t; don’t you love how the gray header matches the cloud of uncertainty that’s giving your muse black lung?), feel free. It’s your dime.

Here’s the thing (and by “thing” I mean premise for this post): writers have a tendency to set unrealistic expectations. We call these expectations “dreams” or “goals” to make them sound beautiful or practical. But they’re expectations nonetheless.

“I’m going to write 10,000 words today!”

“I’m going to get an agent by Christmas. This Christmas!”

“I’m going to quit my day job and write full time and be happy and successful and tip generously even when the service is bad!”

“I’m going to read every book ever written about how to write well before I even put a single word of my own novel on the page because then when I do it will be lovely and perfect and certain to capture the hearts and minds of every human being on the planet including people who’ve never read a single novel!”

Then, often due to circumstances beyond our control, the dreams become nightmares. The goals grow mold (like the stuff hiding in your basement walls that’s going to kill you someday).

Still, we persist.

Maybe you do what I do – try to give the pain of underperformance purpose by re-categorizing it as a “life lesson.” [Here’s how to do this: cup your ears to the yawning abyss and listen for some murmured echo of wisdom about how pain – even the pain of unmet dreams or goals – is really a gift because it makes us better writers. Then try not to throw up.]

There’s certainly some truth in that murmur – Real Life Pain does make us better writers of Imagined Pain. (See this post.) But unless your plan is to write a novel about feeling totally inadequate at the one thing you long to excel at, this probably isn’t the sort of pain you should be listening to.

We don’t mean to do this to ourselves. (Except for you masochists out there.) We start off with good intentions. But somewhere along the way, we become concerned that we’re not as far along as we thought we should be so we reach farther than we ought for the One Ring (“we wants it….”) only to fall off the horse. Again.

Discouragement sets in. And frankly? Discouragement sucks the fun out of writing.

What if, instead, you gave yourself a little slack? Sure, set goals. Follow dreams. Do everything you can to reach those places. But always, always with the quiet understanding that your reach only extends so far in any given moment.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it.

Then why do you keep beating yourself up for not being Stephenie Meyer?

Pursue everything with diligence and excellence. Maybe you’ll meet your writing goal. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll get an agent this month. Maybe you won’t. Maybe your book will get published someday. Maybe it won’t.

Just do the best you can with what you have.

And that will be enough.

10 thoughts on “Do the Best You Can With What You Have

  1. Sound advice. Wishing for the impossible doesn’t make it possible and expecting the impossible from oneself is only setting yourself up for disappointment. (Ooo, that sounds all deep, doesn’t it? ^^) Anyways, awesome post and advice, thanks.

  2. Did you somehow see the post I wrote today and then deleted before publishing? Because you have answered it here, so thank you 🙂

    Mind you, I do want to write about a character who feels totally inadequate about the one thing they long to excel at, so I figure my writer’s block is actually an extremely helpful tool for my writing.

  3. For the first time every, I started writing a novel. Just got an idea in my head that wouldn’t go away. 1000 words were on my computer screen before my inner self critic woke up. Of course, the following day, I read what I had written and knew for a fact that it was absolute garbage. Because I had not written the beginning of a novel, I had simply vomited words on to a page. Now I’m looking for excuses not to face what I’ve written to make it better because I’m afraid that the story just isn’t good enough. Sigh…writing sucks.

  4. Thanks for encouraging us to ease up a little. And to bar the door when we see our internal editor’s mean boyfriend coming, that nunchucks wielding stickler who wails on us every time we fall short.

    PS: I know you tried to tempt me to just read the title again and leave. Yet, I guess I’m kinda vain, ’cause I thought you might be writing a post about me, about me, about me. [Thanks for getting that song stuck in my head…I just may have to buzz over to Youtube and watch the Maccabeats to get it out of my head.] =)

  5. Thanks for this. I’ve been there done that with all that you said, and just a few months ago, decided to be kinder to myself and write the best way I can with who I am.

  6. Sadly, I am a frequent magical thinker (who’s much too hard on herself). In fact, right now, I have a novella (my first) that I plan on finishing by December 31. I COULD actually do that, but will I? Of course! Heh. Well, we’ll see. I must also find new agents to pitch a rom-com to (Seriously? A rom-com?), write on the new novel, write blog posts that actually make sense, and occasionally tweet (‘scuse me). Oh, and read and comment. Yeesh, of COURSE I’ll finish the novella this month!

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