A few months ago, I left my boyfriend of three years. We were living together so this left me homeless. We were also working together so this left me jobless.
Before I blew up my whole life, I’d always thought it was so awesome when people in movies and books did that. How fun would it be to start fresh? To have everything be brand new? In a way, it seemed like being reborn. And, in a way, it is.
The part I forgot, the important part, is that birth is a scary, painful process. It’s a shock to the system.
The day I left, I woke up, not knowing that this day would be any different, not knowing what was about to happen. I was tired, like any other day. I tried to write and it didn’t go so well. It was a Friday so I was looking forward to sleeping in but there wasn’t much else to look forward to that weekend. I knew I’d come back to work on Monday and that the whole damn process would repeat itself over and over. Was I happy? No, but I didn’t know a way to fix that so, I accepted my situation as fact. I knew what the days ahead of me entailed. I knew where I’d be a week from then, how much my next paycheck would be, and that I would probably cook the same thing for supper. But I did not see the end.
By the next morning, all of that was gone. There was no paycheck coming. There was no work on Monday. I saw nothing ahead of me. I could only see that moment.
Luckily I have a kind and loving family that took me in. You see, I’ve never been a planner. I’ve always been a dreamer which was enough for me. Things would eventually work themselves out whether I planned them or not. Besides, life is unpredictable. But my family are planners. So every morning, my dad would leave me with a task to do. Look for a job. Figure out where you want to live. Have your mail forwarded. Make your bed. I think that last one was a way for him to try to win a battle that went on for the better part of a decade. I will admit that maybe you were right, Dad.
Since I was in shock, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t plan my whole future in a day. That was too much. But these little tasks helped me. They gave me a sense of purpose. It anchored me to reality rather than letting my mind wander off into uncharted waters.
Eventually, I was able to make a plan. I just did it one step at a time. This lesson carried over into my writing as most life lessons do.
Before, I used to wait around on inspiration before I would write. While this feeds into the romantic image of the starving artist, it’s really unrealistic.
Inspiration is a fickle thing. It’s not at our beck and call. Sometimes it disappears for weeks on end. That meant that I’d go without writing for weeks only to wake up one day in the grips of overwhelming panic. I’d realize that I wouldn’t be able to publish if I didn’t write. And if I didn’t pubish how would I ever be able to quit my job? I’d sit down to write but by then the stakes were so high I couldn’t write a single word.
Writing every day, whether you’re inspired or not, is the only way to combat this. There is no magic button you can push to summon inspiration. Some days you can go for all the walks or read all the great novels or stare at beautiful art all you want and inspiration still won’t come.
But if you sit down every day and write something, sooner or later it will come. No, the writing may not be as good on the days you aren’t inspired but that’s what editing is for. It is repetition and habit that make a writer truly great. It sharpens your skills and focuses your mind and creativity so that, when it’s time to write, you will write even if you feel like there is no inspiration left to be found in the world.
How did I do this? The same way my dad helped me get out of bed each morning: I gave myself one task to get done each day.
At first the most I could manage was writing in my journal. I was emotional, scared, and my whole life felt different so even journaling felt like an accomplishment. It helped me sort my shit out and figure out what I wanted to do next.
Once that became a habit, I started free writing again. This was a way for me to vent about feelings. Later it was a way for me to figure out what my writing looked like now. I never thought anything could really change my writing. But since writing is a part of who I am, it changed it completely. Luckily it was in a very, very good way. Sometimes pain and fear give you clarity.
After that, I began pursuing creative endeavors again. I came up with an idea for a children’s book and started working on that. I sat aside an afternoon each weekend to work on my blog. I began to get things done.
The final step was when I sat down and wrote out my goals and how I planned on accomplishing them.
I always thought that planning was a boring and stuffy practice that stifled creativity. Quite the contrary. Planning gives me boundaries and limits. It helps focus me so when I sit down to write, I know what I’m going to work on instead of spending half an hour deciding what to do. I’m no longer overwhelmed by my writing time. And I no longer sit around and wait for inspiration. Sure, I have still have days when nothing will come out but I’ve found that inspiration tends to visit me more often.
Why? Because the more you show up to write, the more opportunities you give inspiration to show up and help you.