Why you should embrace struggle, not peace (if you’re a writer)

On January 1, 2015 I made a resolution that I hoped would change my writing life. I decided to meet each moment with peace.

Here’s how it happened.Doris Lessing quote In November and December of last year, it seemed everywhere I turned–blogs, books, Ted Talks–I was bombarded with the same message: Inner Harmony was a natural and effortless state out of which your work will flow with soul-satisfying ease.

Whether you’re an artist, writer, or retailer, it didn’t seem to matter.

Did I want to join the club? Hell yeah.

As writers, we know about flow. We often struggle to get there. It usually takes hours and days (and months) to find the core of the piece, chapter or book we’re working on. That place of deep, united focus where the flow runs strong and carries you on its current. That’s the writer’s bliss (second to seeing your book in print for the first time).

If you’re a  s-l-o-w  writer like me the promise of productivity is a serious draw. Meet every writing moment with peace and just skip over the chaos and struggle?  What writer doesn’t want that?  I don’t know any writer who doesn’t want that. Avoid the questioning, the agonizing doubts, the wasted scribbling, the deleted pages. Just leap over it all, and go to flow.

Think what you could accomplish. Write your next book in 6 months (instead of 5 years), launch your e-course, kick butt on social media, start doing guest blogs, learn SquareSpace, create that new header—all the stuff waiting on your list that you may never get to.

And through it all, you will be peacefully meeting the moment.

Have you ever noticed how a strong resolve to do something sometimes changes from a goal into a rule that you feel pressured to follow?  That’s how the peace idea fell apart for me. My goal of meeting every writing moment with peace turned into:

I have to meet every moment with peace (or else I’m failing).

We need struggle, not peace

The struggle is essential. It is absolute nourishment for a writer. There’s nothing quite as useful. Why?

Let’s track it. What exactly is the struggle? What are its parts?

First, there’s the struggle to create the physical time and space to write. And the ongoing challenge to be faithful to it on a regular basis.

Your second, more difficult task is to focus the busy, churning mind.  Our minds are flooded and preoccupied most of the time with distractions, the pressing to do list, the emails, the family, the unexpected doctor’s visit—everything we feel we must keep up with and attend to.

To get to fresh writing we have to get to fresh thinking and feeling. This requires a strong intention and a focused effort whether it’s our first draft or our fourth.  This is especially true if your goal is to open beyond your well-worn ideas to new insight, if your purpose is to go beyond parading what you already know or paraphrasing what someone else knows.

 Tweet: The struggle is essential because it is the struggle that orders the chaos and brings clarity.

The insights that matter are wrenched from struggle, confusion, and from chaos. It is the struggle itself that orders the chaos and clarifies it. But in order to do that you have to dive in all the way. You have stand naked and face it and feel the impact.  To create something original and fresh, you have to wait, hear, and listen to what is elusive, whispering, and slippery.  When you’re not loving it, you’re hating it. Love and hate are helpful. They expand and contract to get the writing born.

What isn’t helpful is to pretend that everything’s peaceful and harmonious when it’s not.

The Writer’s Choice

What the struggle is about on a deeper level is making a conscious choice to enter the ring as “Writer.”  To face everything that says you don’t have time or energy or talent. To face the voices and circumstances that say it’s ridiculous, impossible, or pointless.  At bottom, it means choosing to value your work because you have decided it is important.

The thing is:  When you enter the ring, you know you’re not up to it. When you dive into the chaos, you don’t know what you’re going to do with it. And you have to be willing to not know, to trust yourself and the “something” greater that’s leading you there.

Here’s the truth:

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ~ Doris Lessing, Winner of the Novel Prize for Literature

The struggle is really a quest – and the prize that awaits you is the birth of your own voice, your own truth.  You discover it anew with each piece you begin and pursue to the end.  That’s when you get the peace:  you just don’t start out with it.

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5 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Wonderfully said, Sally! It’s odd how often we unconsciously take well-intended advice and turn it into an unhelpful rule, isn’t it? I often find that working through the struggle and the days where the words aren’t flowing are what gets me to those moments of blissful flow. If I waited for flow to happen, I would never write anything. 🙂

  2. Sally Wolfe says:

    Yes, isn’t that true? It’s a process that takes time and courage to show up over and over. Thanks for sharing, Lynn.

  3. T.O. Weller says:

    Thank you for a thought-provoking piece, Sally.

    I struggle with struggle. That’s not meant to be glib; I really do. On the one hand, it is as you say: struggle brings clarity. But, on the other hand, I believe we create the struggle itself. That being said, I can’t help but wonder how much more flow we would have if we chose to create the flow.

    As you describe though, if we turn that into a rule to be followed, it becomes a struggle … but, again, we’ve created the struggle.

    I hope I haven’t muddied the waters. I keep hesitating to submit my reply for fear that it sounds too confused. But then, it shows how I struggle with struggle, so I’m pushing the button now. 🙂

  4. Sally Wolfe says:

    I totally get that, Tracey! The struggle with struggle is real for me too. I think that somewhere there’s an opportunity to be honest about the challenges and at the same time to wish and to intend for ourselves sincerely that we lessen the amount of time “struggling” and learn to enjoy more flow! Thank you so much not only for your comment but the suggestions you gave me that made this post go deeper.

  5. It’s so true. Life (and struggles) happen between the tension of two polarities – without one we can’t know the difference. I need to keep reminding myself of this. I found you via the A-list blogging FB page (am now following you on twitter) 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, it was a timely reminder for me. Amelia

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