It seems to me that once I get to my writing, everything is fine. As I wrote about in one of my previous posts, it’s not the writing part (so far) that is the problem, it’s the GETTING THERE part that dooms me.
These are four mindsets that stop me from going to my creative place and what I do to help avoid them.
“What does it matter, in the larger scheme of things?”
Whether I’m first putting words to screen, sloughing through the mucky middle between drafts, endlessly polishing a finished story, or grinding through the mind-numbing task of submitting, disbelief is everywhere for me. And let me make something clear, I’m using this term not in the idea that something is unbelievable or that I’ve given up on my art, but in the idea of not believing in myself. Because when you say to yourself anything resembling what you read up there in those quotes, you’ve lost faith in yourself. At this point, anything is better than facing my messy, frustrating work, and so I do anything and everything to avoid it.
When I get discouraged and start talking like this, I understand that I must somehow make myself understand that I’ve always possessed belief in myself, I’ve just misplaced it. It’s a trick of the mind. For some reason, my mind makes it easy to give up because, with my history of depression, frustration, and self-doubt, it feels so fucking good to be down on myself, and disbelief is just a natural reaction to this. Do you know how many times I’ve gotten into a fit just because I didn’t want to get up in the morning, mumbling and rationalizing about why I should just give up? It’s easy to quit, I know. But you can change it, you can change your mind and your mindset. Psyche yourself up. Motivational videos help me, like Mel Robbins or Tony Robbins (no relation) or just anything on YouTube dealing with motivation. Or another thing I do is to stop even having these negative thoughts. If I’m not going to get myself pumped up, I need to stop pulling myself down. It really is just a change of one mindset to another, and if you can do that, and if it gets you to your desk, you’ve won a big battle.
“Ooo! A documentary on Picasso!” “I’ll just read another chapter of that book today instead.”
Internet, smart phone, TV are everywhere now, and are what I call fast-food distractions: they feel good but don’t do anything for you. For me, I’ve learned to just them off, put them away because it’s too damn easy nowadays to fall prey to the interesting videos and the funny pics and the flashing lights. But there is also a second, more insidious category of distraction hunting that I call health-food distractions: they feel good but they’re good for you as well. These for me are reading, writing something else, research, and doing anything creative like drawing, painting, or playing my guitar. Now, when it’s time to fill up my creative tank, I follow my Muse, and any one of the health-food distractions are just that, healthy. In fact, they help motivate me to get into writing in the first place (which is a topic I’ll be writing about next week). But too often, I indulge in reading or writing on this blog or doing research for my book instead of actually working on my book. Too many times, I know I have to do the grunt work of writing my book, but when it comes down to it, I choose reading or playing my guitar or just watching a great film. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these things except for the fact that I’m not working on my book, and that’s why it’s a sneaky mindset to be in.
The key thing to do is to cut away as many distractions as you can, but pay particular attention to the things that make you a better writer or Creative, because they take time away from your Work while making you feel good about it. It comes down to balance. If you have to, take a step back, take a breath or go outside, refocus, and return to your work. I’m currently working on this second group now. It feels so good to just light a candle, declare it a state of decompression, and just read the morning away. But they need to be curbed the same as TV and internet, because, in the end, I made a promise to myself that the one thing I wanted to do more of for now on was produce more work.
“I’ll never be Virginia Woolf.”
Or Faulkner. Or Dostoevsky. Or Mann. Or Camus. Or Atwood. Because it doesn’t fall off the page the way my heroes would’ve written it, I must be terrible. And of course, I know that my heroes struggled, every single one of them; but they’re dead and I can’t hang out with them so they can give me advice and so I don’t know for sure but what I do know is that I suck and I might as well not even try blah blah blah blah etc.
Our heroes hurt us if we can’t write. Stop comparing yourselves to them. Also, they had editors and other writers to guide them. Also, every single one of them were disturbed, depressed, unhappy, and lonely, at least for the time it takes to write. Writing is a lonely business and the last thing you want is to put all your creative influences on pedestals. I recommend indulging in the opposite of reading something good–read something god awful. Pick up something really trendy and poppy right now, perhaps some trash or smut or sap. Notice the formulaic storylines, the cookie-cutter characters, the disgustingly artsy language, or the dozen other ways that it makes you angry, frustrated, disappointed, and maybe even a little hopeless for the future of our art form. Then, listen very carefully, deep down, to a tiny voice inside your spirit. It is whispering to you: ‘Oh hell no, I KNOW I can write better than THIS clown!’ Sometimes all you need is evidence that you don’t have to be Shakespeare just do your best.
“I need at least two hours to really get into anything good, and I only have an hour and fifty-nine minutes, so forget it.”
This is me to a T. I know it’ll never be perfect, but I don’t want to hear that, this perfectionist side of me. I must have perfection. I must have the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect breakfast, the perfect weather, environment, mood, haircut, clothes worn, etc etc etc. And so what happens is when one little thing goes wrong, the whole house of cards topples, and I rush out of my room to watch Twin Peaks (see: Hero Worshipping; see: health-food distraction), munching on chips and dubbing myself a failure.
Perfection is unattainable. Period. Again, it’s all about mindset, and I must remember that the only thing I need is a great mindset–one of passion and honesty, a mindset that looks for the possibilities and the discoveries, and a mindset that is excited. Once I have this, I know that, even though not everything is lined up the way I expected it to be, I can still have a great day. I forgot who said it but I remember a quote going something like this: “At the end of the week, I can’t tell you what were my bad days and what were my good days. All I see are the words in front of me.” Get the words down, no matter what the days.
In the end, at the very least, just get there. Just Get There. JUST. GET. THERE. Mel Robbins crafted a superb mental trick she explains here–simply countdown from five to one. Action, that’s my problem.
Act. Go to it. Do it. And don’t think or feel too much on it. Make it a routine to just sit down and stare at words, if you have to. Give yourself fifteen minutes a day. Set a timer, that’s what I do. Or if anything, two minutes. TWO MINUTES. You can do that. Through all of the negativity, get there. 99% of the time, that’s all you need, and then, when you’ve done it, you feel that much better. I can’t tell you how absolutely ecstatic I feel when I do my writing for the day. It really is like you’re conquering something, slaying your dragon.
And if you don’t get to your creative place, DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP. This creates a negativity loop that bleeds any sort of self-esteem and momentum you’ve collected. Take a breath, forgive yourself, and try again the next day. And honestly forgive yourself. We are all human. Creating anything from your heart and spirit, anything that’s daring and well-done and passionate, like making art, is some of the hardest mental work in our humanity’s history. I really do believe that. You are a fighter, and fighters fight. Get mad. Get pumped. Get into it. And get there. We’re no use to each other out here whining about it. Let’s go!
P.S. Sharing these four bad habits with you is a way of not only showing myself these things by writing them out and reading them so that I can be a better writer but also is a way of communicating with you to help you as well.
PLEASE tell me any of your methods that help you get to your creative place, physically and mentally.
Create and Complete!
Have a great day!