ALL WRITE READY!
“I should write a book about my life”, “I definitely have at least one book in me”. How many times have you heard such statements from friends, or even said them yourself (guilty!).
This week, the BBC posted a story on work and tasks that artificial intelligence will soon be able to perform. Apparently by 2049 artificial intelligence programmes will be able to generate a potential bestselling novel without human help. You have 30 years to be that unique voice before the proliferation of synthesised selling sensations.
Despite this apparent deadline, yet most of us cannot, or have not, produced our book. Instead writer’s block, scribe suspension, author angst, and poet procrastination, abounds. There are a few psychological reasons for this, and I wanted to tackle some so that we can all, finally, rise to our keyboards and drown the world with a thousand voices.
The greatest story never told: Psychological elements of writer’s block
The Perfection Inflection: Writing is perhaps one of the only professions where you don’t need a special licence, training, certificate, or even your parents’ blessing, to perform. All you have to do is write. But for those with perfectionist tendencies (and there are many of you) here-in lies the problem. The promise of the novel, the untold story, has the potential of being the greatest novel never written. Once you commit to putting words on a page, the bubble if burst. What sits on the page, is now a statement of your capabilities, your values, your standards. It is a reflection of you, and as such, can be judged. We respond by retracting deep to our creative-ego protecting shell, suspending the actual writing so that we can ponder the organic nature of our novel even further. After all, you can’t fail if you don’t try. You can’t be judged on something others have not seen, and therefore don’t really have the intellect to fully appreciate.
I believe that perfectionism is one of the great mental impediments of our time, it stops people from being all that they can be, and attempting success because of the potential cost of failure. Imagine what you could do if you knew that you could not fail? Then imagine that failing does not matter, because in reality, it often does not. If people are going to judge you, they will do so if you write a book, or you don’t. The only critic that really exists is the one self-embedded in your head that whispers to you, in moments of weakness, that you are not good enough and that if you ‘fail’, you are unworthy, and maybe even unlovable. It’s time for you to put that voice and fear to bed, or even better, into the trash. Just think what you could accomplish if you didn’t need its permission. Quite simply, you don’t.
The Busy Priority “If only I had the time to write, but I am just so busy”. I fall foul of this common excuse myself. I am forever busy. Busy sorting out my kid’s school homework and activities, the house, the dogs, the cats, the wardrobe, work, cooking, talking with clients, going to work, coming home from work. So, so busy,that I don’t have the time to write. Does this sound like you? Then stop and perform a brief audit of your time. In Hong Kong in particular “busy” is a common badge of honour. We love to be considered busy. But ask yourself, “what am I busy doing?” Once you have a list of the activities in the day, audit them. Do they make you happy? Are you doing too much for someone else? If so, why? No really, WHY? Can you section off 30 minutes a day to sit and write? If not, is it because writing is not important to you? If writing is important to you, and you are important to you, then you can find the time. If you aren’t important to you, come and see me, we need to sort that out.
Defying Discipline: Having read several articles and books about writing books, the number one predictive skill required to produce a book is, wait for it, writing on a regular basis As Anne Lamott details in her wonderful book, Bird by Bird, a book is the product of producing is one paragraph after another paragraph, one chapter after another. The magic of being a writer, is in the discipline, not the mystery. Can you be disciplined, if so that is wonderful, so get cracking. If you can’t, then that is also interesting. Are you defined as being a rebel against routine. If this describes you, then in a moment of quiet, can you ask yourself, why. Perhaps it is because you are a free spirit and what to float with the tide, or is there something else underneath the freedom surface. Is this, perhaps another form of perfectionism, the book I won’t write is the best book ever. Unfortunately, the book you don’t write is just that, the book you don’t write.
Ready, steady, write.
And now for the good news. You can move past these barriers by using some of the educational and psychological tools (with or without the help of a counsellor to help you overcome your perfectionism).
Writing a book is estimated to require 500 writing hours. Even if you write 1000 words a day it will may take a minimum three to four months to produce a 75,000 word book. It’s a daunting task.
Break free from writer’s block.
Set Interim goals and rewards:setting small goals, breaking down your writing into smaller components will stop you feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand. Small rewards after every 30 minutes of writing, and every 2000 words will keep you motivated. This is the basis of every successful child star chart, and if you set this system up properly, will help keep you motivated as well.
Limit distractions: turn off the phone. No email. Writing isn’t easy (and may sometimes be extremely hard) so force yourself to stay focused until your 30 mins, or 500 words, or whatever your interim goal is, has been completed. Whilst many people think that multitasking makes them more effective, efficiency experts advise do one thing at a time and give it your full focus.
Make it public: public posting and sharing of goals has been used in many psychological research studies to increase or decrease specific target behaviours. Make your goal public and you have made a statement that you are willing to measure against your goal. Form a writing club, set goals together, or set up an executive writing board, who you need to report back to regarding your weekly or monthly achievements. This invites supportive pressure into your writing life and schedule. In addition to holding you accountable to your promise to yourself, you will quite possibly receive more from this support than you bargain for.
Write naked: not literally, but write from your soul, do not worry about perfecting your first draft. Just write. No one is watching, no one is judging. You don’t need to show anyone what you have written until you are ready. So often when we start to talk or write the automatic thoughts that we have trained into our psyche start to judge and calculate the potential catastrophes that may occur if things are not perfect. Be naked, write unencumbered, let the words flow, and worry about dressing it up later.
Now hopefully you are ready to start you book. All you need to do is get out of your own way. I look forward to hearing about your progress.
Feedback on this blog, or questions about perfectionism and motivation can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org