Are you living the dream?
I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Love, Pray
Three hundred and twelve pages later and I’ve completed the third draft of my first novel.
I wrote this draft over the course of several months, every day for at least three hours a day.
I wrote it across from a fellow writer as we sat at her dining room table, our collective creative energy wafting around the spacious windowed room. We ate tofu and avocados, drank press pot coffee and kept our heads down. We wrote, not because someone was paying us or forcing us to do it, but because we both have a very clear vision of what we love to do and a dream about doing it for the rest of our lives.
We also both have writing projects we are passionate enough about to have said, “It’s time”.
Somewhere around page two hundred, it hit me.
We were living it.
We were in the dream. Simply by sitting down and writing, our dreams had come true. This was the writer’s life we were pining for. It wasn’t some far flung fantasy. We had made it happen in the simplest of ways – by writing.
We’d squeezed it in between appointments, work, family, dogs and renovations. We’d banged away at our keyboards every freakin day for months. There’s nothing really amazing about what we did, nothing heroic or earth shattering. We were just writing. But what is amazing is how easy it was and yet how hard it can be to just write.
If you’re a writer, you likely already know how difficult it is to self motivate – to sit down every single day and write – no matter what. Because ‘what’ comes up. ‘What’ nibbles at your self confidence. ‘What’ tells you not to get too high and mighty. ‘What’ reminds you the dishes are dirty and your favourite TV shows on. ‘What’ sucks the life out of your writing.
So how do you get from one day to today?
How do you turn your life into your dream?
I did it by taking what seemed like the hardest thing and making it as easy as possible. I began by writing for five minutes every day. Just five. ‘What’ can’t argue with five minutes. Everyone has five minutes. You might not get there at a fast and furious pace, but that’s not the idea. Fast and furious burns out. The idea is to tone your daily writing muscle, not break it. How many pages doesn’t matter and in many ways the results don’t matter either. Showing up at the page does.
But showing up is always the hardest part.
Taking that first step, not putting it off for sometime down the road is where we all tend to stumble or hesitate or get distracted. That road can be long and filled with roadblocks and detours. I know. My road was more than a decade-long journey that had me sidestepping my dream for shinier looking ventures and safer choices that were just a little to the left or right of where I really wanted to be headed. What worked for me was following a simple set of guidelines. They helped me take that first step. I offer up this road map in the hopes that it will help you too.
1. Create a plan.
Decide what it is you want, analyze your reasons for wanting it, and then lay out the steps you need to take to get there. Clear the path by creating a pocket of time, setting up your supplies, arranging your workspace, whatever it takes to make it easy for you to simply begin.
2. Pick only one project and do it for just five minutes.
A narrow focus is key to success. Seeing progress on one project, mastering it daily for five minutes, even though it sounds too easy, gives that project momentum. Pages start to appear and a deep sense of satisfaction begins to set in. That satisfaction drives you forward and keeps you going. You’ll be doing it, not dreaming about doing it. That feels great.
3. Keep it up for at least four or five weeks everyday.
It takes weeks for it to become a habit and that’s the idea. You want it to become second nature, a fundamental part of your life, a given. With repetition, you’ll do it with more and more ease and suddenly your daily writing practice will simply be and your creative projects will be flowing along.
4. Build in positive feedback.
Find a way to reward yourself for the commitment, the dedication, the focus and the choice you’ve made to move your life forward. Even if it’s just a check mark or gold star on a calender, give yourself permission to be proud and even a little joyful.
5. Report daily to someone.
Finding a way to stay accountable can help to reinforce your journey, your motivations and can give you the inspiration you need to continue when you’re feeling like your dreams could get sidetracked. A writing buddy is a great idea. You could also blog about your daily evolution, tweet your page count, report your daily progress on Facebook, email a friend or tell someone special about your dreams and how they can help you achieve them. Ask for support. It helps when the going gets tough, just don’t let social media become a distraction from the real work.
6. Try, Adjust, Redo
Life gets in the way. Nobody’s perfect. Perfection is not the goal. Getting flow in your writing life is. So if you miss a day, change up whatever got in the way, plan differently, let it go and give yourself a redo. The idea is to keep moving forward, not beat yourself up for missteps we all make.
You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness which comes from a place of kind and encouraging and motherly love. The other thing to realize is that all writers think they suck. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Love, Pray
My daily five minutes got me used to writing every morning. It wasn’t always good writing. Sometimes it was really bad, but I knew if I kept writing, there would be great days. Gradually, I upped the ante and I wrote for longer periods of time.
When I stumbled, I forgave myself and got back to the work.
My writing muscle grew stronger. I grew stronger and I began to believe in myself. I stumbled less. My novel was starting to take shape and I was writing with my writing buddy for several hours a day. The day came when the draft was complete. “One day” had become today.
Imagine what your “one day” looks like and start living it today. Writing every day can be hard or it can be easy. Go easy, but go.
About the author:
Katie Tallo co-created The Habit Course together with Leo Babauta and Barrie Davenport which is designed to give people the skills and stamina needed to create and sustain a daily habit. Click here to find out more.