If you’re a creative person trying to Make a Thing, you’ve probably met your fair share of people who’ve told you that it’s dangerous to hope.
They’ve probably told you this with a tilted head and well-meaning sympathy in their eyes, as though they Know Better.
They’ve probably said, “Don’t get me wrong, you should write that book/paint that portrait/design that line of poodle-shaped ceramics—just don’t expect anything from it. That way, you won’t feel let down when it doesn’t work out.”
To be fair, you’ve probably even told yourself this.
(Well, if you’re me, you have.)
I’ve had people say this kind of thing to me a lot.
But I have this really revolutionary way of dealing with it. (Not really.)
I simply don’t listen.
See, if I listened, I would lose hope pretty quickly. And I can’t afford to do that.
Because I run on hope.
Hope is the petrol I put in my tank. It’s what kindles my creative fire. Hope is the thing that keeps me going. (Okay, and coffee.) Bottom line is: if I’m not hoping, I’m not working.
What do I mean by hoping?
I mean that when I’m writing a book, I believe all the good things it is possible to believe about a book.
I believe my agent will love it. I believe it will sell. I believe it will find an audience. I believe people will adore it as much as I do.
It’s not easy. In fact, it’s pretty hard to maintain a sense of hope in what sometimes feels like a never-ending maelstrom of Horrible Things.
But I do it anyway.
Because it’s the only thing I can do.
So in case you need a top up, here are some of the things I do to keep the positive vibes alive:
I give myself pep talks
Sometimes I’ll be like that bunny in the “you’re gonna do great today” meme and I’ll literally stand in front of a mirror and tell myself to keep going.
Sometimes I’ll write emails to myself when I’m backing up drafts of a manuscript. (When I was doing this for THE TURNAWAY GIRLS, I sent an email to myself that said, ‘Keep going. This is going to be your debut.’)
Often, in the mornings, while I’m having my first cup of coffee, I’ll write down all my dreams for a particular project.
Some days I don’t need a pep talk. Other days, I need three. (I find this is directly proportionate to the amount of time I’ve spent with The Head Tilters.)
A pep talk can be a flurry of words typed out on your laptop, or a whisper to yourself in the quiet of the evening.
It can be anything, as long as its central message reminds you why you’re Making a Thing and pushes you to keep going.
I hang out in bookshops
Bookshops are basically rooms full of realised dreams. They’re physical, touchable proof that the book I’m writing has the potential to become real.
Pick up a book in your genre. Run your hand over the cover. Feel its weight. Smell its pages.
Can you picture your book? Great. Now go home and write it.
(Note: you can adjust this technique to suit anything you’re trying to make. If you’re painting, go look at some paintings. If you’re making furniture, go to a design expo, etc.)
I block out negativity
Okay, so what if you’re at a dinner party and you tell someone you’re writing a book and they look at you in a way that makes you feel like you’re about the size of a grain of salt? Yeah. We’ve all been there. I don’t really have advice for that situation because it sucks and basically the only solution is to cry your eyes out and then fill yourself up with hope again.
But here’s my advice for avoiding all the pain to begin with:
DON’T TELL ANYONE YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK.
Or, only tell people who will hold your dreams with the delicate wonder they deserve.
You don’t have to tell anyone your creative secrets. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you’re spending your time. Keep your impossible dreams safe until they’re strong enough to face the critics.
I have conversations with my future self
I like to do this in the evenings, when everything’s quiet and tinted with purple. I lie on my bed, or on the floor. I close my eyes. I picture meeting my future self in my favourite coffee shop. I ask her how things are going and imagine the best possible answers.
I remember all the crazy, improbable, wonderful things that have happened to me already
I was born. (Seriously, look up the statistics on that one.) I met the love of my life in a coffee shop when I was eighteen. I sent poems out randomly and without query letters and somehow they were published before I was 20. I connected with my (perfect) agent. My (amazing) editor bought my book. I've received funding and met incredible people and I have the best poodle in the world.
These are just a few examples.
So much of our lives is miracle.
I keep working
If hope begets work, then work begets hope, too. Enough said.
If you run on hope, don’t let the world tell you you’re naïve or childish or silly for believing in your work.
Hoping is a radical act. It’s a rebellion.
Hoping is getting up every day and working and working and working even though you don’t know if your book will sell or your opera will be appreciated or your sculpture will find its way into someone’s living room.
You’re brave and strong and amazing, and you can do this.
We can all do this.
(I just realised this whole blog post is a pep talk.)
(I needed it, too.)