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 a 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?