As advertised, Viable Paradise rewired my brain and changed me into a different kind of writer. Jim McDonald says that Viable Paradise teaches us what might otherwise take three or four years to learn. What I wasn’t expecting was that it in one week it also took my soul on a journey, from start to finish.
Prior to VP I didn’t have friends who were writers. Not friends with whom I read, critiqued and hung out talking about writing. I honestly didn’t struggle much with imposter syndrome or its kin. I just enjoyed writing and was starting to learn the benefit of constructive critiques.
Prior to VP I’d never heard someone’s work praised and wondered why mine didn’t garner praise for the same things. I’d never had an excellent professional writer sit down with me and say “I liked your story” and then spend 45 minutes pointing out its valid flaws. I’d never compared a critique of my work with the others’ critiques and tried to tell who was “better.” I’d never read a friend’s story that was so freaking good I felt I would never be as good a writer as they. I’d never been in a room of mostly younger-than-me writers thinking “but they have twenty more years to write than I do!” And I’d abso-ma-fucking-lutely never heard the publishing equivalent of “Let’s do lunch” from someone in the business to a new writer.
Despair, insecurity, jealousy, and general anxiety all dropped in on me during the week. On top of that was piled all my normal “I’m in a group and I will not be OK unless everyone likes me!” angst. Thank God, I already knew, from the painful process called “growing up,” to let my values, not my feelings, dictate my actions. I didn’t let my newfound competitive streak turn me into a jerk and I forced myself not to simply run and hide. But I did spend a lot of the week with difficult emotions simmering, even as I was having one of the absolute best weeks of my life.
Saturday morning around 7 am, I received the gift. The night before someone had been given potentially life-changing praise. I was still dealing with the opposition of happiness for my friend and despair for myself. Then I thought, “Do I want to be happy for my colleague?”
“Yes, absolutely!” said my true self.
“Then if being a writer makes me jealous and miserable I’m not going to write. And I want to write. So stop it!”
The pain in my heart lifted, and I was purely happy. Happy for my friends and all their future success. Happy that I can write and write well and learn to write better. It was a blessing on my tired heart.
Years ago I used to collect a thing. The collecting community for that thing could be rather competitive as there were only so many things and they were sometimes hard to find. I found myself caught up in the swirl and making myself unhappy by worrying about getting the new thing.
I realized quickly that it was insane to have a hobby that makes me miserable. I set myself a rule: “If it’s not fun, I’ll stop collecting.” I happily collected the thing for many more years. Sometimes I missed out on the hot new thing, but sometimes I found one. Either way, I had fun. If the competitive anxiety started, I’d squash it with the stern reminder, “If it’s not fun, I’ll stop.”
Writing is more than a hobby for me. It is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 18, something I was only brave enough to do for the last four years, and something that I give up other fun for. If it’s not fun, I’ll stop. I won’t be a miserable writer. Other people will, inevitably, get something I won’t: a deal, a review, an award, a sales figure. I may not be happy for all of them, but I sure as as hell can’t let it make me miserable. I don’t want to be a writer if I can’t be happy for other writers.
There will be times the misery monster creeps into my heart and taunts me but I will shoo her out. I’ve done it for much less important things and I will do it for this. Feel free to hold me to it.
That perfect clarity, the trip through the valley and back, may end up being the greatest gift I received from Viable Paradise. Without it, I might have had years of pain and foolishness as I moved into the writing community. Instead, I went on a voyage, I crossed the sea, and in one week I was changed.