I don't know why at forty-blah-blah years old I am finally learning stuff I really should have learned in my thirties (and preferably in my twenties; I mean it would have been nice to get it over with way back then), but here I am. All fresh and nearly fifty and finally figuring out that, Baby, your self-esteem had better be coming from the right place, or your writing life is going to be death on melba toast. And so will a lot of the rest of your life too.
Here's the thing: Like most people, I've survived some crazy stuff in life. I'm proud of it (not as proud as surviving a bird-beak to my back, or a weekend in Barsoom, but still. Proud.) I could be a whackadoo who spends her life wearing a tea-cozy on her head and banging on an old ceiling fan with a Harry Potter wand-replica whilst singing "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy" in Sanskrit. (Which would be a trick.) But I'm not. Mostly. And that's a good thing.
Yet somehow, I have reached a certain age--which, according to everything I read should render me altogether wise, mysterious, and alluring--and still find myself struggling with the ole self-image.
And that, as a writer, is disastrous.
Writing is solitary. Meaning, you don't do it in front of a crowd and you don't get a lot of instant feedback. If you're a member of a writer's group, you might get some feedback once or twice a month. But not every day. And if your group is full of your besties, then the feedback you are getting may not be entirely, shall we say, objective. Or even truthful. Nope. Most of the time as a writer you sit in front of your computer churning out words that people may or may not care about, and it is very possible that you will never know. An agent may never pick you up. Your blog may never gather a crowd. And if you do gather a crowd, they may be the shy quiet types who don't comment.
If your self-esteem is tied up in all of this--if at the end of the day you are writing (or doing anything, really) in order to fill yourself up with worth, it's gonna be a tough ride. I know. I tried it.
What happens is this: "OMIGOSH! I have followers! Wooot! People like me! I might succeed! Yay! Wait! I lost a follower! AAAUUUGH! Why? Why did they leave me? Was it something I said? Ooh, I got a compliment! WOW! I might be really cool and a great writer and probably I have awesome hair! How come no one commented on THAT post? Maybe it was badly written. Maybe it wasn't edgy enough. Maybe I'm out of touch. MAYBE I CAN'T WRITE. What? You liked my post? You, dear agent, would represent me because you like my style except the market is glutted with sparkly paranormals right now? YAY! I CAN WRITE! I'M THE NEXT JK ROWLING! I JUST NEED A NEW PLOT IDEA! GASP! I lost two Twitter followers! Maybe I offended them! I'M NOT THE PIONEER WOMAN! I can't write! ACK! I should quit! And my haircut is probably bad!
Yeah. That is exhausting. And not particularly productive. Instead, why not write, create, build, make, paint, choreograph, account, invent, act, sing, dance, engineer, medicate, bake, or whatever it is that you want to do--for the pure joy of doing it? Let the ends of your creating be the creating itself. Not you yourself. That way whatever you do will live longer. And so will you.
Here's what I think we should do instead: Go out there and love. Ourselves and others. Then once we're all full of esteem--because that's what love freely given does-- we go knock the socks off of a plot. That's what I'm working on. And I'm starting all over with a blank page creating the world of my book. Without my security attached. We'll see how it's different this time.