Focus in a Sea of Distractions

We’re on the homestretch, and Week 10 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of self-protection”. I’m not sure that “self-protection” was the right choice of words…I’d have said something more along the lines of “recovering a sense of focus on what’s important”.

Basically, week 10 talks about a number of issues that we deal with (and sometimes enforce upon ourselves) that cause us to lose our focus and drift away from our dreams. One such issue is not given an actual title in the chapter, but I would refer to it as the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome. This is when we set arbitrary limits for ourselves that don’t really mean anything in the long run, but make us feel as though we’re protecting ourselves from pain. For instance, I might finish editing my manuscript this month and have it all set for self-publication and then suddenly turn around and say, “No, you know what, I’m not well-known enough to sell a book. I’ll wait until I have, hmmm…say, 200 followers on my blog before I publish.” The limit is completely arbitrary (what’s so special about the number 200?) and means positively nothing (number of blog followers, in the end, has nothing to do with whether the book will sell), so the only point of it is to hold myself back, and why would I want to do that? As we’ve mentioned before, the name of the game is fear. We impose limits on ourselves because we’re terrified of the unknown. In this example I might be terrified that if I self-publish I won’t sell any books, or worse, I’ll sell a few and then get a wave of horrible reviews. So I (hypothetically) give myself these little limits that I have to reach before I’ll be willing to make the leap, and then when that moment comes I find another reason to limit myself. The cycle continues.

procastinatorThe other issues addressed in week 10 are workaholism, drought, fame, and competition. Workaholism is exactly what it sounds like; the artist in question lets their entire word become awash in their day job, to the point that they can never “find time” to work on their art. This isn’t simply the normal situation where an artist has a day job and thus has less time to work on their craft; this is actively seeking out more work to do because the artist is scared to work on their craft (for any of the reasons previously discussed). And this doesn’t necessarily have to involve a day job with an employer; a house wife who longs to be a painter may insist that she has no time to paint because she has to vacuum the floors for the second time today, and remake all the beds, and cut up and wash all the fruit and veggies in the fridge, and…well, you get the idea.

Drought is pretty much exactly what it sounds like…writers might call it “writer’s block”. This is when you have no ideas, everything you create seems like crap, and you have no idea how to move forward. You begin to doubt yourself. Drought is a state that every single artist deals with at some point, but depending on what kind of artist you are and what kind of person you are, you could push through it and come out stronger on the other side, or you could give up entirely. Drought has been well known to be the end of many artist careers.

Fame is synonymous with ego in this case. Even if I’ve been successful so far (say, by self-publishing and selling my first hundred books), I get caught up in the fact that I’m not famous yet. There are certain things that we equate with being successful, and unfortunately “fame” is one of them. By becoming the artist we had hoped to become, we also expect to start being adored by the public, receive fan letters, get asked to do book readings or get invited to a convention. If these things don’t happen, we assume that we’ve done something wrong. It’s not enough to meet our dreams and maybe even make some money at them…suddenly we want to be a celebrity too, and now we’re focusing on that instead of our art. Our art gets shuffled to the background.

Competition is based in good old fashioned jealousy. It boils down to seeing others succeed and feeling as though they somehow beat you. For example, say I have a close friend who is also a writer. We began writing around the same time and we often write in similar genres and the like. Now say that I’m stuck in the editing process, while she has already pushed forward, self-published, and has recently landed on the bestselling e-book list on Amazon. My sense of competition kicks in and I begin to feel like I’ve “lost”. The possibility of succeeding becomes moot because I’ve already “failed”. I lose the will to keep moving forward.

This is a chapter that I actually found quite interesting because I have, in one form or another, experienced each of these issues. I’ve played the “workaholic” by finding a million other things that “had” to get done that weren’t my writing. I’ve created arbitrary limits for myself, like telling myself that my zombie novel has to be the first thing I publish, even if it’s not necessarily my best work. I’ve put myself down because others are out there achieving what I’ve always dreamed of…they “beat” me to it. I told myself that I can’t be successful because I’m not “famous” enough (via, not enough followers, never getting comments, etc). And I’ve definitely gone through the drought process…many times, in fact, and every time I consider that this might be the time I quit all together.

These are all things that I expect every artist deals with, because they all boil down to human emotion and instinct. We want to be the best, we want to be loved, we feel that if we’re doing things right they should be easy, and we hate being afraid. The key, as with many things, is to recognize the issues and move on from them, and it helps knowing that others are going through the exact same things. That’s why communities (like the #MyWANA Twitter community for writers) are so great. No one has to suffer alone.

Have you ever dealt with workaholism, drought, “fame”, competition, or a raging case of the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome? How did you get past it? Please share!

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