the write questions.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I haven’t wanted to write for the past couple of weeks. At first, getting a puppy upended my routine, which made writing take a backseat as I figured out how to adjust my mind and body to a new rhythm. This took longer than expected–it’s remarkable how quickly I degenerate when my sleep is disrupted. But something else was the matter, too. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything, and I couldn’t quite figure out why.

Thankfully, I had time the other day for a creative reset, so I sat down with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, intent on doing a writing exercise or two. One of the exercises was to record yourself reading an essay from the book that meant something to you and then meditate on it. I remembered one that impacted me a few years ago when I first read it, so I flipped through the pages to find it.

“Competition.”

As I sat there, re-reading it, I came across this particular passage:

When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

In that moment I felt truly convicted, a drop in my gut. Without going any further, I knew exactly what it meant, and why I had felt hesitant to sit down and write.

Comparison was causing me to ask myself the wrong questions.

Maybe you can relate. Over the last couple years, I’ve seen friends and old college classmates do some incredible things in the writing world–write fantastic short stories, finish drafts of entire novels, accept spots in prestigious MFA programs, acquire agents and editors, publish in journals and magazines, do book signings. It’s been happening more frequently–three times in the past couple of weeks. And every time I think I’ve gotten to a place where I am mature enough to rejoice with them and celebrate their wins, there is always a tiny, shriveled goblin inside me that curls up somewhere in my throat and whispers, “Why them? Why not me?”

And then, “Is it because there was that one class on publishing you didn’t get to take in college because it conflicted with student teaching? Or maybe because everyone’s getting an MFA? Do these other people just know something I don’t?” (Worrisome.)

And then, “Or was it because you missed out on that private workshop all those years ago where you were supposed to get feedback on your novella from Roxane Gay (!!!) because she got really sick last minute and had to leave town? Would she have given you the life-changing writing advice that all the other people got?” (Crushing.)

And then, “Or is it because you have to work full time to pay off your loans and you’re married now with a puppy and life will only get more busy and let’s face it, you don’t have time to be creative anymore? Do all these other people just have lives that are more conducive to writing?” (Devastating.)

The goblin digs deeper and deeper with its questioning until it finally finds the root of my fears: “Or is it because, at the end of it all, they’re better and more interesting writers than you? Are you just not good enough?”

And with that, any desire I have to write–to really create–is destroyed.

Instead, all I want to do is compete. Compare myself to others. Find something, anything, that will put me out on top. I have a nice apartment (with a pool). A nice job. A nice husband. A nice–well, a puppy. None of it makes me feel better. And then, later, I feel bitter. Small. Ashamed of myself for tearing others down in order to build myself up.

Maybe you’ve been there too, creatively, or in any other area of your life. Maybe your friend is making more money than you or got a significant promotion. Maybe you’re single and it feels like everyone else you know is getting married. Maybe you’re married and it feels like everyone else has a better marriage. Maybe you wish your body looked more like your friend’s body. Maybe everyone else just feels farther along on the road to getting what they want.

After reading this essay, recording it, hearing myself speak the words aloud, I realized that what I should have been doing all along–what I need to do now–is ask myself the right questions. Instead of wasting my creative energy comparing myself and constantly wondering why I haven’t made it as far as others with my writing career, I need to spend my energy actually participating in my life as a writer. This is where my envy has been directing me all along. Envy often acts as a map that points us to where we could have shown up for ourselves, but didn’t.

Envy is a sign that you are not owning something in yourself. It’s part of you saying “Helloooooo, you are 100% capable of this too.”

Hannah Braime, “Tired of Feeling Creative Envy? Read This”

How do I own my life as a writer? Well, by writing. Enjoying my creativity. And–perhaps the most intimidating one for me personally–taking artistic risks. This is imperative to the creative process. Moreover, I need to develop a foil to that inner goblin: perhaps a kinder, gentler version of myself, or maybe the spirits of my old writing professors, or a wise genie of some sort, or maybe just the Holy Spirit. Whoever this voice is, it needs to ask me the right questions. The write questions, if you will.

“Have you been writing? Have you been developing other shorter projects alongside your novel? Have you set deadlines for yourself? Have you listed your goals? Have you been researching places you can submit your work? Have you been connecting with a local writing community? Have you been doing your morning pages, exercising, taking time to fill your creative well?”

These are the questions I ought to be asking myself.

And maybe you, too, need this kind of reset.

I must say, it doesn’t feel good at first, admitting to comparison, envy, a competitive mindset. Even if you’re only admitting it to yourself, it’s still feels pretty downright embarrassing. (If I’m honest, I had serious doubts about publishing this entry today for fear of seeming petty and childish, especially to those of my friends who have had recent successes.) But, I think it’s the first step to abandoning the questions borne out of competition and starting to ask yourself the right questions–questions that will lead you closer to your goals, instead of barring you from them and draining your energy.

The right questions lead me into a spirit of healthier creativity instead of a spirit of destructive competition. They will help me to truly celebrate the successes of my peers and remember that another writer’s success is not my failure. And they will help me be confident in who I am as a writer, no matter what my creative journey looks like.

Current Novel Word Count: 18,757 
What I'm Writing: I'm still rewriting that scene from Moira's past. Also, 
potentially want to start writing some short stories that I can finish 
quickly and submit to different literary journals for publication. Yay for 
creative risks! 
Weird Writerly Topics I've Googled This Week: none 
Writing Exercises I've Done: Obviously, the recording-an-essay one, but 
also I did one where I listed out ten outrageous wishes for each of six 
different areas in my life, and another where I planned a self-care item 
for every day this week. Tonight's item: bath with candles, bath salts, and 
a book. 
What I'm Reading: Native by Kaitlin Curtice; Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn 
Ward; How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 
What I'm Listening To: "Along the Western Seaboard" by Declan O'Rourke, 
"Wake Up, Jesus" by The Porter's Gate, "Dreams" by Irish Women in 
Harmony

2 Replies to “the write questions.”

  1. Appreciate your thoughts, Erin. I just read today in a Trinity Forum study on The Seven Deadly Sins about the relationship between The sin of Pride and competitiveness. That is an aspect of comparison that I’d like to think about more. Thanks for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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