Do you constantly compare yourself to other writers?
Do you set goals for yourself as a writer and then somehow fall short of them every time?
Do you start new writing practices full of enthusiasm, but then sooner or later you dread sticking with it?
If you’re like so many other writers out there, the answer to these questions is sadly, “yes.” And every time something like this happens to you, you end up in a pit of despair, right? You question yourself, your writing talent, and your ability to make your dreams happen.
It’s a really sucky place to be in.
It’s also a place that makes you the most vulnerable to attacks of self-doubt. When you set writing goals and don’t meet them, the self-critical part of your brain pipes up and starts loudly pointing out where you failed, and warns you that you’ll always fail, you’ll never be good at anything, much less being a writer.
And when that inner critic gets started, it’s extremely hard to make it stop.
So, what are you doing wrong? Why are you ending up in this painful place with your writing over and over again? Is it you? Are you truly not cut out to be a writer?
No, of course not. You ARE meant to be a writer. You’re just doing one essential thing wrong.
You’re making productivity your top priority.
In our modern-day society, all of us are programmed from an early age to be productive at all times. We hold it as our highest value. It’s how we define our worth to ourselves and others. It’s how we “prove” that we deserve attention and love as human beings.
So, naturally, when we try to make our writing dreams a reality, we come to the process with “being productive” as a top goal in our mind. Then, this is only reinforced by so much of what we see in writing culture online. Hundreds of articles and videos urge us to “produce more,” by any means necessary. Writers are told they need to release something at least every six months to stay relevant. We become obsessed with writing more articles, more poems, more shareable content for social media. We find ourselves working all the time, and when we’re not working, we’re thinking about working.
This causes anxiety and depression for writers, and in the long run, burnout.
The only way to interrupt this vicious cycle is to stop focusing on being productive.
It’s going to be hard at first, I won’t lie. You’ll feel antsy and anxious, and you’ll beat yourself up for being lazy and wasting so much time. You’ll still be in the habit of checking everyone else’s numbers online, followers and likes and awards and whatnot, and so it will be a bitter pill to swallow when you cut yourself off from the addictive fix of going around the hamster wheel one more time.
But then, slowly, something magical starts to happen.
When you shift your focus away from producing more, and producing all the time, and you begin to focus instead on enjoying the process in the moment and watching your creativity unfold with wonder, your inner rhythm begins to settle down and into its own groove. Suddenly, you find yourself in that amazing flow state, where you can get lost for an hour or two in writing your story and you’re not even conscious of the time going by. You realize that you feel like a kid again, when you wrote stories for the pure joy of it, just because you loved your characters so much and you wanted to find out what happened to them next.
Making this magical shift from stressed and full of self-doubt about your writing to full of joy and deeply tuned in to your creative flow IS possible. But you have to take the first step. You have to realize that chasing the goal of “being productive” is an illusion and a waste of time. It never really gets you anywhere, except for stuck in the eternal cycle of always adding just one more thing to your to-do list.
So, here’s your action step today—and it’s just one tiny thing that can get you started, anyone can do it. Look at your to-do list and choose the most important thing on that list. Choose the thing that is the most meaningful to you and that feeds your soul. Make that thing your priority for today. Do a little work on that one thing and then see how you feel. If you’re energized and feel like doing more, give yourself permission to work on one or two other things that need to get done. If you’re tired out, rest.
It sounds simple, but for those of us who have put all our self-worth on how productive we are, this is harder than it appears. However, stick with it. Focus on one thing every day, and then two or three other things if you feel like you have energy for them. Slow down. Enjoy the process. Breathe.
If you stick with it, through all the discomfort, and see what unfolds, I promise you the self-doubt that’s been plaguing you forever will finally begin to fall away.
This post originally appeared on Lauren’s blog on September 15, 2021.
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