There has been a quote ringing in my head for awhile now: “Not only does it not get any easier, it actually gets harder.”
That is from Dani Shapiro, reflecting on on the desire that nearly every writer and artist has. When you are working so hard to try to create work you can be proud of, and develop a career around it, you often hope to reach a place where everything isn’t such a struggle.
Where it is easier to create, easier to feel validated, easier to reach your audience, easier to get your next book deal, or client, or exhibit, or the like; to where it is easier to earn money from your craft.
Dani’s quote is a cold splash of water on that desire. That, as you get more successful, it may, at times, actually becomes more difficult to create; to reach people; to get another deal; to feel that any of this is sustainable.
Why has her quote been ringing in my head? Because I am 7 years into running my own company that surrounds my creative work, and 12 years of sending out my newsletter every week, I can still be completely blindsided by what works and why.
Last week, I wrote a post that told the story of the moment everything changed for my career. At 5am the morning it was going to be sent, I had this sudden feeling that this post is not what my readers want. I worried that it didn’t offer a tip-driven and useful solution to an immediate problem they had. That perhaps it was too self-involved, and too broad — focusing on career overall.
But it was scheduled, so I let it go out.
I was absolutely blown away by the response. Email after email came in, with people thanking me for the post. Two people told me that the post just changed their life. I had friends say, “Boy, I’ll bet you had a lot of feedback from that one,” And I emailed back, “How did you know that?!?!” As if they had a sixth sense that I didn’t.
Dani talks about her own experience navigating this:
“There isn’t one single piece of writing that I have done in the last 20 years, that did not begin with my thinking, “Here goes nothing, this time this is not going to work. Whether it’s a book review, an essay, a blog post, or a book. That feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here.”
I mean, can you imagine this? In case you don’t know who Dani is, this is her:
Oh, did you notice the woman to her right? Oprah!
I mean, look at all that Dani has accomplished, it is stuff that every writer has every dreamed of:
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, The New York Times Book Review, the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and has been broadcast on “This American Life”. Dani was recently Oprah Winfrey’s guest on”Super Soul Sunday.” She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, The New School and Wesleyan University; she is co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. A contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler, Dani lives with her family in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Today I want to recommend that you become completely obsessed with Dani Shapiro’s work. Why? Because she talks about the emotional side of the creative process in a way that I think every writer and artist needs to hear. I am encouraging you to do two things:
Read her book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.
Watch my interview with Dani here:
Or listen to it as a podcast here:
In the conversation, we dig into so much, including:
- It is difficult for many people to give themselves permission to be called a “writer.”
- How many writers can feel held captive by their own “inner censor,” which keeps shifting, morphing, and changing as your career progresses.
- How she engages with others in-person and online, even though she is an introvert.
- How she has been “practicing the word “no.” And not attaching the word “sorry” to it. I’m learning about what it means to set a boundary.”
- Why she encourages writers to find a “rhythm and ritual” to write, because without them, “The space [to write] will not magically appear. If I don’t make the space to get the writing done, then the rest of it doesn’t work at all.”
- Why an internet connection can be so corrosive to one’s writing: “The instrument on which we are composing can, with one click, take you completely elsewhere. Before you even know what you have done. That is what is so insidious about it. With the flick of your index finger, you can be somewhere else. Most writers I know struggle with it.”
- Why “Waiting for inspiration is a surefire way to ensure work does not get done. I think inspiration is a fallacy. The number of times I have sat down feeling completely uninspired and then had a good day’s work probably equal the number of time when I sat down thinking “I’ve got it!” then had to undo everything that I did in that state. We are very often not the best judges of when we will do good work. A rhythm establishes a way of taking that question off the table.”
- Why she concludes: “It is a great gift, and it carries with it real risks, to live a creative life.”
Author Jon Acuff says this: “One of the cheapest, fastest ways to change your life is to read a book.” I strongly encourage you to read Dani’s book, Still Writing. Listen to the podcast. If you are wondering, “Gee Dan, how can I break through what is holding me back with my creative work,” I think you and your work will be changed by what she shares.