3 Ways Successful Writers Show Up For Themselves
"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
About a year ago, I quit my engineering job to pursue writing full-time. I had all these dreams to self-publish books, build an email list, and create some online courses.
So what have I done over the past year?
I’ve completed two very rough drafts of books I haven’t looked at in months and totally shut my blog down.
In my engineering job, I was a rockstar employee — getting tasks done in half the time while still maintaining spotless quality. I was efficient, a great time manager, and I knew my way around complicated goal tracking spreadsheets.
What happened when I quit?
Where was the fire? The grit? The work ethic?
It’s all still there. The problem was I didn’t know how to show up for myself.
I knew how to show up for my boss, for my co-workers, and for my clients, but for myself? No way. I didn’t even know what that meant.
It’s only now, a year later, when my marriage has dissolved along with my ex-husband’s extra income, that I am finally committing to showing up for myself and doing the dang thing.
The road getting here was not easy, and the road ahead of me doesn’t look easy, either. But it’s time I start taking myself seriously.
How do I do this?
By showing up for myself in three important ways:
- Self-compassion above all
- Habits that lead me toward myself
- Hanging with people that challenge me
Self-Compassion Above All
Before I’m able to show up for myself physically and mentally, I need to first show up for myself emotionally. This takes first priority in every circumstance.
Otherwise, I end up building my habits and doing my work as a way to outrun and avoid my feelings, which isn’t sustainable in the long run and makes making a living as a writer harder than it has to be.
What I’ve learned to do is spend as much time as I need taking care of my mental and emotional health so that all of me is fully aligned as I pursue what I’m passionate about.
Cultivating a practice of being as kind as I possibly can to myself is the foundation of showing up for myself as I embark on my journey as a writer — not just the cherry on top.
For instance, just this morning I woke up to a knot in my stomach and a sinking lonely feeling.
"So today I woke up to the knot in my belly and the lonely feeling and I did something crazy, ya’ll: I felt it."
In the past, I would have blown right over this feeling in the name of “getting stuff done” and, ironically, “showing up for myself.” I would have been working away, something tugging at me from the back of my mind, making it hard to focus.
I would get frustrated that this stupid lonely feeling is still here and is getting in the way of the important stuff I have to do today. Only when it was obvious this knot in my stomach wasn’t going to let me get any work done until I addressed it, would I have thrown up my hands from my keyboard muttering, “Maybe I should do some yoga or something…”
But today? Today I did not do that.
After committing to feeling all my feelings about a year ago, I’ve realized that I don’t let my feelings go — I give my feelings the loving attention they need for as long as they need it until they let me go.
So today I woke up to the knot in my belly and the lonely feeling and I did something crazy, ya’ll: I felt it.
I felt the discomfort of feeling lonely. I felt the fear of wondering if I’m even going to make it. I felt the shame of not being farther along in my creative endeavors.
"The biggest way I practice self-compassion in the face of difficult emotions is to talk to myself like I’m my own parent. I see the lonely feeling and knot in my belly as little girl me, and instead of ignoring her to get some work done, I welcome her to sit on my lap as long as she needs."
This morning I wrapped my arms around myself and I said things like, “Oh, sweetie. Of course you feel the way you do. Of course. I’m here. We’re going to get through this together.”
Then what happened?
The feeling opened up, like a blooming flower, and by the end, I felt all tender and in touch with myself.
This tenderness then gave me new fuel to get done what I need to get done, which is in stark contrast to what it feels like to try and get things done in a desperate and disjointed attempt to avoid the uncomfortable feeling.
Self-compassion above all is the only sustainable way toward self-improvement and making a living writing.
Building Habits That Lead Me Toward Myself
Success is built on habits. We all know this.
But I also know from experience that I’m going to end up succeeding at the wrong thing if I’m not intentional about building habits that lead me toward myself instead of away from myself.
What do I mean by this?
Well, for most of my life, I’ve chased success as a way to escape my shame. Because if I’m successful, I must be worthy of love, right?
But as you probably know from experience as well, success isn’t an antidote for shame. The only antidote for shame is love, and when I chase success, I’m really just settling for admiration instead of the real love I crave.
This makes it really important for me to get real about the habits I want to create. If the intention behind them is anything other than for the fun of self-improvement and proving to myself I can make a living doing what I love, then performing those habits isn’t really me showing up for myself, it’s me running away from myself.
"If you’re not sure if a habit is going to lead you toward yourself or away from yourself, just try it out. Stay aware of how it makes you feel. Do you have to dissociate from a part of yourself to get it done? Adjust as necessary."
If you’re having a hard time getting a streak going, that’s a sign something is wonky, and you’ll have to show up for yourself emotionally with self-compassion until you can get it sorted.
Don’t get distressed or frustrated when this happens. Instead, rejoice, because it means you have an opportunity to find and connect with yourself on a deeper level. And, in the end, that’s all you’re really looking for anyway.
Cultivate habits that point you back to yourself. Get rid of the habits that don’t.
Hanging With People That Challenge Me
Finding a network full of like-minded people is important for anyone in any career—but it’s especially important to those of us in the creative and online-business fields.
Most people with traditional jobs don’t quite understand what it’s like (or that it’s even possible) to pursue a career in your creative passions. Friends and family members who are sympathetic and supportive are really nice and all, but they never seem to quite get it, you know?
There is nothing like connecting with another creative or getting involved in a group of like-minded creatives to remind you it is possible to make a living doing what you love and that you can do it. I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like these almost daily to keep going and showing up for myself.
"But just surrounding myself with like-minded people isn’t enough."
This point is best illustrated through the story of Portland writer, Eric Witchey. Eric has sold over 140 short stories and written several novels, but you know what he attributes some of his early success to? Leaving his writing critique group.
It’s not because he didn’t like the people or because he’s not a fan of critique groups, it was because there was nobody in that group that challenged him. The group members didn’t seem interested in challenging one another so they could be successful, but they sure were interested in talking about what it might be like to get published one day.
After several years with this group, nobody having ever really published anything, Eric quit the group. Not longer after, he sold a few short stories and really got his career started.
The most chilling part of this story, though, is that nearly 15 years later, that critique group still holds meetings. To this day, not a single member has published or sold a single piece of writing.
Not a single one.
This is the importance of hanging with people who are not only like minded, but who also challenge you.
"My rule of thumb is I like to try to connect with people who are at least a few steps ahead of me."
Connecting with these people, even if it’s only going to their conferences, reading their books, listening to their podcasts or taking their courses, has been extremely helpful in advancing my knowledge of writing and online businesses in general--not to mention helped connect me with more successful writers that challenge me. And the cycle continues.
I think of it this way: everyone you meet points you back to a part of yourself.
If you’re hanging with people who are mostly just interested in talking about publishing some day but seem more content to complain about the work than to actually do it, they are highlighting that part inside of you as well. Or at least, they aren’t shining a light on the parts of you that are necessary to call upon in order to be as successful as you want to be.
"This is why it is really important to hang with people who challenge you because the people who challenge you have found out how to access these important parts of themselves and are subconsciously teaching you to do the same."
I’ve found that surrounding myself with people who challenge me enough to point me to the archetypes already within me that I must call upon to become a successful writer is imperative for me to become a successful writer.
It’s come to the point in my life where I need to start showing up for myself in all three of these areas otherwise I will remain stuck where I’m at. Showing up for myself is the only way out of my currently messy life and I’m proud to say I’m here for it.
If you’re ready to show up for yourself too, let me make it easy for you — just remember the following:
- Self-compassion above all: Before you’re able to show up for yourself physically and mentally, you need to first show up for yourself emotionally. This takes first priority in every circumstance.
- Build habits that lead you toward yourself: If the intention behind your habit is anything other than the fun of self-improvement, then performing that habit isn’t really showing up for yourself, it’s running away from yourself. Cultivate habits that point you back to yourself. Get rid of the habits that don’t.
- Hang with people who challenge you: Surround yourself with people who inspire you to call upon the parts of yourself you need to be successful, otherwise you might get stuck never embodying who you’re meant to become.
All you’re looking for is yourself. Let everything you do reflect this, regardless of the results. You won’t regret it.