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This week I was reminded of how scary getting started can be. I wanted to sign up for a course that I had been looking at for a while but was feeling overwhelmed by time constraints, financial pressures, feelings of being a fraud, and all around like I should be focusing my time, money, and energy on other areas in my life. But, I also kept thinking that this was something that was important to my soul. The course would offer me designated time for myself every week for 12 weeks. It would give me new skills and knowledge in an area that I am interested in. And it would nourish my heart, even if it was draining other more practical areas in my life.
This is the same feeling I often have when starting a new writing project. I know that it is good for my soul, but I can make a long list of reasons why it isn't good for the rest of my life. I don't have the time, work is too busy right now, I can't afford to dedicate time to writing on a regular basis, my family needs me 24/7, I can't afford the support that I will need to help me write this. And these are the just the practical reasons! The list of emotional reasons is often much longer. I'm not a good writer, so what's the point. This story isn't that interesting, so what's the point. No one will ever want to read this, so what's the point. I am a talentless, worthless person, so what's the point. Things can get dark fast.
The hesitation to get started, or more appropriately, the huge wall that blocks the way to getting started, always seems to go back to fear. Fear that I am not good enough, that the work will not be good enough, that I can't balance writing and life, that I will have to give up too much of my daily life. Fear, fear, fear.
So, how do you move past fear in order to get started?
Not just a series of essays, but a philosophy to live your creative life by.
I love reading books about writing and the creative process. I am always learning new ideas, new methods, new thoughts. And Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is one of my favourites. It is set up as s series of thoughts, lessons, and examples of living a positive creative life, under the headings of Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity. Gilbert shares how she has taken her love of writing from a young age and been able to persevere in the face of rejection, failures and extreme successes. Not really self-help, not really creativity how-to, this book is more of a presentation of a philosophy for living a creative life full of positivity. Yes, positivity, not struggle or torment for the artistic journey, but uplifting, calm, in touch and happy to ride the ebbs and flows of the process. Or, what Gilbert calls “stubborn gladness”.
I read The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy a few years ago and it has always stuck with me. The simplicity of the concept nudges at the back of my brain whenever things get hard. Whether it be things in life, in relationships, at work, or in my writing life. Full disclosure, it has been a while since I’ve read the book, so what I took away from it may not be the best representation of the book, but this is what stuck with me. Small, consistent steps towards your goals are more powerful than large, irregular ones. I have found this to be incredibly useful in many areas of my life, but especially in my writing. I have never gotten a story written in a handful of long sittings. Maybe this is just my personal writing method, but I find that I only ever finish my works in progress when I have short consistent writing sessions. On my current novel in progress, I even set myself just thirty minutes a day! But you know what, that thing got written!!
So, why does this idea work for me in my writing?
For a few reasons.
Firstly, I work a full-time job on top of writing and running Cozy Writer’s Room, so time is scarce anyway. Giving myself only thirty minutes feels doable amongst a busy life. I can also fit thirty minutes in during the morning before I leave for work. Mornings are my most productive writing time, so it is important for me to write early, but also before I get distracted by other things in the day. So, schedule restrictions are a big factor in the short writing sessions.
Secondly, I find I can ALWAYS write for thirty minutes even on days when I feel completely and totally blocked. This is a big component of why this style of writing works for me. You know those days when you just can’t see what comes next in your project? Or you feel like a total waste of space writer who has nothing worthwhile to say? Or you just wake up hating your novel, your characters, the entire thing up to that point? Or, any other of the myriad things that can block your creative process? Yup, I know those days too. And those days are really hard to write through. I’ve tried writing for an hour or longer and when I come across these blocked days, that hour or so feels like the most daunting thing I have ever faced. It becomes a mountain that I am not equipped to climb. I’ve found that thirty minutes is my sweet spot. Even on these terrible days, when I tell myself I only have to write for thirty minutes, my brain says okay, sure, I can do that. It’s only half an hour. It’s barely any time at all. I can fake being interested in this for thirty minutes. I can fake having something to write for half an hour, then I can go make a cup of tea and get on with my life. Maybe your sweet spot is longer or shorter than mine, but finding that time frame that my brain seems to think is no big deal even when the going gets tough, was a big eye-opener for my writing process.
Before I decided to actually give myself the time and space to write I would spend large chunks of energy thinking about writing. Not the physical act, but the stories. Instead of reading on my commute to work, I would find myself with my book in my lap staring out the window of the train at nothing. My mind would be busy concocting characters, plot lines or scenes for a story. Sometimes they would be momentary ideas that I never thought about again. Other times, the ideas would stick with me, following me around from activity to activity. I found my mind wandering to these stories while I was cleaning my house, walking my dog, even watching TV! The problem was, I didn’t think much of them. I didn’t think much of myself either. Sure, it was a fun character to think about in my head, but it certainly wasn’t worth putting on paper. Not to mention the fact that I had tried writing before and I wasn’t any good at it. I could never finish anything, so why bother with this story? Plus, I didn’t actually have time to write. I just had these moments between things, like my commute to work, to think about it. It wasn’t possible to write while I cleaned my house, so I must not have the time or energy.
It wasn’t until one of these random stories started to take over my life that I finally stopped to listen to what my heart really wanted. It wanted to write, and it had a story that needed to come out.
I wasn’t ready though. At least not to sit down and start writing a novel! But, I did decide to take some time for writing. To make some space for it in my life and see what happened. Maybe, just maybe, giving it space would make me realize that I could consider writing the novel that I had started creating in my head while I walked my dog.
What happened? Cut to five years later and I have published that novel and am a few months away from publishing a second novel! Giving myself a little bit of time for my writing turned into something I never imagined possible. I actually finished writing the book that I thought I was just daydreaming about.
Since then I’ve continued writing other stories, and just writing exercises to keep myself active and I’ve discovered 5 reasons that giving writing the time it needs is important to achieving writing goals.
Hi, I'm Lia! I'm an author and the creator of Cozy Writer's Room. I believe in the power of storytelling and love helping others tell their stories using simple productivity tools like printables!