I recently finished reading Fierce on the Page by Sage Cohen, and let me tell you, it became one of my favorite books on writing from the very first chapter, ranking right up there–for me–with Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. And that is saying a lot coming from me because Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron are my IDOLS.
I found Sage Cohen’s approach to writing to be just as mature, insightful, and honest, and her advice as inspiring as it was practical. It seems to me that the writers who have reached this level of “enlightenment” when it comes to writing and creativity offer similar advice on what constitutes successful artistry–for instance, an emphasis on the act of writing rather than the outcome–and have an air of humility I strive to get a little closer to every day.
Writing Life and Real Life
Fierce on the Page is the book we chose for our book club meeting in my writers group this month. At our last meeting, we talked about the book in passing and one of the members mentioned that the book included as much advice about life as it did about writing. I hadn’t really thought about it but when she mentioned it, I realized that was probably why I loved it so much!
I’ve read my fair share of writing books over the years and the ones that inspire me the most are the ones that treat writing and life as one and the same–not separate pursuits.
Of course, writing craft books are their own beast but when it comes to advice on being a writer, I find the approach of Sage, Julia, and Elizabeth to create the most fulfilling career and life for me.
That wasn’t the case when I first started writing in those early years.
Back then, writing was like the dirty little secret I didn’t share with anyone. It was the thing I did on the side when I was “done” with the rest of my life, the rest of the things on my to-do list. Like most writers, I had a hard time accepting, and then admitting, that writing was my true calling. Because of that, for far too long, I treated my writing like an afterthought, with no ambition of my stories making it further than my hard drive. And while I accomplished a fair amount of putting words on the page, progress toward a writing career was nonexistent.
After a few years, though, my writing became too big a part of me to be contained. It was filling out more space in my heart and mind, and pursuing a publishing career became the inevitable path.
The hard truth we writers are all aware of is that our culture doesn’t place as much value on the arts as it does on the pragmatic, well-paying careers and I think that’s what keeps us compartmentalizing this aspect of our lives. As a new writer, that’s not such a big deal, but the further we progress in our careers, the more detrimental that kind of either/or thinking becomes.
Because, like in any career, if we want to reach the next level of success, we have to put our whole heart into it, not just the bits and pieces we have left over. To be truly successful, “writer” must be as integrated into our identity as “parent,” “spouse,” “daughter,” “brother,” “woman,” “man,” “human.”
Success in one supports success in the other
If you look at the most successful people in any field, you’ll notice something they all have in common: the lines between their home lives and their work lives are fluid.
They don’t clock in or clock out on their careers. Their friends are often other people in the field. And their families are a common sight in their workplaces. Certainly there is a fine line between workaholism and living your mission–which you have to define for yourself–but what I see when I look at these successes is integration. Their lives and their work are not separate pursuits. Everything about their lives supports being the best whatever they can be, and their careers support the kind of lifestyle for them and their families that embodies the saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
This isn’t an accident. Each of these successes makes very conscious choices on a daily basis to ensure they create this fulfilling, encompassing lifestyle.
So what does this look like for a writer, no matter what stage you’re at?
- First and foremost, it starts with mindset. It starts with making the title of “writer” an integral part of your identity. Until you place true value on your art, you’ll never be able to make the necessary choices in your everyday life to support taking your writing career to the next level. Also, when you take your writing seriously, others will take your writing seriously too and you’ll get support you never thought possible.
- Cultivate your daily habits–and I’m not just talking about the act of writing. Take good care of your most important writing tool: YOU. You’ll notice the CEO’s and leaders in the personal growth industry aren’t just talking about money and business and marketing–they’re talking about eating well, meditating, journaling, starting the morning early, etc. It’s the habit of treating your body and mind with the utmost care that keeps it fine-tuned for when you sit down to the computer.
- Find ways to write outside of your work-in-progress. I love Sage’s idea of writing thoughtful thank you notes whenever she can, and sticking poems into her utility bills. Bring your writing with you everywhere you go, by implementing your creativity into your copywriting at work, or volunteering to write the newsletter at your kid’s school or at church. Opportunities to tap into your creativity are all around you if you are looking for them. Be creative!
- Connect with other writers. I touch base with my writing community several times throughout the day so that I am not toiling away at my work alone, disconnected from the world I’m trying to be a part of. Staying tapped into the writing world makes you a part of it, no matter where you are in your career. When you regularly connect with people who are doing the things you want to accomplish, it makes everything seem possible.
Integrating writing into every facet of your life isn’t something that happens overnight. It happens in little baby steps over days, weeks, months, and years.
The step you can take today is believing that a successful writing career/life is possible, and committing to making it happen.