Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Hello, person working on your novel for God-knows-how-long! I see you there, eating your tuna sandwich over your keyboard at work, your face aglow with the Facebook triumphs of others. Today sucks, you say? I hear you. Sometimes, it feels like everyone else in the world is doing a slow jam with their big dream while you're stuck shuffling on the side. I know that side-shuffling. I did it for 10 years while writing my first novel, and will be going right back to doing it next month.
But this month, because that first novel is out and I am filled with many sparkly feelings, I've decided to let you in on some trade secrets — you know, little tricks and tips to make things go easier, because between you and me, this whole watching-others-go-where-you-haven't-yet is taking a soul toll. And, it doesn’t need to. Your work just needs to get done. With that in mind, I offer this list of semi-delusional but important motivators that I actually used to finish my own project:
(Oh, and if your "novel" is a painting or choreographed dance or other thing that gives you great joy, these still apply.)
1. The only thing that is going to make you feel better is doing the work. Sort of. Because, if we're being totally honest here, drugs will also make you feel better, at least temporarily. Same with a date with Michael Fassbender or a sudden delivery of fresh guacamole. But, the effects of all of those things wear off and leave you lower and/or needing a margarita. Meanwhile, that flush of pleasure you get from nailing a chapter, scene, paragraph, or even sentence? That is your true, good thing — the one that makes the rest of you come into focus. So, get off the Internet, tell your friends you might meet them later, and give yourself a paragraph to tackle between now and then. Even if nothing happens, something good is happening. (See #4 for details).
2. You are getting paid to do this. Of course, that's an all-out lie, and a potentially dangerous one, especially given the current state of arts-related industries. All the same, I've found that telling myself I'm getting paid eases the self-sabotaging part of my brain. It was especially useful in the months right after I had been laid off from my last job, when my family's bank account was rapidly dwindling, and I needed to spend at least a chunk of my day productively writing or I'd feel even worse about myself than before. Did telling myself that find me a job? Pay my mortgage, utilities, and student loans while feeding and clothing my kid? Of course not. But, it did help me focus in short, non-panic- and guilt-laden bursts. And sometimes, that's the difference between falling apart and getting it done.
3. Someone is waiting for your next chapter/scene/paragraph/sentence. No, I don't mean that in the cosmic sense. I mean right outside your door, someone, waiting. Maybe it's an old teacher or your best friend or that person you really want to impress. Maybe it's your narcissistic, backstabbing ex-boss who is going burn with self-loathing when she beholds your goddamn genius. Maybe it's Michael Fassbender and he wants to read it in bed. Whatever you need, make it real. Someone, somewhere, can't wait for this thing.
4. Every time you work on your book, you are putting something good into the world. Insane, you say? Narcissistic? Sure. But, unless you've got Kim Jong-un levels of power, that's hardly something to worry about. Listen, it's so easy to get frustrated, to look at what you're doing and see only the part where it doesn't bring you money, friends, or emotional stability (I’m looking at you, Yet Another Night Spent with Imaginary People.). So, give yourself this one. Because the truth is, every time you get in the room with your ideas, every time you take a tangle of intangible thoughts and find a way to express them, you're releasing good energy into the world. And, that energy is like a nutrient for the rest of us struggling to do the same thing.
I know what you’re asking yourself: Will these four semi-delusional things actually work for me? And honestly, I can’t answer that. But, I can tell you that working on your own thing RIGHT NOW, TODAY, will make you happier than any horoscope or online discount purchase or Googling you do to affirm that your ex is unhappy. It will also give you sexy summer legs and can't-be-beat abs. Now, go write.
Mira Jacob’s first novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing, was published by Random House in July. It has been translated into 7 languages. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and small army of useful self-delusions.