On the one hand, I’m at a place where I can finally experience the ahhhh! of sweet peace. In college I held part-time jobs and worked hard for (almost) straight A’s. As a CPA, I worked my butt off, regularly clocking 80 hours per week (not counting commute or travel time). As a mom, I chased and shuttled and shepherded three highly spirited boys.
The boys are grown up now, and I have long-since retired from the business world. I now spend much of my time writing, which suits me. I’ve always been an INFJ, a lover of nature, a seeker of calm–in fact a career-planning test I once took recommended that I become a monk. I couldn’t quite embrace that idea, however, and becoming a writer was also among the top five careers best suited to my attributes, according to that survey, so I guess you could say, in this regard, I’ve landed in the right place.
But the writing life isn’t what it used to be. (I took that survey a long, long time ago.) Or at least it’s not the romanticized world I used to dream about. In reality, it’s a crazy world, where I’m bombarded with newsletters, social media, and webinars telling me I’ve got to get out there and develop my platform! Make myself a known entity if I want my books to succeed! Develop my author brand! Tweet! And blog! Work the Amazon algorithms! Develop relationships with my readers! And above all: Promote! Promote! Promote!
All of this is in direct conflict with my desire to sit lakeside and meditate and write stories about characters and places and things that matter to me. And it’s in direct conflict with who I am, and who I want to be.
I know I’m not alone. Social media, and technology in general, and an increasingly competitive global society, have changed everything for many of us, regardless of what field we run in. We’re gerbils running on wheels that are faster and more visible than any other wheels in history, and every day we’re offered a new way to increase our connection with, and visibility, to the world. While at the very same time we are repeatedly reminded we need to slow down. Be mindful. Meditate.
Life can feel like one big teeter-totter.
I’ve been questioning how to reconcile these seemingly polar demands in my own life, and I’ve stumbled across some wise quotes from literature, the Internet, and other places that I must think more about in response to my questions about writing and marketing and life overall. Maybe you’ll find some of them intriguing as well.
- Isn’t self-promotion vain and, well, yucky?
“The urge toward self-display… seems to be common to [humans] and animals. And just as the actor depends upon stage, fellow-actors, and spectators…every living thing depends upon a world that solidly appears as the location for its own appearance, on fellow-creatures to play with, and on spectators to acknowledge and recognize its existence.
~Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (Brain Pickings)
Translation: Self-display is okay.
- But this whole idea of self-display makes me seasick. In one respect, I’m giving myself to the world. At the same time, I’m asking for so many favors from others. Neither feels good.
“Everything is a gift. We give and we take.”
~Alice Munro, Dear Life
Translation: Our work is a gift unto others.
- True. But the look-at-me, look-at-me approach to marketing, even if veiled as relationship-building, is really difficult for someone like me.
“The hardest, most challenging experiences of our lives can enrich our existence, revealing our true identity, awakening us to a greater awareness of our own potential, and opening us to the infinite beauty of the universe.”
Translation: Challenge inspires growth.
- And the funny thing is, even though I like being alone, I don’t like the feeling that I’m doing all this marketing work all by myself.
“All I have to fall back on is myself.”
~Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
Translation: We can only rely on ourselves.
- Am I the only writer who desperately wants to take a break from marketing and think about something else?
“I want to not think so much about what I want…I want to think about other things–other people, in other places even.”
~Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
Translation: We should all take breaks to think about others.
- I feel like some of the things I do are because that’s what others do. Or because that’s what I’ve been trained to do.
“Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better.”
~Charles Wheelan, 2012 Dartmouth College commencement address
Translation: It’s not such a good idea to perform for peanuts.
- So it’s okay if I buck conventional wisdom and not do some of these things? Or do them my own way?
“…he had survived by doing the opposite of all the others. Where they abandoned, he saved. Where they were cruel, he was kind. Where they betrayed, he was faithful…he decided to stay away from others and to think for himself, even to do the most ridiculous things that occurred to him.”
~Louise Erdrich, The Round House
Translation: We survive by staying true to ourselves.
- I don’t know what ridiculous things I might do, but it does sound liberating.
“The most terrifying and important test for a human being is to be in absolute freedom. A human being is a very social creature, and ninety percent of what he does is done only because other people are watching. Alone, with no witnesses, he starts to learn about himself–who is he really?…You have to have something–some force which allows and helps you to survive without witnesses.”
~John Vaillant, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
Translation: Freedom is terrifying. And necessary.
- What should I say when others bombard me with their ideas about what I should be doing as a writer?
“Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety.”
~Peggy, Mad Men Season 3, Episode 7
Translation: Beware anxiety–it’s infectious.
- It’s all just so confusing. What can I do to feed my soul while I’m trying to figure all this out? How can I avoid losing perspective of what’s important?
“I am doing something I learned early to do, I am paying attention to small beauties, whatever I have–as if it were our duty to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”
~Sharon Olds, “Little Things”
Translation: Small beauties await our discovery.
- And speaking of importance, how do I know my writing has any significance at all?
“That’s [what] our writing is. We are just the conduits of love from that which gives to those who wish to receive.”
~Bill Kenower, Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion
Translation: We are all conduits of love.
- So my writing is a conduit of love? What about my life? What is my reason for living?
“The purpose of existence is to embrace our fellow human being, not be revengeful, and turn our darkness into light.”
Translation: It is our job to turn darkness into light.
- And, I guess for me, writing is one way I can embrace my fellow human beings and offer light. That sounds so lovely. But also so very heavy. I’ve come a long way, and I have been carrying a great deal along the way: knowledge, relationships, hopes, dreams, memories, fears, sorrow and grief…not to mention accounts on Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google Plus. How do I move forward with this heavy load?
“The Indian concept of portaging [involved] journeys along uncharted waters [where they chose what] to carry forward in portages to come.”
~Christina Baker Kline, Orphan Train
Translation: We can each choose what to carry forward.
- And how long will this journey be? What should I be doing while I wait for what comes next?”
“Don’t be too impetuous…Above all, observe. And learn. And write.”
~Michael N. McGregor, paraphrasing Robert Lax in Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax
Translation: Be patient. Observe. Learn. Write.
- Am I alone in thinking that’s easier said than done?
“People are always worried about what’s happening next. They often find it difficult to stand still, to occupy the now without worrying about the future.”
~Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
Translation: We can all learn from the dogs.
- And then there’s Thoreau. Now there was a guy who was able to stand still and not worry too much. Why can’t I be more like him?
“The inestimably priggish and tiresome Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”
Translation: Others may not be as perfect as they seem.
- Okay, maybe Thoreau wasn’t so perfect after all. But he still did some pretty good writing. And meditating. How does it all tie together?
“Our writing, I believe, must be, or strive to be, utterly egoless… Let’s face it, the only reason someone will want to read what you’ve written (beyond the beauty of the language we construct–or find) is that we are revealing something of our own inner lives. The…place to cross that threshold [into our inner lives] is through what I am calling a meditative state–I don’t expect you to join an ashram, or to shave your heads–almost any sustained attention, as Simone Weill pointed out, is a form of prayer…You can achieve it through walking. Listening. Listening to a child. Studying bird songs. Oiling the chain of your bike.”
~Nick Flynn, 2010 Bennington College commencement address
Translation: Our inner lives can be accessed through meditative states.
- Great. But how can writing be egoless when we’ve got to market it? Have we come full circle? I still don’t know how to balance my marketing life and my desire to live in calm, meditative peace.
“Implicit in the concept of balance is the notion that two very different things are true at once, and both must be heeded. Simply illustrated, we need to work, and we need to play. We need to give out, and we need to replenish. We need to go wild, and we need to be calm…To maintain balance requires intention, mindfulness, and self-discipline.”
Translation: We will achieve balance through intention, mindfulness, and self-discipline.