I have a confession to make. After giving my book of essays to my early readers and getting their thoughtful feedback and edits, I made no progress on the book for two months. This was even after I made a pact with myself in January to self-publish by the end of this month.
I can list lots of excuses, but they’re boring and lame. The truth is, I was struggling with revisiting the writing itself, or the thought of putting it out in the world, or deciding it was complete, or all of the above. It has to do with fear, which is a lot of what writing and not-writing comes down to in the end.
The looming deadline got just close enough to have me feel the prickly heat of failure, and I finally got moving on it last week. I decided to think about this goal differently. I’d do something toward getting the book finished every day. That something could be big or small, important or insignificant. It didn’t matter.
I’ve made huge progress. One day I rearranged my table of contents, slightly. Another day I rewrote a chapter. After a week, I have one big task left – to add an essay that I realize is missing – and I’m doing something on that every day. Some thing. That’s it.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Goals are annoying, intentions are manageable. If I had made a comprehensive project plan for finishing the book, it would have been filled with goals and steps to achieve them. So practical and so…daunting. When I reframed the task as an intention – just do something – I freed myself from getting overwhelmed. Each day I check in on my intention. If I haven’t done anything related to the book, I focus on it and take some action.
2. Deadlines are annoying, but necessary. Maybe this is the corollary to #1. Having an actual day by which I need to get this done, even if it’s a random date, has put just the right amount of pressure on me to stop procrastinating. To restate my intention: do something every day on the book so that it’s ready to publish by March 31. The date makes the intention more real.
3. Writing requires little to no preparation. I can sit down at any time and do something on my book. I can make notes about the new chapter I want to add while waiting in line. I can noodle around with cover designs at the coffee shop. I can sit for two hours at my desk and input edits. It’s tough to make excuses when the tools I need are at hand, wherever I happen to be.
4. My early readers gave me gifts, not work. Thank you again, Janine, Kerry, Freya, Carolyn and Carl, for the time and care you put into this book. Now that all the edits are in, the sentences are crisp and straightforward. Thoughts are more clearly, well, thought out. My readers told me what they liked and what spoke to them strongly, which was fascinating. Also, I noticed that each of them had the same favorite essay; it’s called “On Fear”. Hmm.
This tiny mindset shift has helped me focus clearly on putting my words out in the world, with the added bonus that I can apply it to many areas of my life. There will be distractions every day, and there will be things that scare us, but they’re no match for a powerful intention.
Writing Exercise: Figure out your intention for your creative project. Set a deadline. Do something on the project, big or small, every day. Just one thing.