Spring thaw has arrived, and the potholes are sprouting on my street. There’s a big one two houses down from mine, but I know to go around it. Enough coming and going, and avoiding the pothole becomes a habit. Navigating the creative process can work that way, too.
Writing is loaded with potholes! I don’t know any writer who loves to sit down and write. So having a plan can really help. But most potholes are internal barriers: our doubts, our fears, and the nasty way we talk to ourselves sometimes.
Here’s a plan to troubleshoot the trouble ahead on the creative path:
Potholes cause us to slow down and be aware of where we drive. Potholes in the creative process cause us to pause and pay attention, to slow down and describe something better, to chew on an idea, to assess where we’re at and what we need to proceed. Maybe we need to learn some craft, like how to write better dialogue. Or maybe we need to just be patient and wait. There is no magic pill, there is only doing the work.
Trust the process. Frustration is actually part of the creative process. This is really good news! Often, when we’re up against a wall, we give up. Instead, we need to lean in, and stay with the frustration: get curious about it, see what alternatives might be around. On the other side of frustration is a breakthrough.
What are the main barriers that are going to get in your way? These can be bad habits: “I avoid my writing desk with little emergencies that come up, or with social media.”
Or these potholes can me that internal, mean voice that you wouldn’t use on any other person or animal: “I avoid the blank page because I worry that I’m just not that creative.”
Stay with that mean voice a bit, and see what’s underneath: “I avoid the blank page because I don’t know where to start…and that is really stressful and makes me feel stupid.” Feeling stupid is a big pothole.
Now that you know where your personal potholes are, prepare for them. Create some clear ground rules that you can follow when things get tough. For example:
“I’ll write first thing in the morning, so my day doesn’t get away from me.”
“I get distracted by social media, so I’ll take it off my laptop now.”
“I use my phone as a timer, so I’ll put it on the other side of the room so I can’t get sucked in.”
“When I start to feel anxious in front of the blank page, I’ll do 3 minutes of deep breathing or Warrior Pose.”
“When I notice that I’m stressed about not knowing what to do with my revision, I’ll talk to myself like I would talk to a friend who was freaking out. I’ll say in a kind voice: Not knowing is OK. Brainstorm and explore. Have fun! That’s why you do this. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just begin writing.”
Being proactive can ease anxiety. Having a simple plan makes it easier when you need it—and you’ve already made a promise to yourself for what to do with that pothole up ahead on the road.
It’s very hard to “just do it.” Willpower is overrated and ‘lacking it’ can easily send us down a rough spiral and become another way to beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself, and stop trying to do it all alone. Athletes reach their goals by having a coach help them work out, practice drills, and eat right. (What, you think athletes don’t want to stay in bed 10 more minutes or eat that cake?!)
So why should you go it alone? Doesn’t your book and your writing deserve the best chance at seeing the light and reaching its readers? It totally does.
If you live in the DC area, please join my Writing for Procrastinators class that starts March 14. You’ll learn some brain science, get great tips, learn some skills to stay in action, and remind yourself you’re not alone. Just start.
I also work one-on-one with writers who want to get started, or keep going, or finally finish. Invest in your work, and yourself, and stop daydreaming. The world really wants to read that thing you’ve been working on. Just start.