I got a letter from one of my clients.
“I’m really struggling right now. I don’t know if I can make this work, if it will be good enough – or even decent – this time. I doubt that anyone will ever want to read this. I just don’t know how to keep going.”
She’s a successful novelist and is writing her sixth book. We’ve been working together on five of them and at about the same point in the process – around the middle of the first draft – some version of this letter will arrive in my inbox.
It’s a certain.
You know that place. Whatever your particular creative work is, you’ve been there. I have too, and today I want to share the kindest, most efficient approach I know to get out of that place.
But first a little story:
I took my driver’s license a couple of years ago. Until then I had managed just fine without, living mostly in big cities and commuting by public transportation. But when we left the city and moved to the cottage I had to start driving.
It’s a 2,5 kilometre drive from the little town centre up to our place, and it’s steep uphill all the way. It’s possible to walk or go by bike, even with the kids I suppose, and if I did I’d have the most muscular calves this side of the Atlantic. But I don’t. I drive. Sometimes a hundred times a day, it seems.
The first few times I drove up these narrow, steep roads, I panicked when I met another car. I was positive there wasn’t enough room for both and I’d veer halfway down the ditch to avoid collision. Eventually though, I noticed that everyone else just kept driving smoothly past each other, so I tried to stay on the road too, even as I met the fat SUVs people up here tend to favour.
I honestly still don’t see how we both can fit on the road at the same time. But since I know from experience that we do, I behave accordingly. I keep on driving (sometimes even adding a neighbourly wave as we sweep past each other, escaping death by – I’m sure – no more than an inch.)
But I digress. My point is that some things you need to get through on faith alone.
The creative process is like that. There will be times when you face challenges so daunting they seem to block out the entire road in front of you. It just doesn’t seem possible to keep going. At all. You’re utterly lost and discouraged and you fear – with a sinking feeling in the chest – that you’ve finally run out of luck. This time you won’t make it.
It happens the first time and it happens the sixth. Inevitably. And when it happens, logic and reason won’t help you. Faith is your only option.
The road is too narrow. You see it with your own two eyes. But you felt like this last time too. And the time before that. And you still made it through, somehow. Remember? Can you trust that?
Can you trust what your experience tells you to be true?
Can you trust that you’ve got what it takes to get through this?
Can you trust it enough to keep on driving? That’s really all you need to know right now.
And if you keep moving, in spite of the fear and frustration, you’ll soon experience how fear and hopelessness shifts. The energy of your movement will move the fear and the doubts as well, and they will shift and dissolve. They will do so more quickly than you could ever imagine.
Because it’s all energy. Fear is energy, faith is energy, confusion is energy. And energy always wants to move. As long as you keep on moving, the energy will too, it will move and change.
That solid wall of stuckness ahead of you? There’s nothing solid about it. It’s all feelings, thoughts and energy, fed and held into place by your attention. Move your attention away from it and it will dissolve.
Don’t fight the fear and the frustration, don’t try to solve it, don’t beat yourself up. Just let it be. Breathing will help. Keep your two feet firmly planted on the earth. Softly focus on the one step in front of you (there’s always only one step) and move forward without expecting any particular outcome (meaning: let it suck). Move. Breathe. Cry if you need to.
Before you know it, you’re out of the maze and the road ahead of you is open again. You barely know how it happened.
You didn’t work it out or fix any problem. All you did was to stay with it. You kept on moving, ever so slowly. And it changed everything.
You don’t know this to be true the first time you set out, simply because you don’t yet have any experience to lean on. But other people do. Listen to those who went before. Listen to your heroes and to your tribe of support, and put your trust in them until you’re strong enough to trust in yourself. (Don’t have a tribe? Well, find one. It’s a crucial part of the creative journey.)