The Easiest and the Hardest Thing About Writing

    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.



    About the author

      Katie Tallo

      Katie Tallo is a writer, director, motivator, runner, vegetarian and mother who writes a blog that encourages steady, positive actions for sustaining joyful and vibrant life change, Momentum Gathering.

    • Katie,

      So, so true. And so, so inspiring!

      Thank you!

    • This is exactly what I’ve recently experienced. The epiphany that I am living the dream as long as I’m writing. I think what often gets in the way is that we don’t imagine ourselves as living the writing life until we have a certain level of fame or notoriety. I’m becoming more and more comfortable telling people that I’m a writer. It’s a fabulous feeling.

      Thanks Katie

      • Katie says:

        Sarah, that’s awesome. You are a writer. In the end, what matters most is that you found a way to put words to the page – how much fame or money you acquire won’t count – the words will. Good for you.

    • I was just thinking about you today and wondering how your novel is going, and then I saw this post on twitter. Sounds like you are doing well. 🙂 Good to see you around…

      The hardest part for me about writing is going from my brainstorming/idea juice flowing to the actual computer screen. Carving out the time is hard when my ideas are flowing. When I do make the time, my creativity from first thought to actual writing has fizzled out. I don’t like the transition from creativity to hard work in writing. I enjoy the creative flow more than the picking it apart to make it sound readable. Both are important though. 🙂

      • Katie says:

        Hi Marci, nice to see you too. I hear what you’re saying about flow and fizzle. I think that’s why writing daily is so important. You let go whether it’s good or bad, flowing or exciting and you keep going. It won’t always be wonderful, but it will, in rare moments, sing. You have to practice to get it to sing.

    • Valerie says:

      Thank you for such an outstanding post. I have actually been writing in 15 minute increments for some time (around a day job, sick husband, children and grandchildren, etc.). I find there are some days that I am so exhausted I can’t even do that. But maybe I can squeak out 5! Love the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert that all writers think they suck!

      • Katie says:

        Thanks Valerie. Writing must mean a great deal to you if you have found time for it in your busy schedule. I hope you continue as I’m sure it feeds your inner world. Good luck with finding 5 minutes.

    • Katie says:

      Yes. The habit trumps the writing in some ways. Create the habit first, then decide to apply that habit to whatever it is you want to write – a novel, a short story, a short story about a raccoon. That’s why it becomes easier because you have created the habit first. But again, it’s hard to create a habit so that’s why five minutes. Thanks for your terrific input.

    • I’ve done some studying on habit creation, and I think therein lies the reason why a lot of people set out to write and never finish. I base this on nothing, just my own personal observations.

      It seems to me, when people are getting ready to write a book or screenplay or whatever, they say something akin to, “I’m going to write [insert number of pages/words/ for this many hours/ etc. per day!” That’s great, in theory. The problem is, it’s incredibly hard to do that.

      I think it’s because they’re new. They haven’t developed the capacity to write everyday, because they’re not used to it. I also think this ties back into stuff like diet and exercise. It’s very difficult for someone who has never exercised or dieted before to get into shape, but it’s a lot easier for someone who was in shape, and got out of shape, to get back into shape. If that makes any kind of sense.

      You’re right about the “What” Katie. It nags at you. Whether it’s the dishes, or the laundry, or those damn raccoons that live in my walls, there always seems to be something that tries to take my attention away from writing.

      Yet, I continue to write. Why? Habit. I write out of habit. Of course, I also write out of passion and a general love for storytelling, but I write everyday because of habit.

      I write one story every week. One short story, dreamed up on a Monday, and posted online on Sunday. This alone, this need to write something new every week, has molded the habit of writing within me.

      Now, when I get home from work, and after I chase the raccoons back to their hole, it’s not a matter of “if” I’m going to write, but “what” I’m going to write.

      You may not need a plan, just a vague idea to write. Not a lot, five minutes a day is fine. But rather than worrying about all the things us writers worry about, the key is to just write. Write when you feel like it, if you feel like it. Then keep doing it. Before you know it, you’ll be writing out of habit.

    • Kaylee says:

      I’ve been trying to establish a daily writing practice, but I’ve never been able to keep it up. I think because I’m expecting too much – too many words, too much perfection. It’s daunting, so I opt out of the anxiety and sleep in instead. Maybe starting with 5 minutes a day- even if it’s a crappy 5 minutes – will do the trick.

      And congrats on draft 3 of your first novel! That’s 3 more than I have! 😉 I’m so impressed by anyone who can write a full book. Now that’s dedication!

      • Katie says:

        Kaylee, give it a try. I think you just might start impressing yourself.

    • Thank you for contributing this article: I really enjoyed reading it.

      Your writing style reminded me of Ali Hale/Luke’s work. I have been a fan of her blog for the longest time, so you can take that as a compliment.

      Arguably, the best writing is “steam of consciousness” writing or writing that just flows from your heart and soul. During this session, you tend to lose track of time have an out of the body experience. A lot of creatives have reported such experiences too. Such experiences are well-documented in books and journals.

      A zen-like mind is a “mind of no mind.” I do not know if this is the ideal state, but it has worked for me.

      A simple and functional session of meditation can put you in the right frame of mind to sit down and create your work of art. Art that is artless is real art, after all, it just seems so effortless: an extension of your self.

      You can cultivate such a state of mind by pursuing your hobbies and interests. When you return, you find that you are in a better state of mind, so put yourself to work. And then miracles can happen on a blank canvas or even on blank paper. A writer achieves enlightenment when he or she can grasp this concept and live it.

      • Katie says:

        Archan, I know the out of body experience you speak of. That’s when you know you’re in the flow. So true that writing can be like meditation. Thank you for your insightful comments.

    • Jevon says:

      I like how you compare writing to exercising a muscle. Keep working it out and the muscle gets stronger. Great stuff Katie.

      • Katie says:

        Jevon, thanks for the kudos. The great thing about developing a writing muscle is how good it makes you feel about yourself – so in a way, you’re developing your self esteem muscle at the same time. Can’t be a bad thing.

    • Katie, this was inspirational. I have bookmarked this post and will re-read it often.

      I will also give 5/10 minutes daily to my writing project, (aside from my blog). Promise!

      I’ll let you know how it goes.

      Now… 5mins …

      • Katie says:

        Hi Linda, long time no see (your avatar, that is). I’m so glad you found inspiration in my words and are ready to give your writing that five minutes it deserves and you deserve. Go for it.

    • Loved this! Although if I would take the article a step further, I would say that the real hardest thing about writing/following your dream would be doing it… and then realizing that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, being a writer isn’t as fun/awesome/fulfilling as you had imagined in your head.

      I remember when I first started blogging. For a long time, I had been entranced with the IDEA of blogging – writing, sharing, connecting with other bloggers, connecting with readers. But after blogging for about three months, twice a week, it started to feel like any other job. I still love to write. I still love my blog but I definitely had to adjust the notion of what “my dream” looks and feels like in real life!

      • Katie says:

        Too true. It can be hard, you do have to slog through it sometimes and you have to like being alone and vulnerable and bored and frustrated. It’s not Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. But it is a compulsion and a passion.

        I hear you about blogging – it becomes a job and that’s why I gave it up – too much comes with it and distracts from writing. Not for everyone I guess.

        Thanks for weighing in LC.

    • CLJ says:

      This was a magnificent thing to have found today …just what I needed, in fact. Five minutes I CAN do …maybe even ten !
      Many thanks.

      • Katie says:

        Nope not ten, just five. Keep it simple and easy, then when you’ve mastered five, move to ten. Ten is longer than you think and five is so easy you can’t fail. Good luck, CLJ

    • Becky says:

      Thank you for your inspiration Katie! I want to grow my writing muscle and commitment with the ideas you’ve set our here help. Thank you and have an awesome day!

    • Marla says:

      Oh Wow! Thank you for sharing this. I think this is the thing I struggle with, writing every single day. I think it has taken me time to realize that I am an artist, and not to get mad at the world because of it. LOL! What a fantastic quote.

      I definately try to do this, and slowly, I can see the conclusion of my projects. It’s definately like running a marathon. You see the end in sight. You just have to get there. Writing myself to the end of a recent story I have been working on is hard, it’s contained in journals and word docs on different computers, but I know it’s getting there.

      I think another thing I have learned while writing and working on my projects is to enjoy the journey. One day, I am probably going to look back at this part of my life and think, “Remember when all you focused on was those crazy stories you wrote?!”

      Ahh, to be an artist! <3

      • Katie says:

        Maria, I had a discussion with a very accomplished artist recently and she still has trouble calling herself an artist. We decide what kind we are, if we’ll embrace ourselves as one, and then we put our heads down and create. Good for you for doing your thing. I salute you.

    • Stephanie says:

      I love how you have written this piece. You have an easy style to read. I want to be at the table writing and sharing coffee. After years of beating myself up that I wasn’t good enough or putting the dishes, washing and kids dinner firstI have finally made the commitment to write every day. We need to believe in ourselves and be commited to our own dreams. So best be getting back to it…

      Many thanks 🙂

      • Katie says:

        Stephanie, I hear you. I beat myself up too, but sometimes the dishes can wait and the kids can starve. Okay maybe not starve but you know what I mean. You’re as important as anyone. So glad you’ve made yourself a priority. Keep on writing.

    • e3941297e17226345b367b4f61e62e3e98e44947f806b5be70