on what is true
Lately I’ve been thinking about freedom.
There’s some amount of irony here, as I’m writing this in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Freedom has been Americanized so thoroughly that, as a concept, it has lost most of its teeth. Ask a white, middle-class American to define freedom and they’ll probably say something along the lines of “doing what I want to do when I want to do it, for good or for ill.”
But freedom is more than self-determination. In her post “commitments,” Molly Mielke argues that we all define freedom differently. When you ask someone how they frame freedom, what you’re really asking is what do they want.
I’ve been thinking about freedom as I reflect on my second year of writing full-time (which is really more part-time due to health reasons). On paper, I live a pretty good life. The disability throws a wrench in things, but for the most part, I am privileged — I’m safe, my needs are more than met, and I have the “freedom” to prioritize creative pursuits as I see fit. But I still feel constrained.
My writer’s group is full of people at varying stages of their career. We have querying writers and agented writers and authors with books coming out (everyone preorder SHANGHAI IMMORTAL by A.Y. Chao!). We have writers who are new to the industry and writers who have been working on their craft for years. It is an incredibly diverse group that blesses me on the daily.
We often talk about contentment. What does it mean to “arrive”? Is arriving even possible in an industry that worships constant generativity? Even established authors struggle with this. You publish one book only to start work on another, knowing all the while that you are expected to maintain a social media presence that sells not only your work but yourself.
The work is never done. This should be a cause for celebration — human beings are always in flux, changing and adapting and ever aspiring to greater heights. To be an artist is to devote yourself to the seemingly mundane task of improvement.
This “growth mindset” has become a curse. Our work is never enough. We are never enough. To be a creative is to strive for something always out of reach. There’s no such thing as arrival, but to acknowledge that is to acknowledge all the ways our world has wronged us. So we keep working. We work until we’re burned out, until we’re defeated and dead inside. And then we do it all over again.
To some, freedom might be financial independence — making enough money that you can quit your day job and write full-time. To others, it might be hitting the bestseller list, or going viral on TikTok, or or or—
These are all good things. I want them for every single writer I know. But they’re all reliant on external circumstances — things that will likely always be out of our control.
The older I get, the more I realize that freedom is a state of mind.
I am free when I am in flow.
I am free when I am prioritizing creative pursuits in a way that brings me joy, both in the moment and long-term.
I am free when the process is more fulfilling than the outcome. When my desire for improvement does not negate my inherent enoughness. When I am not threatened by the success of others, because scarcity is a myth, and abundance the truth I choose.
Freedom is loving my book for what it is, but also for what it could be. There is no rush, no shame or urgency. Like those who came before me, I will arrive in perfect time.
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