For the last few years, I’ve been doing a ton of reading about bettering myself. Writing is not easy in itself, but the process of getting yourself into a chair to write can seem impossible some days. What I learned is that you need a great system that supports your writing life. Literature Adjacent was created for that very purpose —to show the outside things to do to help you become the best writer you can be.
I want to share with you some concepts I’ve learned so far that have helped me a ton.
#1: Your Brain Is Trying To Stop You
We are wired with a brain that is still trying to keep us from getting eaten by sabertooth tigers, so understand that when you’re preparing to write, your brain will give you a million different ways to not write. It could be worrying or feeling a sense of panic. It could be doing the dishes or a hundred other chores you’ve put off. And the worst part about this is every single one of these things will make sense. You DO need to do the dishes, you DO need to call your mom, you DO need to do the taxes. But not yet.
Why does it do this? Because when you write, you’re venturing out into the unknown. And the unknown is DANGER. Beau Lotto talks extensively about this in his book, ‘Deviate’. He speaks from a portion of it here. The gist is that anything new and different from our habits triggers primitive fears in our brains, to the point where our brains physically try and stop us with panic and fear.
Look, our brain loves us and wants us to not die. It’s only doing its job. We all need doubt and fear and worry sometimes. But when it comes to writing your blog or book, or sending out an inquiry, or even reaching out to people at a book reading or event, know that the fear you feel is common and normal for someone attempting something new, and then ACT QUICKER THAN IT. Breathe, know what you love, and push on. Go in spite of the fear. So much of writing and keeping a good practice is mental endurance.
#2: You Can’t Think Your Way Out Of A Box Of Thought
Our brains love puzzles. When there’s a problem, it loves to come up with the answers. So when there’s something wrong, if we don’t feel like writing or something is blocking us, we panic and come up with so many reasons why we’re not writing. We’ll analyze, criticize. We’ll come up with logical reasons why we’re not good enough, etc etc. Stop!
When we get stuck in ours head, we can’t get out of that loop by thinking our way out of it. This is another case of moving faster than your mind. You want to write? Jump into that chair and start writing, anything. Writing begets writing. Rationalizing or problem-solving will only make it bad. Or worse yet, waiting to be perfect before you write. You need to break free of that loop. Understand that your mind is trying to keep you safe, that’s why it’s making you freak out. Shut off your critical mind and breathe. Open up to your writing spirit. Take a step out of yourself and view your fears from high up in space. Can you see them? Focus on your breath and realize that it’s not life-or-death. Don’t let overthinking ruin your day, your week, or your life.
#3: Bad Habits Die Hard…but They CAN Die
Our brains are not as rigid as we once thought. We can change our lives when we change what thoughts we focus on, what words we use, and what actions we take, and all of this stems from our habits. Possess good habits and you can have a great life.
The problem is that old habits are hard to change. When I first started to go into the chiropractor, I was given tips about my posture. I would sit up straight for a moment or two, but then slump over. I tried all week to sit and stand straight. The next time I went in, I made a point to sit extra straight. I felt like an idiot. I thought, ‘She’s going to laugh when she sees me.’ When she came in the room, she commented on how excellent my posture looked. ‘But it feels so weird!’ I said. ‘Making good habits is first about breaking old ones. You’re doing double duty to make a change.’
It may take months and months of doing something different to change it. But you can change them. If you love writing and want to make the time, you can make the time. You must have dedication that you want it bad enough, you must have patience to know that it won’t be a change overnight, and you must forgive yourself when there are setbacks. And these steps must be small. The brain can’t make big leaps, it must make the small connections in its experience to move toward something that was once so alien and so hostile to it.
#4: You Will Never Feel Like It
Emotions are a big part of who we are. We must always want to be feeling good and not feeling bad. It takes courage to look at the things that are making us feel bad, much less actually accepting these sad or frustrated or depressing feelings. But we must face them and understand where they’re coming from.
Action trumps emotion. You don’t feel like hitting the gym? Go any way. Writing that novel? Do it till its done. Having that talk with your loved one? It must be done. Our natural inclination is to avoid what is difficult and painful. Again, our brain is trying to keep you safe. But these are habits that are made to feel right because we’ve been doing them for so long. The true way to fulfillment and love is into the void, my friend. And you will never feel right, you will never feel ready. Mel Robbins talks a lot about this here.
#5: Stop Doubting and Start Doing
I got this line from a commercial. I consider it kismet. There are so many forms of doubt–worry, anxiety, laziness, indifference, busyness, and anger.
Here’s a trick: picture your ideal self. What are you doing? What are you seeing yourself being around people? What are the habits you’re enacting that make you this ideal person? What are the emotions you feel? Okay: now be that! It’s not as easy (or quick or flawless as all that) but it’s something to keep in your sights.
#6: Embrace The Suck
This comes from the Marines. It means realizing that it’s going to be hard work. Every writer loves to write and read. But when faced with continuous rejection from editors or agents or publishing houses you never met and from the quiet concern from family members and friends, it seems like it is a never-winning battle. But it is a battle and you CAN win. Here’s a cool video on it. Check it out. I’ll wait.
This video is inspiring because it takes the idea of feeling like shit and not only embracing it but push against it to make yourself better. Look, we get tied into our emotions so easily, and we’re tied to thinking that we must be happy ALL THE TIME so that when we don’t feel like doing it, when we feel down and helpless, we stop, we quit, and then we go into the destructive habit of blaming ourselves and calling ourselves out. Embracing the Suck takes that pain and suffering, and makes you look it in the eye and accept it, and then making it move you back out of that bed, back into that seat, and back writing.
Stephen Pressfield talks about embracing the suck in his book, The War of Art. I wrote a review of it here.
#7: Great Rituals Will Save You
Morning Rituals are a hot topic now, from a chapter in Tim Ferriss’s book, Tools of Titans, to Mel Robbins videos on YouTube. Everyone successful has one. This is because the good things you do in the first thirty minutes of the morning will propel you into the rest of the day. But also, a ritual frees up our minds to do what we need to do when it comes time to do it. How many times have we gotten up and stared at the dark grey fog of What Now? Ideas and intentions swirl through our minds and we’re lost and we wander. But with a ritual, your muscle memory kicks in, and you enact these actions without thinking about them. It’s also good to have a nighttime ritual, to give your body the momentum to wind down to get a good night’s sleep.
The most essential habit for a writer is a writing ritual. Larraine Herring in her book, The Writing Warrior, prescribes a three-part ritual that has helped many of students. I like it and use it, but what really hits home for me was her discussion on how ritual gets you through things: She says that if you have a ritual every day, and have been for many years, you can go to it in any mood because you have. It’s there for you, and it’ll help you get through the tough times and the good.
#8: Focus On What You Can Control
This is a stoic mantra you can get from the main man of Stoicism himself, Epictetus. It’s very simple–control what you can and let go of everything else. Here’s Epictetus: “There’s only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? To simply let go? But we don’t, do we? Not us writers, over thinkers that we are. We worry about whether our book will get published, whether our group will like it, whether the people in our lives will appreciate what we do, etc. Instead, focus on what you can, mainly your thoughts, your words, and your actions. Once you do that, screw the rest. We have enough to worry about (trying to write novels is basically worrying about a world), stop worrying about things you have no control over.
It’s all how you look at it.
It really is. And looking at it begins in the mind. We need to work hard to re-train our minds to learn and understand what brains we have, what bodies we were given, and what spirit is inside of us to create and write beautifully, engagingly, and honestly through words. Sitting down and writing, by whatever means necessary, just isn’t enough anymore.
Little steps. Use one or all of the names below as a starting point to begin your own journey to make yourself a better writer, adjacently.
These men and women are absolutely amazing at what they do and they can give you clarity, science, and insight to fulfillment.
QUESTION OF THE POST: What person has helped you change your habits for the good?
Create and Complete