Note: this was originally a tinyletter. Usually, I don't turn tinyletters into blog posts, but the feedback was overwhelming, so I wanted to share it more broadly. This is simple, and short, and nothing you don't already know, but perhaps you, like me, are in need of a reminder that you are you, and that's okay.
Last week, I worked from home. It was a blizzard, so pretty much everyone in NYC had to work from home. Snow and slush and ice brought the city that never sleeps to a slow halt.
It was horrible.
If you believed all the New York-based writers on Twitter, especially those (like me) who make a living working at 9-5 day jobs, it was like the creative jobs had rained down manna from heaven. A forced WFH day! What luck!
Like I said: it was horrible.
Here's the thing: I don't actually like working from home. Home is "off." The office is my full-time job, and I frequent loud, public spaces for writing.
I love working in coffeeshops. Bars are even better. But preferably, I work on the subway.
The vast majority of my first-draft writing happens on the subway. It's my routine. I have a 45-minute commute with limited internet access, which, it turns out, is the perfect amount of time to rough out a pitch, an outline, or a few paragraphs of a first draft.
In spite of the fact that I know how and where I work best, I still felt pressure to spend the day doing some amount of creative work. Consequently, I spent most of that blessed work from home day on the edge of an anxiety attack, feeling claustrophobic and guilty and anxiety ridden in my own house because of a lack of production -- all because I was holding myself to a ridiculous standard that does not match my reality, my temperament, or my process.
On the surface, this looks like perfectionism, but the truth is, it's something more insidious:
Perhaps you are the same (but different!): you know your process, you know how you work best -- but you still hold yourself to the standard of Anne Lamott or Stephen King or Nora Roberts or Mary Karr or Literary Twitter or [insert your personal fave here]. Their process has been conflated with success, because they have shared what works for them - sometimes very carefully with the parameters of "This worked for me! It may not work for you!" Still, there is the very clear message: you did this, and you're Nora fucking Roberts. Obviously, it worked for you. So maybe I should try it?
It feels safe to want a process that has already brought someone else success; it is understandable to want to inure yourself against criticism, against failure.
It is an easy trick to play on the mind, that if I lock myself away in a home office for eight hours a day and write write write like Nora Roberts, I, too, could write that kind of bestseller or achieve that kind of financial security from my craft.
But this is a lie. Only Nora Roberts can be Nora Roberts. Only you can be you, and I'm the only one who can be me.
It's normal for us to mimic the processes of others while we grope around in the dark, fumbling for the nooks and crannies where we feel most at home in our creativity.
The danger is in continuing to mimic the greats after we have found those nooks and crannies where we truly thrive.
The danger is in not trusting yourself.
Ultimately, this is a fear of vulnerability - and for writers and artists, a fear of vulnerability paralyzes the creative process.
As someone who (clearly) still struggles to feel at home in my own process, I don't have particularly great insight to leave you with -- but someone I admire does. I love Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, and I know many of you do, too.
As you journey on into the week ahead, consider her words as a benediction, as a blessing, as a prayer over your sacred space and your sacred process -- which, as Gilbert herself notes, is itself both sacred and beautifully unsacred at the same time:
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
So take a deep breath, friend.
You've got this.
P.S. This was originally a tinyletter. You can sign up to get my bi-weekly tinyletter here!