I ripped the layers of myself so far back to the very core, I was sure I’d die of exposure.
By far, it emerged as the most incredible year of my life.
I discovered a woman I’d put to sleep as a child out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to control her; that she would burn me; that people would—well—it didn’t matter because all of that hiding only isolated me from everything and everyone that mattered.
More than once this past year, and in rather dramatic Robin fashion, I stepped off the ledge of that life, intentionally kept small by my own fears, and discovered my own ability to fly.
Acknowledging and embracing the call to teach; leaving for France and the time there alone; returning to answer a call from spirit; believing in my own worth enough to launch ACW.
I let all that I’ve seen and known about myself all my life emerge without any apologies.
And, now, I see with so much more than my eyes, hear with so much more than my ears, believe with so much more than faith.
Women of my generation – I see you.
Women of my generation – I hear you.
Women of my generation – I believe in you.
That first day I sat in the big, fake leather chair at the eye doctor’s office, my little spirit shook.
At age 6, I couldn’t see the board at school. Typical. In my heart, though, I knew.
My eyes. Oh, my eyes.
Twice, sometimes three and even four times a year, I sat in that same chair as the world around me blurred in more dramatic ways.
“She could lose her sight,” I heard the doctor once say.
Somewhere around age 10, though, the doctor visits slowed. No one explained why. In my heart, though, I knew.
I wouldn’t lose my sight, but spend my life deeply obligated to my glasses and the health of my eyes.
In the years that followed, dozens of pairs of glasses came and went. I treated each eye doctor visit as self-care and fell in love with the routine of making sure my peepers got top-shelf treatment.
Graduating into progressives three years ago, I knew the annual glasses replacement would have to slow (they are damn expensive). My last pair took a beating, literally on life support for the last few months.
So, when it came time to level up my prescription, I found that thrill of picking out the new pair and taking care of mes yeux rushing back.
My brother said something to me the other day, “Robin, you have to really look at your sovereignty and ask yourself why you are letting XX affect you this way.”
I’d been complaining to him a lot, irritated by people who we like to call petty tyrants—those who exert their control by forcing what they know is a habitual reaction from you in order to manipulate.
He, however, was having none of it and told me so. I found it impossible to debate the merits of his assessment. I’d given my personal responsibility away and blamed it on another person.
I’d been procrastinating and whining about not having enough time for the things I love for a month. It definitely had to be because of all of these tyrants.
Over the course of the next few days, as I grew increasingly short-tempered in a wide range of areas related to freeing myself of these damned tyrants, I heard his bellowing voice in my head, “Why are you giving away your authority over the way your life plays out?”
My aggression with others grew and grew. My mind offered no willingness to bend to things I’d, before that point, conceded to for any number of reasons. I blamed others for my limited work on my novel writing, for frustrations at work, for situations that left me without things I needed, for communication that never quite communicated what I desired.
The funny thing was life didn’t get any better with all of this standing up for myself. It actually devolved.
Intolerant and thoroughly pissed off at others, I’d reached my boiling point. Everyone received my venom. I’d become a tyrant in defense against tyrants, lost myself and my productivity in the ugly circle of fury.
That’s when my husband stepped in.
“Robin, you control how you work and create and move through the world. Set the parameters, walk away from that which does not serve who you really are, and go from there.”
At that moment, my husband’s sage words sparked a deeper realization of what my brother meant—how I’d been taking the hatchet to myself thinking I was standing up to others. How I could make my way back to my creative, productive, communicative, centered self. He wasn’t telling me to go kick some butt. He spoke of sovereignty in terms of responsibility for how one reacts to others as they move into and out of your life.
It wouldn’t take days or even hours. It took about ten seconds to step into that responsibility and say, “I will choose to serve the health and well-being of me, my sweet family, and what we need to live our best, most purposeful lives. I will react in a way perpetuating such purpose.”
Understanding that my ability to navigate through life is first and most significantly impacted by the mindset going in shifted my perspective and sparked a renewed sense of purpose.
So, as August dips out of sight and the start of Fall descends upon us, I’m going to dig in and live with more purpose through the simple yet incredibly demanding act of personal sovereignty—taking responsibility for how I respond to the ebbs and flows of my life, and determining through my own actions how it all plays out.
So, I sat down fifteen mornings ago with the intent to pen a tome on the reality that I’m about as focused as a light breeze meandering through the desert these days.
My head is spinning.
I’m almost late for everything (on time is late for me).
My patience for crazy is wafer-thin.
I have lists for lists of the lists I haven’t completed because I forgot to make a list.
My mind drifts and lingers in useless places like the social media dark universe and daydreaming.
I re-opened this draft today and realized the “On Being Distracted” headline proved so valid that I couldn’t even get around to finishing a blog post on the topic.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask myself, beginning the misguided self-talk that leads me deeper and deeper down.
On one side, I am remarkably busy. My writing coaching business is booming, and I work with students all around the globe almost every day.
I also work with students all around the Lower Mainland almost every day, which means I’m spending a crazy amount of time on public transit. That level of contact with people, in and of itself, is enough to unsettle even the most chill of souls.
There, boom. The coaching part of my life is mapped out and accomplished with only the normal bumps in the dealing-with-other-humans road.
However, in the rest of my writing life, the lack of forward motion proves startling.
I sit down to edit, query or work on the novels – nothing.
I sit down to read (I haven’t read ANYTHING all summer that wasn’t for work) – nothing.
So goes the flow of being, and I recognize it as just that. Sometimes, you can’t squeeze more juice out when one side of your life is at full-speed and requires all of your attention. I will get back to a balance which gives me the time and energy to focus, probably sooner than I think.
Yet, I can’t help but feel like I am failing myself as a novelist.
Where’s the devotion?
Where’s the getting up every day and writing no matter what?
Where’s the “Do whatever it takes” required to make anything of yourself in this world?
I have beaten myself up without end for these times when I am tapped out, and I genuinely believe that I have to figure out how to honour them rather than let them steal pieces of me away.
Meanwhile, I’m still busy berating myself for choosing to finish three seasons of Outlander rather than write, or talk to friends on social media rather than read or research or focus on the craft in personal ways.
I suspect my head is waiting for the novel research trip, which is less than six weeks away. At least I can guarantee a bit of an endpoint for all of this foolish distraction.
I swear I will take my night-sweaty peri-menopausal level of rage out on the next person who tells me, “You just have to commit yourself to write every day.”
Stop already, writing gurus.
Those of us working our faces off at trying to live our authentic selves through a devotion to writing get it. The getting-words-down part is crucial to literary success.
However, I’m quite committed to attaining success at a few other elements of life as well:
Raising woke, healthy kids
Investing in my relationship with my husband
Nurturing and discovering fulfilling friend and colleague relationships
Paying my bills
Let’s be real, paying the bills is probably the top of that list. A lack of financial security puts a real damper on creative genius and that whole zen vibe most of us long to achieve in our personal lives.
We are busy, sometimes too busy, paying those bills to want to come home and write.
While my DH and I have attempted the “You go pursue your creative bliss. No worries about working a day job” thing at different points in our lives, money is a real thing.
We live in Vancouver, Canada—one of the most expensive cities in the world. Leisurely creative genius either comes at a tremendous personal price or is the exclusive purview of the already-wealthy.
Since the kids want to go to university, we want to live in Vancouver proper, and staying married is a life goal, we both need to work.
Being busy isn’t going away.
I teach creative writing, which is a true personal investment and labor of love for me because I adore bearing witness to creativity emerging from young people. To me, I have the perfect job, where I never actually stop writing.
I love it.
I’m an introvert who forced herself to become comfortable in extroverted situations. In a perfect universe, I’d roam the Earth searching for stories and bits of information, coaxing people into offering up their family tales and cultural tellings, consulting with elders on how to best share those pieces, alternately hiding away to write and then emerging to learn more before returning to hide again. With teaching, I get to do that.
However, when I settle into my writer’s studio after the week of coaching young people through their own storytelling, I find myself a bit unmotivated to work on my own stuff.
I’m exhausted. Plus, there’s so much to do: book research, website maintenance, social media, querying, working with editors, learning how to write better myself through webinars and sessions with my own coaches.
The list grows.
Balancing that with kids, mundane chores such as laundry, and just catching up with my own energy leaves me struggling to get more than a word or two on a page some days.
I want to give you a peek inside how I organize myself, but efore I lay down my process for staying in the writing flow let me just say this:
Some days, writing just doesn’t happen—and that is OK. My theory is that one lost day is self-care. When it starts to turn into multiple lost days, considering a reset of priorities may be in order.
Here’s how I keep myself from swirling down the lack-of-progress hole, even when I juggle a billion to-dos and know that reaching for another cup of coffee at 9 p.m. involves dire next-day consequences.
1. Plan Ahead.
Oh crap, here she goes telling us to plan, plan, plan. I agree this tip is annoying. However, I find nothing more satisfying and empowering than mapping out my days ahead of time, waking up in the morning with clear goals, and getting it all done.
This suits my writing style, as I am a Plotter with a capital P. If I don’t plan, I am unfocused and aimless. This is my devotion to leading a purposeful life. It definitely doesn’t work for everyone. You’ll also see I don’t really “write” every day in terms of novel work. I will blog, work on short stories, edit. Creating silos for work makes it less overwhelming.
2. To-do lists.
Make me a list and I will go slay a day. I’ve even started writing little “Yay!” notes or “You kick ass!” comments when I check things off to remind myself how satisfying it is to take care of my business. A big thing here is that I often have one or two things that just don’t get done. I make it a habit to transfer those to-dos to the next day’s list. No excuses.
3. Plan for breaks.
I break my day up into the following:
5:30-7:30 a.m. – Me time. Catch up with my brother, my friends, my Instagram, my meditation, my cat, my need to sit in silence.
7:30-8:45 a.m. – the epic chaos of getting the kids off to school.
9:15-10:45 a.m. – Yoga or blogging depending on how much my back and spirit hurt, and whether I can interact with humans on any given day. Today, it’s blogging even though I wanted to go to my fave yoga class because, well, humanity is not happening. 😉
11 a.m.-3 p.m. – Kill that to-do list.
3 p.m.-7p.m. – Kids, non-writing bits of life, and dinner on days I don’t work. Teaching on days I do.
4-8 p.m. – Some days I have long editing sessions.
8-10 p.m. – editing, reading, wishing I had the energy to edit or read.
10 p.m.-5:30 a.m. – I am religious about my sleep. Only if I am moved by serious inspiration or Ken wants to talk do I ever violate the 10 p.m. rule.
4. Set goals and be OK with hitting most of them.
Like I said, I aim high and get most of the way there some days. I’ve had to become comfortable with the ebb and flow of making a good life rather than achieving at all costs.
5. Be OK with pieces of your writing life taking time.
We are such an instant-gratification culture. It’s an epic challenge to understand that creativity must bubble and simmer and set. Pieces take time, and you must commit to the long game. Understanding that this sort of life cannot be conjured, but more chipped away at, gives you the drive to keep going.
However, don’t take so much time that you get lazy. Remain driven and go chase those creative dreams.
6. Understand there will be sacrifices.
Another UGH in my book of advice, and I think you’ll be surprised by what I recommend sacrificing in this quest for creative living.
Creativity takes energy and time. It requires you to clear yourself out and open up to intuition, imagination, ideas, and perspective. You may think the Hunter S. Thompson facade of hard living makes an amazing writer and is the epic life goal. However, HST shot himself. I’m not down with that sort of end.
It was this year in particular that I realized getting clear with writing also meant getting clear with myself.
I stopped drinking. I don’t eat meat. I exercise every day and am working toward dropping all the weight I put on as a result of sitting and ruminating about writing.
I got into meditation, which is incredible.
I rearranged my work situation for balance.
I quit people who’d I’d allowed too much access to me.
My DH and I made big lifestyle choices that allow both of us to partition off work and creative pursuits despite the wonderful reality that both of our jobs are creative.
I am busier than ever. However, this “sacrifice” and push toward self-care has opened up a crazy ton of creative space I never had access to before.
Do I recommend you take my path? Not really. Go do your own thing that works for you. These are simply ways of doing to consider. My only words of remaining wisdom are to not use the “too busy” excuse for not writing, but consider how writing can find its important place on your daily to-do list.