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Have you given yourself permission to really work? To invest the necessary time and energy you know it will take to achieve your writing dream?
Until you can answer “yes” to the following three things, your commitment to writing will always be a struggle. [The list of three things is courtesy of Vinita Hampton Wright's book, The Soul Tells a Story, which I've expanded with my own thoughts.]
You must say “yes” to the work, the process, and the dream.
Are you able to say “yes” to whatever work you feel called to do? It might be writing humor for young moms, writing insurance information so that the common man can understand it, writing fantasy novels, or writing screenplays. (Or all of the above!)
You’re not called to be rich or famous, although that might be nice. You’re just saying “yes” (daily, if possible) to sitting down and doing the work. (As in the B.U.T. technique: Bottom in Chair.) You don’t worry about the eventual outcome or what others think of your idea. You’re not committing to a set number of hours every day–just that you will show up at the page regularly and do the work.
Saying “yes” to the writing process means you will accept the fact that writing gets messy. It’s not a process that goes from A to B to C like a dot-to-dot picture. The process is often murky as bits of ideas appear and then you shift them around. The shifting and changing is constant as you revise and (hopefully) as you continue to learn.
You can rarely see the end clearly from the beginning-even if you’re an outliner like I am. Plots can veer off into parts unknown. Characters want to behave in unexpected ways. The theme you start with doesn’t match the theme you end up writing about-what the story was really about, but you didn’t know it in the beginning.
Accept that the process will be gradual and full of failures or setbacks that will teach you about storytelling. You don’t have to do it all now–and you never have to do it perfectly.
Last, you must say “yes” to the dream. Are you willing to take some risks? Are you willing to shift things around in your life so that the creation of your novel or play is possible? Can you let go of some of your volunteer work or hobbies or even paid writing in order to pursue your dream? Yes, it’s a gamble. Most things in life worth having are.
Are you willing to aim really high–without guarantees that it will all pay off in the end? Are you willing to grow and learn and be stretched? To do so, you must say “yes” to the dream.
The work. The process. The dream.
Think about each separate part of the writing commitment. And when you’re ready, say a whole-hearted, no holds barred, no looking back, unequivocal YES!
We’re nearly ready to begin a new writing year! Or ARE you ready? This year you don’t have to get behind on your goals or quit. Why? Because this time you’re going to take time to understand the dynamics of change.
Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? The number is higher at the end of January. There’s a reason for that.
From Temporary to Permanent
I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help us stay on track as we move through this new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.
How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of the 10% to 15% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?
Change in Stages
One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed (and never have life interruptions or get sick), you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.
Most writers won’t be able to do it.
Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. (And if you master the mini habits way, you won’t need much willpower either.) If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.
Making Change Doable
All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.
However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.
Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.
Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.
Stages of Change
- Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
- Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
- Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
- Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.
(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)
So…that’s the plan for the next few blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way. I probably struggled with this for twenty years, despite desperately wanting to write full-time. But until I learned that there was more to it than Stage 3 actions, I failed repeatedly.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s make the writing discipline permanently effective so we can move on to the fun of daily writing!
While I’m not behind a whole year on my current writing project, this question has been ricocheting around in my mind lately. I have writing deadlines stacked up for many months, for which I am truly grateful.
But I am sorely behind where I had hoped to be at this point. Some things happened which I could not have foreseen–like happens to everyone. That’s life. There’s probably a lesson there on building more “what if something happens?” time into my schedule.
Right now, I don’t really have the time to do some big analysis of how this happened. I just need to get dug out of this hole and back on schedule. But how?
Faster, More, Hurry!
Our tendency is to look at how behind we have gotten with our writing projections (including you ambitious writers who are doing NaNoWriMo this year) and determine to buckle down and write 10,000 words every day till we are caught up. Then by Day 3 we feel rotten from no sleep or exercise, by Day 6 we are sick, and Day 7 we throw up our hands in despair and take necessary time off.
That has been my usual “catch up” method in the past. And it doesn’t work. It has never worked! And yet that is my inner urge, even as I write this. Stress, stress, stress!
But this time I have decided to do it another way. And the minute I made the decision, I noticed my stomach settled down, I stopped hunching over the laptop, and I began breathing deeply again instead of hyperventilating. I will be climbing out of this hole differently.
What will I do? Use my writing GPS system and “recalculate.” Pretend that today is my starting point and I am right on schedule today, then figure out how much I need to do daily to make my deadline. I am relieved to see that it’s not 10,000 words either. It’s not nearly as bad as I was figuring, in fact. That’s often the way it is.
One Day at a Time
The quote at the top of the page shows how we all get behind in our writing projects: one day at a time. But the answer to the problem is also in that quote. We climb out of the hole one day at a time.
And if I concentrate just on the amount I need to do today–and each day after this–then I’ll make the deadline. And I should stay healthy as well. Then I can go out and celebrate when I turn in the book!
Writers require “head space” in which nothing else is happening. You must have some mental space that is yours and yours alone in order to create and write.
“It takes quite a bit of energy on your part–a real effort–to maintain that space,” says Heather Sellers in Chapter after Chapter: Discover the dedication & focus you need to write the book of your dreams. “You have to put a wall around a part of yourself and protect it from the world of Needs and Stuff and Functions.”
Where’s the Energy Go?
If you still suffer from the common Being Everything to Everybody Syndrome, you very likely have little head space to call your own. Writers can’t do that all day, every day, and still have enough energy left for writing. Your head space is too full of other people.
One big energy drain comes from greasing the wheels of social interactions. Many of us have this habit, and it is a hard one to break. Some of us “grease the wheels” all day–at home or at work, with our family or friends, even with total strangers.
How do we do this? We see unhappy or uncomfortable people, and we rush in to fix their feelings and smooth their ruffled feathers and raise their self-esteem. We see troubled people and offer all the self-help therapy we can think of, then take them out for lunch. At social gatherings where no one is making any effort to converse, we turn somersaults trying to make people open up and connect.
Head Space: the Solution
We mean well. We can’t stand the discomfort of other people, and we rush in to fix it. Or we hate to have someone mad at us, so we rush in to fix it–even when the other person brought on the problem or bad mood him/herself.
Let’s face it. Most of our unasked-for advice isn’t appreciated. Sometimes it’s resented. And I don’t know about your track record, but 90% of the advice I so helpfully “offer” to others is never followed. It frustrates me, but it’s my own fault since they didn’t ask for my input in the first place.
It’s also a colossal waste of time and energy. And that’s what we’re trying to conserve here: YOUR energy. All this fixing takes place in the psychic head space we need for our writing.
Being able to focus on your writing means learning first to take your eyes off everyone else–and letting other perfectly capable adults figure out their own lives. Only then will you have the quiet space inside your head in which to mull over your writing and let it take shape.
Experiment with this idea over the course of the next several weeks. Each time you are listening to someone’s problems, just be a caring listener and bite your tongue unless you are specifically asked for advice. In a dead-end conversation, be polite and pleasant and say a few things, but don’t invest all your energy in this nonverbal bump on a log. (And if you don’t think you have the right to do this–or the ability–see “Boundaries for Writers.”)
One more warning from Heather Sellers : “We spend so much of our time Being Everything to Everyone, why on earth are we surprised when we have nothing left but the swamp of procrastination to stew in?” You’re probably not procrastinating–she says–you’re exhausted. “Save part of yourself. You must hold yourself back. For the book. Practice giving a little less of yourself to Everyone and Everything (yes, you can!).”