by Diane Holmes, Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University
If 2011 sucked, this post is for you. And if you know someone who had a rough year, share this post.
Some years, it’s hard to remember any good times.
Suddenly, it’s Christmas, and everyone is talking about how blessed and happy they are, which is followed by January 1st and the giddy excitement of New Year’s Resolutions.
You? You limp or claw your way to the end of the year, then you whisper to yourself and any nearby angels, “Promise me next year will be better. Promise me.”
“It’s a new year! Yay!” All the successful people are fully prepared to dream up new ways to succeed effortlessly (or at least without illness or loss or depression).
Writers who published (or at least finished manuscripts) in 2011 are the worst.
They’re oblivious to the walking wounded. They’re equal parts glib, skeptical, cocky, and judgmental. According to their reality, all “good efforts” will lead instantly to success (especially if the right plan is written on a schedule that is engraved in shimmery gold and will, thusly, never encounter a single setback or interruption).
Or they’re hard-working and think that elbow grease, wanting it “enough,” or adequate sacrifice and prioritization is the ticket. This implies you have not worked hard. Yes, yes, you must be skimping on the yearning, or maybe you just aren’t willing to make the “successful” choices.
They don’t know that there is a chasm between those left unscathed by the year and those who have had their hearts ripped out by any one of a thousand, jagged shards of real life.
But I get it. I do. I know what it’s like. I know how ripped open you feel. I know rejection. I know loss. I know illness. And I know the utter breakdown of the thing you love the most: writing.
When people talk about finding joy in the journey, they do not mean this. But this is the journey too. You can’t pretend it away. Can’t plug your ears and sing, “La la la la la…” until it disappears, replaced—one assumes—with a well-written plan, scheduled cleverly on a calendar with an attached to-do list. Ah, yes, then you’ll be successful. Problem solved.
I bet all we need is a good New Year’s resolution. Snicker.
From January until June, I worked 80-hours a week on my grand passion of Pitch University.
You can’t believe the exuberance, the complete joy of working with some of the best people I’ve ever met. Of learning. Of teaching. Of being deeply submerged in writing. Of carrying the message forward that pitching is something you can suck at… and then learn.
I mean, that is truly hopeful message. An important message.
Then it was over. My health broke. My chronic fatigue was back. I tried to keep going, keep dreaming. La la la la laaaaaa. But eventually, my fatigue became so profound, I couldn’t work at all.
This is the mythic writer’s journey, if you’re familiar with that. It’s the Ordeal. I know this place well. Heck, I have an insider’s pass and own the t-shirt. But after 25 years of working on my heath, I thought it was over, you know? I thought, finally I can juggle it all and Just Do It.
Find the joy of the journey. Just try harder. Set more deadlines. Envision your goals. Pffft.
Some journeys are difficult, painful, sad, bitter, or practically rip your soul out through your nostrils and leave nothing but a cute shell of the former you. Some journeys bite.
January 1st. So there you are, you and your cute shell. Finally you make it to the end of the year through grit, determination, and the every-day heroism of breathing and showing up.
You’re shell shocked (pun). And you find out you don’t believe you have anything left. You just can’t write down the goal “get published” or “finish my manuscript” again. Not one single time more.
“Query agents and editors.”
“Revise current book.”
“Find new publisher.”
“Revive my career again.”
Nope, you can’t do it.
You realize suddenly that you want to give these phrases a finger. A very rude finger.
So now what?
Four years ago, I gave a talk on why goal-setting doesn’t work and what you can do about it.
One reason goal-setting doesn’t work is because life happens. Illness happens. The Horrible, the Heartbreaking, and the Soul-Crushing happens. Also, rejection. Failure. Suckiness.
So here’s what you do.
#1 You borrow hope even though you don’t feel it. Steal it if you have to.
#2 You realize that many heroes (and writers) have been on the journey that looks like yours. And all you have to do is survive the tests and perils, to know that the part of you that is truly authentic is still there, the part of you that is you at your very best is standing just out of sight.
#3 You trust that your struggles don’t kill your dreams, they just obscure them for a bit. They are the eclipse of today. Tomorrow you will wash ashore and the heavens will be full of both a sun and a moon. You’ll find your dreams or dream new ones.
#4 You turn your back on success versus failure, the black and white of angst.
And you replace them with something wiser. Become an explorer. An inventor. Experiment. Learn. Become curious. These goals do not invite failure. They invite the future.
#5 You find the brilliant moments that create meaning in what you do.
Discover them. Relish them. Your life is not a result or check mark or list of resume successes. Your life is experience. Choose a pretty good experience for this moment. Notice if it wows you. Pay more attention to Wow than you do to anything else. Trust me. Brilliant moments remind you of who you are. Suddenly, they expose the hidden meaning of your life.
#6 You tell yourself a different story.
Not a fake story. Not denial. Just a different story. If you listen to your sadness or grief or frustration, you’ll only hear one version of the story. Sometimes you have to tell yourself an alternative version. A version that’s more right.
Sing the story of the Hero to yourself. Heroes take a beating. They face adversity. They are crushed, lost in the forest, and tested over and over. Be your own myth. Or at least remember that in every myth, the hero suffers, then overcomes.
Do that. Believe it’s possible to overcome.
#7 You find strength in compassion.
When your heart aches, you join the ranks of all those whose hearts have ached before you. And those whose hearts will ache into the infinite future. How can you not feel a kinship with those who are like you? And then know that they must feel this, too.
You are not alone. You’re strong. You’re a survivor of life, surrounded by survivors. You come from this strength, and you contribute to it.
#8 You do not reject yourself.
This is the ultimate heartache, that you are no longer “one with yourself.” Instead, you stand apart and accuse yourself of not being good enough, strong enough, and a thousand other Not’s. With every Not, you shove yourself further away.
#9 You allow yourself to change. Your goals, your habits, your patterns, and who you think you are. Allow yourself to have no real answers and to change even if it comes from something that wasn’t your choice, and then I think you’ll be able to take a step forward.
A step forward is a lovely New Year’s resolution.
#10 You realize that you can have the best-of-times and worst-of-times together without exploding. And good can follow bad with no reason needed. Your life is already proof of this. Just look for examples.
#11 You realize it’s true. It really won’t always be this way. It just feels that way.
#12 Find one thing to inspire you, and you’re saved. One spark, one idea, one decision, one well-written sentence.
Yes, you writer, you. It’s the smallest things that bring you back to life and give you hope. The smallest thing is all that’s needed to remind you of who you were meant to be.
After that, kick ass.
I’m stronger today than yesterday.
I’ve been working on an amazing vision for Pitch University and a site that’s much bigger than that.
Today, I’m filled with hope and the love of writing.
So, if you need to borrow hope, I have some to spare.