At times, we all feel alone. Whether we’re facing seemingly overwhelming obstacles or feel as if we’re drowning in a shark-infested sea and being swamped by waves of opposition, we feel as if we’re on our own and getting to safe harbor, whatever that might be, is solely up to us. There is no lifeguard, no rescue coming, no help on the horizon. We sink or swim alone.
And we feel . . . abandoned, betrayed, even angry.
Those are human reactions, and not unexpected. But there are other times when we feel alone and we resent it. Times that are celebratory. We seek a goal for a long time and finally achieve it–and have no one to celebrate with us. We experience a life-changing event, and have no one to tell. We have climbed the career ladder and gotten to the rung we sought, and the world doesn’t notice. We devote our lives to accomplishing a purpose, and do it, and look around and we stand alone. Not only is no one there to celebrate, no one notices or cares.
And we feel . . . let down, abandoned, betrayed and even angry.
In mentoring, I run into this a lot. Writers so dedicate themselves to learning the craft, the business, to networking and promoting and marketing and writing and producing that they sacrifice everyday life. Depending on where you start, singleminded devotion for a time might be needed to achieve your goal. The college of seeking to master your chosen path, so to speak.
But that college can become a treadmill that the writer stays on for decades or even a lifetime, and if s/he does, there are going to be problems that spill over into the emotional realm. Why is that?
There’s a strong correlation between physical and emotional. What we experience in one, manifests in the other. You can think yourself sick, exhaust yourself physically and tumble into emotional instability.
During the course of a career on that treadmill, there are many inclines and declines. You’ll know moments of joy so complete you pinch yourself. You’ll also know moments of such profound disappointment and disillusionment that you don’t want to pinch yourself, you want to escape.
Too much of a good thing is like a prison. Doubt it?
Have you ever walked out into the bright sunlight and been blinded by it? Walked from the bright sunlight into a darkened room and been blinded by it? On either side, you can’t see a thing. It renders you immobile–in writer’s terms, frigid. You can’t move because you can’t see–unless you have something else present to counter and restore balance. Something bigger, that resides inside you that acts as an equalizer.
If you’re walking from light into the dark, that something might be memory of where things are positioned. Saying you’re entering your own home. You know the entry has a rug–so you don’t trip. You know that in two steps if you turn left, you need to skirt a table with a vase on it. Or it’s ten steps to the living room. You know what’s where. That gives you the confidence and certainty to walk on. But what if you’re walking into a stranger’s home?
Odds are pretty good you’re going to pause until your eyes adjust. You’re going to have the discipline to hold on until you can assess your surroundings and not trip, walk into a wall, bump the table and knock the vase to the floor where it shatters. What makes you do that–pause, wait, have the discipline to hold-on? The fear of injury, of doing damage, of making a mistake, of misstepping. It’s some emotion driving the physical action.
Whether you’re dealing with a character’s character traits or the character traits of the writer, there’s a direct relation between physical and emotional. As a writer, you might want to jump on the epublishing train, or not. Your decision will be made, consciously or subconsciously, based on both physical circumstances (as they are or as you see them and potential as you see it) and emotional circumstances (as they are or you see them and potential as you see it).
If you have a great working relationship with your publisher and are content with what you’re producing, you’re less inclined to want to change something. But if you’re not content with your current circumstances, you’re more inclined to want to change. Your emotional reaction to your physical circumstance weighs in more heavily.
Let’s say you’re getting on well with your publisher but you suddenly experience artistic differences. The publisher wants more of the same kind of books but you want to write a different type of book. The publisher isn’t interested in that type of book from you. Your emotional reaction to that circumstance well might drive you to seek another or an additional publisher–or to epublish yourself.
Now you might be fearful of doing it, you might assess and deem it a fiscally sound move, but you will go through a process where you weigh the publisher’s reaction–will or won’t they drop you for doing this? Will or won’t they demand exclusive publishing in your next contract? Will or won’t they continue to market and promote at the same level or a higher one? If so, you have one emotional reaction. If not, you have another emotional reaction. You, of course, can choose to go either way. But you’ll endure the process in coming to your decision, weighing the physical and emotional.
As human beings, we all go through this same sort of process, which means our characters should go through it too.
Now one aspect that I’ve neglected thus far other than to allude to it as that something inside you that acts as an equalizer is on par with the physical and the emotional. That is the spiritual.
It’s often neglected overtly but is in truth most powerful. The spiritual aspect of a human being is home to beliefs, motivations, judgments, purpose. It’s the core that stirs together all of the intangible things the writer or the character considers of greatest value and highest import.
This core that is uniquely our own trumps the physical and the emotional. It leads to tackling insurmountable obstacles, into taking risks and doing that which all logic deems impossible. When we’re leaden and weary, it drives us to keep trying. When we’ve been knocked down over and again, it gives us the strength and endurance to get up one more time. When all signs say stop, it’s a pipe dream, a waste of time, it says go, go, do it! It’s what enables a mother to lift a car, a man to dive into raging water to save a stranger, a fireman to run into an inferno building thousands are trying to escape.
The spiritual side of writers and therefore characters is the home of heroes and villains. Like everything else, that of greatest value and most import can be used for good or evil. It is here, in the spiritual realm, that those choices are made and those judgments defining good and evil are housed.
If your characters lack spiritual aspects, they lack essentials that make them not just human but uniquely human and memorable. Something significant is missing. And its that something that ties and binds between writer and character and then between character and reader.
If the writer fails to acknowledge his/her unique spiritual aspects, then s/he is going to experience a lot of moments–some really long ones–where s/he feels s/he is walking around with a big hole in the chest. See, it’s these spiritual aspects that generate the fulfillment and contentment that resides in the heart.
Now let’s put this all together. If your reason for writing is to earn a lot of money, that’s physical. Bluntly put, it’s not enough. If your reason for writing is to be famous, that‘s not enough. Yesterday’s celebrities are forgotten names today. If your reason for writing is seated in purpose, then fulfillment is possible. And by leading yourself from the spiritual aspect, you factor in the emotional and physical. Odds of success are far greater, because you’re addressing all aspects with balanced weight.
When you do that, you engage balance. And with balance engaged, you and your characters are still going to experience inclines and declines, but they won’t do it alone. The force behind the purpose of it all is there with them.
Another human might not be present, but that gut-wrenching sense of loneliness is not.
There is an enormous difference in being lonely and being alone. Many stand in a room surrounded by people they know and feel alone. The challenge for them is they’re looking outward for someone to make that loneliness go away. But the answer to it, to filling it, lies within.
So in your writer’s life and in your characters, be aware of the dimensional aspects of the whole person/character. Understand that balance defines character. Gaps and absences define flaws and conflicts. And plunder the spiritual aspects of your character first, because it’s where the best of the best and the worst of the worst resides.
It’s where you’ll discover how to be alone on those inclines and declines and still be content.