The first thing you should do is have a baby (or get a puppy). You need some sort of really obvious distraction so as not to realize it’s actually just you procrastinating all those days, hours, minutes. A baby offers ample distraction 24/7 so that when you get to your desk to write, there’s a sense of relief as well as exhaustion. Exhaustion tends to disarm the thinking brain and you don’t want that brain to write a book. At least not at first. What you need is the sleepy morning dream brain, the place with no boundaries, the place of journey. You enter a field and there you are in its grassy middle with so many ways to turn. Your compass is your intuition alone. Why have you lost trust in it?
Elizabeth Gilbert has this idea in Big Magic that our stories (creative inspiration) come from the universe; they are delivered to us and live with us only as long as we nurture them. If we let them go, they move on in search of another creative body. A lot of her ideas here remind me of Julia Cameron’s classic, The Artist’s Way, which Gibert reports having “done” three times. Some writers poo poo both books because they seem too magical or self-help-y. But, for me, it’s a way to both let go and plug in to my creativity. I don’t want to feel like the soul creator of my work; that’s a lot of pressure. I also think, imagining that our ideas come from the universe allows us to trust our ideas long enough to work through them, nurture them, let them develop.
Which leads to the next step, nurturing the work. My first book was a collection of essays (Made Holy), which felt manageable to me because I only needed to focus on one essay at a time. I only needed to nurture one idea at a time. Though I trusted I was writing a collection, I didn’t know what it would be about or how it would evolve over the years I spent writing the essays. There were times when I gave up and turned to short story writing for distraction, but I always returned to the essays.
Do the work you love, the work that calls you, whatever that is. Really, it’s the only work we can do. I’ve attempted several novels in recent years and have come close to a finished draft with one, but, always, I abandon them. When I abandon them, I lose the story. I lose my sense of the characters — their wants and needs, their hopes and fears. I return and pick them up again, but each time, I have to recreate the direction of the story and it is never the same story. The point here, is that I get overwhelmed and begin to fear that I’ve got it wrong. I forget how many times I revised my first book, how many revisions of each essay before it became a book. I forget because if I remembered I’d probably give up. But if I stay here, with what is right in front of me, I can do the work each day. The goal is just to keep working, to keep the idea-inspiration-story-etc alive in your mind.
Finally, you have to trust your gut. Trust that you know where you’re going and that there is something beyond you, bigger than you, that is guiding you. You are creating this work because you’re called to it. Period. It will be hard; it will be joyful. There will be those days when you walk around with the work in your mind so vividly you’ll forget which world you occupy. It will save you, it will nurture you. And there will be days when you hate it and you spin a million stories about how bad you are, how stupid, how foolish, and so on. Let that shit go. Trust your gut. Trusting allows us to manifest. Fear blocks our powers of manifestation.
- Try Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages
- Create a private, comfortable, inspiring writing space. If you return to it again and again only to write creatively, your body will know what to do when you sit here.
- Make small goals, make big goals: what are your weekly, monthly, yearly goals? Write them down, track your progress.
- It’s best to make goals about process not product. For example, I will write for 1 hour a day rather than I will write 1,000 words a day.
- Expect and plan for setbacks. You won’t always meet your goals, but this shouldn’t deter you. Adjust your goals. Reassess what’s reasonable, possible, and doable.
- Be gentle with yourself. Self compassion is your balm for all that negative self criticism that writers seem to be born with. Make a cup a tea, take a walk, call a friend. Don’t cave to the negative stories. They’re not real!!
- Find a writing group or writing friend with whom you can discuss writing, share writing, or meet up with to write. Many of my friends meet on Zoom to check in then write privately for an hour or two before reconnecting on Zoom. It’s a way to be accountable to your writing, feel connected and supported, and get some writing done.