Either you have a goal—or you don’t.
Either you have a priority—or you don’t.
Either writing matters to you—or it doesn’t.
It’s that simple.
Let’s get real here. I know all about the excuses. I know all about how life just somehow happens—yeah, right—and you get caught up in all sorts of stuff.
You think you need certain things—a bigger house, a better apartment, nicer furniture, a home office, a higher-paying job—while a voice haunts you and constantly whispers, Why aren’t you writing?
I’ve been queen of that crap.
Instead of writing, I’ve distracted myself with things like flower gardens and taking pictures, believing I’d write articles like “How to create the perfect privacy fence” for some fab gardening magazine.
But I never did.
I traveled all around Europe with a backpack and a laptop, thinking I’d write the Great American Novel in three months or at least some travel essays.
Yeah, right. I sent the laptop home in a week.
You might think a nice home, a nice marriage, a great sex life, a beautiful yard, beautiful clothes—whatever your thing is—is important. And you spend time on that crap without spending even a bit of time on your writing.
What’s really important to you?
Material things? A certain lifestyle? While you ignore your deepest, most important longing?
Sure, you gotta have a life. In fact, you need to live a bit if you’re going to write anything with depth, empathy, and insight.
But will you regret not watching every TV show that catches your fancy?
Will you regret not spending enough time on Facebook?
Will you regret shutting your phone off for just a few hours every day?
You focus your attention on safe, easy things because you’re either scared shitless or you just don’t know how to focus on your writing.
I’ll bet you’re not so scared of failure or scared of success. Those are just excuses that sound pretty good. Pretty honest. But I’ll bet you just don’t know how to do the writing part.
Let me tell you about the little switch in your head.
It’s either on or off.
If it’s on, you’re writing. If it’s off, you’re not writing.
Just turn it on. Turn. The damned writing switch. On.
It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
I didn’t always know how to flip that switch. I didn’t know it was there, to tell you the truth.
But I haven’t always known how to set aside time to write in the midst of chaos, real or imagined.
When I get fired up on inspiration, it’s easy. The whole world can fall apart as I write for hours and hours and hours and get it done. All wrapped up and ready to go: post, ship, or sent off with a query letter.
In fact, I got so fired up while writing a little book awhile back that I landed in a hospital with heart palpitations. But I got it done (though I’ve learned to pace myself a bit better these days).
When the fire goes out or gets dim, though, that’s when the going gets rough. That’s when the distractions creep in. That’s when I’ve floundered.
And I suspect that’s true for a lot of us.
Thing is, I had it backwards.
Instead of just flipping the switch on every day, I worried about the process.
I obsessed over what was wrong with me or what was getting in the way. And that was always after the fact, sometimes months or even years after the big inspiration died down.
But you don’t have to worry about the process or the distractions or what’s “wrong” with you. Don’t think about your writing excuses. Don’t fear the distractions. Don’t fuss with them and don’t focus on them. Don’t give your power to them. Instead, think about what you have to do—write—and do it.
You don’t need to get all your nicey-nice ducks in a row before you sit down to write. You don’t need to get inspired before you sit down to write. You don’t even have to feel like writing.
Write when you don’t know what to write about.
Write though you’re scared of success and terrified of failure.
Write when you’re worried about money or your job or your friends or your family.
Write when the kitchen’s a mess or the laundry’s not done.
Write no matter what the voices in your head are saying because, once you start writing, they’ll get quiet. And besides, they’re just voices. Just thoughts. They’re not real. Writing is real.
Write even when your partner is pissed off at you, when your bank account is low, when your refrigerator is empty, and when you think you have nothing left to give.
Don’t think about the problem or the roadblock or how you and your little feelings feel.
Fuck that shit.
Think about your goal instead.
Thinking about the problems or setbacks only reinforces your belief in their power over you. That’s because it’s rehearsal, it’s practice, it’s treading over the same neurological pathways over and over until the path is so well-worn it’s easy to find next time.
Problems and distractions and fears and worries get familiar and automatic like any bad habit or addiction: when you want to write (and you feel anxious or unsure) you check out Facebook or YouTube like alcoholics grab a drink and drug addicts snort a line.
Would you advise alcoholics to think about their favorite drink? Tell a junkie to dwell on the hours they wasted getting high? Or would you tell them to think about and plan healthy activities?
Pull the damed Internet cable out if you have to. Stay away from bars or drug dealers (so to speak) or whatever your “distraction addiction” is.
And instead of worrying about distractions, create new paths, new practices, and new habits.
When you stop focusing on the distractions (or fear of them or how you fall for them over and over again) flipping the on switch for writing becomes just as habitual and even stronger because it’s more rewarding.
Want to learn a language? Practice enough and you’ll get fluent. Want to play the piano? Practice. Want to get better at distractions? Practice them, and reinforce them by complaining about them.
Ironic, isn’t it? Our brains don’t differentiate between what we should or shouldn’t learn. But what we choose to input becomes the output.
So make a choice. If you have to write out your daily writing habit 100 times every day for awhile, do it. What’s your daily goal? Write it, over and over, preferably by hand with a pen or pencil and paper (studies have shown you learn better that way).
I sit at my desk and I write every day for one hour.
I sit at my desk and write for three hours.
I sit on my sofa and write 1000 words every day.
I sit on the floor and write 1000 words every day.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing blog posts, a memoir, or a horror novel. Whatever your writing goal is—and word count makes you more accountable than writing for a specific time—practice it and reinforce it in writing. Imprint it on your brain and do it until it becomes a habit.
It doesn’t matter what your specific writing goal is, just do it.
You want to write? So write already. Flip the on switch and get to it.
You have research to do for that writing? Do it after you’ve hit your word count. You need to learn how to write something? Read about it—after you hit your word count. You need tips to deal with distractions? Fine, but look them up after you’ve hit your word count.
Then you can play on Facebook all afternoon or all night if you want—guilt free. Have fun with your kids, hang out with your friends, watch your TV shows, or clean your house. Have a couple of beers, invite the neighborhood over, throw a party.
It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’ve taken care of your priority: writing.
Forget the distractions, forget yesterday, forget how you’ve screwed up in the past, stop rehearsing those distractions and roadblocks and all those bloody excuses. Put them to rest.
Flip the on switch for your writing and get to work.
Your turn! Have you made excuses for not writing lately? Or do you just get down to the work you know you need to do? Comments are always welcome.