Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Beat the Apathy Monster

Hey all, I've been unplugged for the past few days. It was nice to take a break, but I'm happy to be back. While I was away, working hard on my WIP every free second I got, I was thinking about how there's nothing worse as an author than to be unpublished. I know this feeling first-hand because, well...I'm unpublished (outside of a few magazine articles). Telling people you're working on a WIP doesn't cut the butter. People want results. They don't think you're a "real" writer unless you've put yourself out there and published.

Which I get. Fine. You can talk about Emily Dickinson all you want (the great American poet had less than a dozen poems published in her lifetime, and yet she's been hugely influential), but no one is going to think you're the next Emily Dickinson. This is America, baby. We want results.

Enter: the Apathy Monster. Unpublished authors are stalked by this blood-thirsty predator. Some published writers are as well, but not as many. The beast is mostly bred from within: it's fertilized by self-imposed, unrealistic expectations, grows in the womb of our self-doubt, and comes to term when we most need to keep faith in ourselves. Thinking that all our hard work might go unnoticed is one of the most desolate feelings in the world. It derails people for years, making them question why they continue to put themselves through this.

The monster scares us so badly that we forget all the great lines we've written, all the wondrous forms we've painted, and worry only that people--if they notice us at all--will only notice our flaws.

Not that I'm a successful artist (yet), but my sense of this is that successful artists know they can't eradicate this hopeless feeling. So they don't even try. My guess is that they accommodate this emptiness, even use it to inform their work. Because I don't care who you are, whether you're the MVP of the Super Bowl or a window washer working up on the thirtieth floor, you have self-doubts. The wise artist understands this common human thread and weaves it into their work. In doing so, people recognize themselves in the work and connect with it.

Don't dismiss your doubts. Don't bury your fear of the Apathy Monster. Don't judge your feelings while you create because you can't allow your focus to waver. If you can befriend the monster, build him a little efficiency suite in your heart, then we'll all be better for it.

I'm here to tell you that you can succeed. I have crushing self-doubt sometimes, too. Don't worry. In fact, this past week there were a few moments where I felt like quitting. But we can't ever quit. There are too few of us artists to begin with.

You can do it.


  1. "They don’t think you’re a “real” writer unless you’ve put yourself out there and published."

    I pretty much get that line from my own mother, everyone time writing comes up. Like a punch in the gut, but I grew up in a tough neighborhood, I'm not going down that easy. Good post again!

  2. Thanks man! Yeah, I know. Most people are very bottom-line, results-oriented folks. But I believe we as writers can't be that way all the time. We can't rush our writing just so we can get product on the (virtual) shelves. Don't let it get you down!