How To Vaporize Your Writer Despair

Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2011 on Writer Unboxed.

There is a hole. A big one.

Hundreds of thousands of writers are discovering this hole inside of them every year. In fact, the more I come into contact with published authors, the more I am finding that they, too, carry this gaping hole with them every day.

From this hole a nagging feeling arises like steam from the earth’s molten core–a steam that creeps up on us as we sit down to write. A nagging feeling that manifests itself as a big, fat, ugly question.

Ready for the question? Say it with me now:

What’s the use?

You think: I can certainly be a master of my craft, but I’m still at the whim of publishers, agents, and the rapidly changing market, so: WHAT’S THE USE?

You think: I can certainly be published, but, even then, I might not get the widespread recognition and acclaim I was hoping for, so: WHAT’S THE USE?

It’s a terrible question isn’t it? It gnaws at your inside, pulling you further and further down into the muck, until every time it’s that much harder to pop open that laptop and make magic happen.

There is a hole. A big one. Can you see it now?

What is that hole?

It’s hard to explain. But the best way to describe it is to first talk about Buddhism.

(I know. You think I’m going on a tangent. I’m not. Don’t worry: everything ties up nicely at the end.)

Why Our Generation Needs To Return To Wisdom

Personally, I don’t see Buddhism just as solely a spiritual teaching, but as a wisdom teaching. What is wisdom but an ancient way of knowing how to be at peace with chaos?

Wisdom is the understanding and execution of old, practical, universal truths. Understanding and practicing these truths have helped humans throughout the ages to be at peace with chaos–and what worked for our ancestors can work for us, too.

You see, Buddhism teaches us that in fact there is no “hole” missing inside of us: we are already complete. We are already where we want to be, where we need to be, and where we should be. But it is our need to seek completion, approval, money, fame, things, or people’s acceptance that causes us to consistently feel that “hole” inside of us.

It is precisely this constant striving that is causing us writers to continually ask ourselves this question:

“What’s the use?”

But what if we stopped striving? Even for just a brief moment. What would happen?

The hole would get filled.

Because we would finally realize that the “use” of writing is just that: to write. That the use of getting published is just that: to get published. That the use of making a living as a writer, even if you’re not a millionaire, is just that: to make a living as a writer.

I know what you’re going to say:

“But I feel like I’m so far away from where I’m supposed to be!”

You may feel far away from where you are supposed to be, but you aren’t. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Listen, nobody has ever looked at a tree, pointed to it and said:

“I can’t wait until that tree accomplishes something meaningful!”

That would be ridiculous. Because we would all agree that the tree has ALREADY accomplished something VERY meaningful: it has successfully accomplished being a tree.

Human beings are the only organisms on earth that are not satisfied with simply being themselves. They won’t have that kind of simplicity. We must achieve, we must acquire, we must consume, and we must get more and more and more and more. And in the rare cases when we DO achieve what we want, it is STILL not enough. Even then, we are still convinced that there is a hole inside of us that needs to be filled.

At that point, only the “w” for wisdom can really fill in the “hole” and make you “whole” again.

What is that wisdom?

It is this simple, but ancient truth: you don’t need to accomplish anything today other than being yourself.

How To Vaporize Your Writer Despair

You do not need to strive to be somebody else, or be somewhere else, or have something else no more than a tree has to strive to become a tree.

A tree just is, as you just are.

I know. This runs completely contradictory to everything you have ever heard, and it may be hard for you to wrap your head around it at first. But the truth is this: what everyone else tells you is the true measure of your value–money, fame, things, everyone else’s opinion of you–has made you downright miserable day-in and day-out.

Let’s be honest. You’re sick of it. This constant “striving” is driving your crazy, and it’s this striving to measure up to other people’s standards that is getting in the way of your peace and well-being. Consequently, it is this lack of peace and well-being that is getting in the way of your writing, and THAT is leading you to consistently ask the question:

“What’s the use?”

Which is really only shorthand for this question:

“What is the use of ME?”

If you search for the answer to that question in money, fame, and praise, you will always feel useless because these things are consistently in flux and can’t always be counted on.

But, if you stop searching to fill in the “hole,” and be at peace with being “whole,” you might just discover how useful you really are.

Whether you’re writing your first novel, like me, or scrambling to get published, please know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

An Exercise

Today, instead of striving for achievement, I would like you to plant yourself at your writing desk and imagine that you are a great oak tree rising from the ground. As you rise, I want you to become aware of the fact that you are already beautiful, already perfect, and already complete.

Notice that, in that moment, being yourself brings you great peace, joy, and fulfillment.

Finally, ask yourself:

“What could be more useful than that?”

much usefulness,


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11 comments on “How To Vaporize Your Writer Despair

  1. Andrea Lewis says:

    Great post Ollin! You have impeccable timing. I will indeed sit at my desk and imagine that I am a great oak tree rising from the ground. Thank you!

  2. So true. Our perfectionist tendencies as writers really haunt, demoralize, and stifle anything creative and beautiful we ever had. Our journalistic side tends to dominate and kill anything even remotely beautiful sometimes. But that’s okay, because I am an oak tree today. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Jewels Pleiadian Ufo Blog says:

    This is an awesome post , thank you

  4. Yvette Carol says:

    Hi Ollin! My mentor asked me at the weekend, ‘Why do you think you push so hard?’ I have to tell you, I was stopped in my tracks for a minute. I had never entertained the possibility before then, that all the striving and trying and working I do every day, could possibly be a negative. In the day since, I’ve tried to ‘stop’ at least a little every day 🙂

  5. indowaves says:

    A nice write-up..Such encouraging words are necessary in times when survival of writing and writers have become an extremely difficult task. Let’s writing also bring enough money so that writers do not have to compromise with their self respect by giving to inhuman lifestyles, unfair means etc.

    – Arvind K.Pandey

  6. Marvellous post. I was just about to go back to a story I loved writing until… You have given me back my allow-ability to not write a perfect first draft.

  7. Liz Carmichael says:

    Reblogged this on Liz Carmichael's Portal and commented:
    This is the best blog post I have read in years, thanks to Olin, and feel it is worth repeating.

  8. Dana Bennett says:

    Perspective. Thank you for supplying it with this wisdom.

  9. RD Meyer says:

    Great post! I’ve always said that I’ll write for me, regardless of whether anyone else ever wants to read my stuff with me. 😀

  10. Katie says:

    This is beautiful. I recently finished reading a book titled ‘The Myth of Stress’ and this article is sort of along the same vein: accept yourself and your life as it is now, and realize there is nothing you need to change. It works wonders for your stress levels (especially as a writer) Thank you for this, Ollin!

  11. Ara says:

    Many religions say you are acceptable, so why choose Buddhism to help you?
    Buddhist teaching is harder to apply, but like most things in life, anything worth doing requires work. And Buddhism has you doing the work: you accepting yourself, you mitigating your desires. But it still needs a congregation, And this is what you are providing with your blog, Ollin. We need this congregation for support. And to see that everyone else is going, or has gone through, the same thing, so it’s ok that you do, too.
    Stay calm, carry on, do your passion. The alternative is to not live.

Comments are closed.