I had a breakthrough yesterday. I think/hope it will make a big difference.

In case I haven’t whined about it enough for you to notice: I struggle with procrastination, usually with writing, and I usually lose.

I have two book first-drafts awaiting revisions, and one that I am painfully trying to make myself revise in time for the Christmas season, because it’s a Christmas story. My self-imposed deadline is tomorrow but I’m willing to stretch it to Monday. I am nothing if not flexible.

So, the breakthrough:

Thanks to a call with coach Sheri Ponzi, for the first time I actually felt feel like a writer. Sheri had posted an offer last week for a free call to help figure out how to contribute to a better world in light of recent political reality. I jumped on the offer and made an appointment.

Sheri’s first question made me realize what I really wanted to do was to get—and stay—focused on writing. Further questions revealed that I wanted find a way, somehow, to make it relevant and helpful, beyond the whole making-people-feel-better or making-them-laugh thing. I want to go deep, be more honest, and stop ignoring the bigger world.

I want—dare I say it?—to be an artist

Fuck, that just made me cry. That’s how scary it is to me, to simply want to be an artist. But it’s true, I have always wanted to be an artist, with words instead of paint or clay. And I have always thought I just don’t have the talent, that it’s too high a goal to achieve, so I should just settle for being good writer, not a great writer, but just okay.

That is not my definition of an artist. Well, how do people become artists?

You start. You learn. You work. You get better.

What happens next is out of your control. You may become a bestselling writer, or never sell a book. Like Steven Pressfield says, you can’t control the outcome; you can only control the process. (paraphrasing)

You can only keep working. And growing.

Isn’t that what art is: growing? I remember when I realized, years ago, that the reason I admired John Lennon so much was that he was always growing. He never stopped exploring.

That became my definition of an artist: someone who never stops exploring. And that’s what I’ve been afraid to do. It’s why writing terrifies me so much. I get stuck trying to find words to express what I’m thinking and feeling. I blame old age, but it’s really because I get stuck trying to write like I think I should write.

I suffered from this idea of perfection so much when I was working at ABC Radio News many years ago, that my stomach was in a constant state of churn. (I can feel it now, just thinking about it—a sick feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach.)

The only relief came right after I had delivered a newscast. I would walk out of the studio, exhaling with relief. I would go to the bathroom, wash my hands and look in the mirror. I would go back to my desk, relax for five minutes, then twenty, then thirty. I would stare desperately at wire newspaper copy, trying to decide how to rewrite it so it would be a) a hell of a lot shorter, b) in my own words, and c) cool-sounding because my network (ABC’s now-defunct FM Network) was aimed at mostly 80s rock stations.

Three sentences or so to a news story, five or six stories jammed into a two-minute cast. It seemed impossible, and I had to face that fear six times a day. Finally, the pressure to write another newscast in time for my next slot on the air was so painful that writing was actually easier.

I only had fifteen minutes left. I needed an emergency mental trick to get me unstuck—and the thirty-minute mark on the clock was when I always hit emergency mode.

The trick I came up with was this:

As I read each news story, I asked myself, What am I thinking right now? And I would write that down.

It was simple, and it worked. Everything would flow after that and I would make it into the studio just in time, every time. (I still have a recurring nightmare that I can’t find the studio, btw.) The key, I hope you noticed, was that I gave up trying to write like other network anchors and wrote my own thoughts.

In an emergency–but only an emergency–I trusted myself

Over time, I have learned to trust myself on this blog too. Why? Because it’s the opposite of an emergency. I feel zero pressure to be anything other than myself here, thanks to you. I trust myself because I trust you, because you send back love in your comments and your emails. I am eternally grateful for that.

Now, I need to transfer that trust over to the strangers who may read my books. No pressure. I just need to trust myself.

What am I thinking right now?

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Showing 9 comments
  • Peggy
    Reply

    I consider myself a artist…not by any others definition but by my own interpretation. Once I looked at the true definition of what artist is and here is what the dictionary says….”.A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria”….interesting…. You are a true artist who produces the written word extremely well and by opening up your comments you open yourself to aesthetic criteria…

  • Lynn
    Reply

    I don’t know if you have read Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”. I liked her idea of not writing anything and letting it form itself. She just jots on pieces of paper about a subject and all those pieces of paper start to become a story after a while.

    That struck me as a very freeing way to write!! No goals, no objectives, just flow.

    • LaVonne Ellis
      Reply

      Yes, I need to read that book again. Every few weeks. 😉

  • Claudia
    Reply

    Damn, girl. Just…damn.

  • Gareth Naylor
    Reply

    This feels relevant to me. This year I did so much and wrote about so little of it. I got so caught up in all the gurus advice on how to blog but it didn’t feel right to me. I can’t write with the idea of I’m solving people’s problems. I need to write what is in me or I think is important or what is happening. But sometimes I wonder if this is just egotistical. But it has reached the point where I feel that I don’t care. I just need to ship it out there and so much of it that it eventually becomes as good as I want it to be. Hope some of that makes sense.

    • LaVonne Ellis
      Reply

      Gareth, I had the exact same problem and came to the same conclusion. We have to be true to our hearts.

  • Sandra
    Reply

    You are brave and honest and have a wonderful way of writing that is accessible and meaningful. You are doing what many of us dream of doing. And through your writing we get to share the experience. Thank you for that.. You are truly an artist.

    • LaVonne Ellis
      Reply

      Thank you, Sandra. It means everything to hear (read) you say that. 🙂

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