This month’s Inspirer has been written for all those people who know they have a book in them, or could write some poetry, or articles, or blogs, or short stories, or a book to sell after their workshops … but don’t…
Choice can be crippling
I remember reading about a woman who had recently returned to live in the UK after many years living in a remote corner of Africa. After having a limited choice of food from which to choose she suffered a complete meltdown on entering a British supermarket. It was easier to know she had the choice of gristly beef or no meat for supper than to decide between an array of different meat-products. I think she left the shop empty-handed.
After nine months of renovation, during which all our weekends were spent in tile or tap shops, I too began to suffer with decision fatigue. Did I really have to choose between hundreds of shapes, finishes and colours? It was only a downstairs loo? In the end, I literally walked away, saying: “just as long as it is turquoise I’m happy.”
Barry Schwartz does a super TED talk on the Paradox of Choice in which he explains why too much choice can be a bad thing.
“The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose,” he says.
Choice can be just as crippling for the writer.
When I needed to earn enough money from my writing to pay school fees, I simply worked out which type of writing earned me the most per hour, and focused on that: writing articles for newspapers. The lack of choice combined with my need was all the motivation I needed.
But now that I make the bulk of my income as a publisher not a writer, writing has become my ‘hobby’ again. My luxury. It is something I love to do and something I could not live without. I can choose what I write… but mostly I don’t.
So what is the magic ingredient that makes us choose to write rather than procrastinate and to dream.
Is it commitment?
Having the luxury of being able to choose what I write is not necessarily a good thing. Mostly I choose not to bother.
But if I had a commission, a deadline or a goal I’d write all right.
You see, I choose to write my Monthly Inspirer and you are reading it now. I chose to do it because I love writing in this column style. And I continue to choose to write it because you tell me you actually read it and find it useful. I write this, my monthly Inspirer column/blog because I made a commitment to do so and because your feedback keeps me going. Back in April 2002 I pledged to write my Inspirer on the first of every month. And I have stuck to it.
When I committed to taking part in The Ultimate Blog Challenge, which meant I had to blog every day for a month, I stuck to that too. When I had been commissioned to write a monthly column forThe Hague Online and a quarterly column for Global Connection I did so. And when I went to run the week long residential writing course in Tuscany back in September I pledged to write a blog a day from there. So I did.
Each time I made a commitment I also did one other thing. I told not just one person but several people I was making that commitment, or I was commissioned to make that commitment. If I made a commitment I did not keep it to myself. Being answerable to someone made it harder to let myself down.
This is why, many of my books began as workshops. If I organised a workshop I’d be forced to set a date. When I set a date and students signed up I’d have to write the handouts. And once I had the handouts I had the bones of a book. That’s what happened with A Career in Your Suitcase, Release the Book Within, Definite Articles, Grow Your Own Networks, Find Your Passion, Write Your Life Stories and next … The Naked Writer. I taught the last class of the six part series last month and already have 30,000 words of notes prepared. Turning that into a book will be easy.
Is it a deadline?
Sometimes a deadline helps me not only to start writing but to finish it too.
The NaNoWriMo month (National Novel Writing Month) takes place in November every year and those who join pledge to write a certain number of words every day during that month towards a novel. Anne O’Connell, who wrote @home in Dubai did NaNoWriMo in 2011 and next month will see the publication of the novel she wrote then, called Mental Pause. I have read and reviewed it and been lucky enough to see a sneak preview of its cover and can assure you that the commitment to the deadline meant that Anne chose to get that darn novel written!
I used to find poetry competitions were a great motivator and entered many run by the National Poetry Foundation and Writers News. I also recommend Mslexia magazine.
Last year, if you remember, I pledged to make 2013 the year I broke into performance poetry. In order to do this I booked myself an open mic slot at a local poetry cafe and also in a Christmas Revue. I also performed at my uncle’s birthday party. They were small events but they forced me to learn some poems by heart and perform them. They actually happened because I made a commitment and had a deadline.
So, I conclude
If you really want to write… I mean REALLY… then I urge you to do three things:
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