How believing you’re a terrible writer will make you a great writer. (Or at least less terrible)

Who decides to be a writer? It’s not fun. It’s not always fulfilling. I think there are very rare occasions where I have enjoyed writing. I’ve liked things I’ve written and I’ve been proud of them. But rarely, do I actually enjoy it.

It’s fucking hard. It’s boring. Most of the time all it provokes are feelings of self hatred. It feels like a punishment.

But we carry on, somehow. It sure as hell isn’t anything to do with me. I’m not able to do this on my own strength. Most of the time, I want to throw the computer in the sea. Like go up to a large cliff and just toss this shit over the edge.

But I don’t. Mostly because that would be mental but largely because when I do need to write again, I’ll regret it.

The shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott names it, is exactly that. I’ve never sat down and just had the words magically flow out like in some romantic version of what we think it is supposed to like. Notice, also how I didn’t state this, as “some romantic version of what it means to be a writer.”

Writing that just makes me cringe. Ugh. How pretentious to call yourself a writer!

This is where our Shadow kicks in. The part of you that you don’t want to know exists but you do know.

Your Shadow may look different that mine, but ultimately it’s that part of us, that cringes when we think of ourselves as writers. What I do, is imagine what people are thinking if I introduced myself to them as a writer.

On the outside, they just nod politely but inside they’re like, “What a wanker” or “Dickhead”.

I can’t disagree with them because if someone else were to call themselves a writer, I would think exactly the same. Except of course, I’m projecting. I’m actually just calling myself a wanker. You, wanker!

The reason I feel embarrassed of calling myself a writer, is not because it’s embarrassing to be a writer, but because people will inevitably think that I’m not a very good writer. That’s what I’m anxious  about. If it wasn’t writing, it would be plumbing or making coffee or anything else that people do that other people are probably better at than they are.

So what to do with the pesky Shadow? Because it seems that the more I beat it up verbally in my mind, the more it remains ambivalent. Which makes it even more of a nuisance. I beat it up over and over but it just keeps coming back for more. Not in a resilient, “just try me pal” sort of way. Just, an emotionless can’t be broken sort of way.

Eventually, by sheer exhaustion, we’re left to confront it and ask” Ok, now what?! Eh? You win? Is that what you want to hear?”

As it turns out, it’s not. Because that would suggest some sort of emotion is at play.

So in the end, due to some sort of twisted creative Stockholm syndrome, we end up having to make friends with it. That’s where the realisations hits you, your Shadow is exactly that, your shadow.

It’s you. It always was you. It’s the parts of you that feels like a massive prick for wanting to be a writer in the first place.

It’s the embarrassment you feel when someone compliments something you wrote, because you’re trying to protect yourself. Even though you want everyone to think you’re fucking brilliant. You start to realise why you can never win.

So you look the Shadow in the face and you just accept it for what it is. You just accept that you may look like a wanker to some people. You accept that what you’re about to write is going to be horrendously terrible. You accept that you don’t have a lot of natural talent for this and it is going to be  a slog. You accept that some people think you are evil personified. You accept all the negative things you think about yourself when you think about being a writer.

You don’t necessarily feel a fuzzy wuzzy warm feeling towards you Shadow, but it’s your shadow and darn it, it’s not going anywhere.

So you stick by each other, in an love hate hate hate love relationship because what this does is free both of you.

Think about it like this. No matter what I write, no matter how amazing I think it is or how amazing the vast majority of people think it is, someone will think it’s the worst thing ever to be inflicted on the human race.

That’s just a categorically true fact. The specific things about what you create that they hate, may vary. They may think you are wrong, or that it is just poorly written or that you have to be stopped by any means necessary, but it’s going to be true every time and you need to accept it.

Then there is another scenario. One that shows us probably the most valuable part of your Shadow; sometimes what you create is going to be terrible. Like terrible in a way that, you’ll actually invent a new way of being awful. You know those people who love things like the Room? You know the phenomenon where things are so bad they’re actually good?

Yeah, even this is on a different level. People will be embarrassed for you. So bad that you really ought to just delete it completely. Tommy Wisseu will even deny knowing you. Yeah, that’s how bad it is.

But it’s ok because you’ve accepted that it’s going to be like this sometimes.

We write because we have this deep beautiful burning itch inside us (metaphorically speaking, otherwise please seek medical advice) that can only be satisfied when we write.

But let’s also be clear. We write because we want our ego stroked. We want to be thought of as a great thinker and articulator. Yeah, yeah I was born to write and I didn’t choose to write, writing chose me, yada yada.

But in the end, I just want to be loved. That’s why I write.

But I’m not going to find it there. I’m only going to find it, when I fully and unconditionally accept that thing I just wrote which even Tommy Wiseau would have been embarrassed by. That’s our shadow. When I fully accept the very worst thing I have created then we’re free.

We’re free to create because we write knowing that it’s ok if it’s terrible. If we accept that, there is nothing left to be anxious about. The acceptance means that there is no pressure on us. Imagine every time you sit down to write you accept that it may be awful.

Now this may seem depressing and detrimental to our goal of creating.

But the part of you that I just described; the part where writing is just something that you need to do, can finally breathe.

It can create what it needs to today. The Shadow is the part of us that keeps our ego in check because our ego is always going to want to take over. Our ego isn’t evil necessarily but it can quickly hijack the work we want to accomplish.

So when we accept the worst of ourselves, no one else can use it against us. If I know my writing is sometimes shit, then it’s not news someone else telling me that it is.

It may not change the world, but now you’re free from the pressure of it needing to change to world.

Then and only then, will it actually have the possibility of doing so.

Why Your New Years Resolution Are Going To Fail. (Oh, and Happy New Year)

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Look I am as sick of writing New Years’ Resolution posts as you are of reading them. This is the time of the year when we bloggers can’t think of anything else to write so decide to get high and mighty and tell you why you suck.

But let’s be honest, we never learn. Every year we come back to the same guilt and shame and announce to the world via Twitter that this is the year that we lose weight or take up running or whatever. Continue reading

Brad Pitt, Where Ideas Come From and Why Everything Should Be Sacred To The Writer.

I am not in control.

You are not in control.

This may be the most important thing I’ve learned as a writer. It’s what I would tell anyone who creates anything. Whether you’re writing a blog post, preparing a sermon or painting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid who is making masterpieces out of stuff that’s lying around or whether you’re a  seasoned novelist who has written 20 New York Times’ Bestsellers.

You aren’t in control. And as soon as you realize that, the sooner you can start making some really great stuff.

Even when you come up with an idea. It’s not really your idea. Yeah, you were maybe the one who one who write it down or had an inkling to suggest something, but honestly that doesn’t mean it’s yours. Where did it come from? That’s what I like to call an elusive question. One that the more we attempt to answer, often the further we are from finding an answer.

Consider this in some ways, an elusive blog post.

When I write I often try and have some ideas or seeds ready to go. So if I’m out and about and I notice something or hear something or wonder something, I will jot it down. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether it fits into something that I’m already working on or whether it’s interesting to anyone else. If it hits something in me, I’ll make some sort of record of it. Maybe I’ll take a picture and make a note and reference it in Evernote.

I’ll usually give it a tag of some sort e.g. Elaine’s Freakout or Franco, General Hospital or Numb Slog.

Descriptions and tags that right now mean nothing, but someday may just be the missing piece of the jigsaw that I’ve been looking for.

Remember to make a note about whatever this thought that comes to mind is, even if it’s 3:25 in the morning. This is so important!! I’ve had ideas that I’ve thought were genius and I wouldn’t need to write down, disappear like a dream. There are foggy memories of having a great idea that become faint mirages. Something but now nothing.

I’ve thought of jokes in my sleep that I literally remember thinking I can’t wait to tell Britty this joke when I wake up and realizing the joke is terrible. Remind me to tell you my Brad Pitt joke next time I see you. brad-pitt-young

But it doesn’t matter. I wrote it down. It may come in handy someday, even if just to use in a blog post about how crap an idea it was.

Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred to the writer.

Then maybe later I’ll be writing a blog post about a particular topic and I’ll review my tags and I’ll see if there are any interesting connections. Connections that if I was trying to intentionally arrive at, would never stick. But when my stance in the world is to be alert to what’s going on around me, you’d be surprised at the things that fit together eventually.

Also, it doesn’t have to be good. In fact, it should probably be really shit. That’s where the good stuff tends to come from. Another in fact; usually the things that you think are really great and are going to go viral, don’t get much response and the things you’re so embarrassed about sharing, resonate on some weird level with people.

The best ideas too, come from the least expected places. Often I do my best writing in the shower or sitting on the toilet. They common factor here is not some weird fascination I have with my bathroom but that it’s here that I’m often disconnected from my phone or my computer. Those things become a distraction where Twitter stops me from pondering and being in awe and just being silent.

The silence is where the best noise comes from.

I don’t understand it either.

Again, we’re not in control.

And that’s it really. Sure we need to actually sit down every single day and do the work. And sure, we need to edit it and maybe we can to learn to find our voice by taking a course. But the ideas, rarely come from simply trying harder.

And the more you do this, whether you’re any good at it or not, the more you’ll want to let go. The more value you’ll see in those frustrating days when everything you write is just BLeurgrhhgreathhgghhghsdgjh!!!!! It’s not a waste of time, it’s necessary. Like a good sculptor, our job is simply to chisel away until we find something that has been there all along.

We’re not creating it so much as we are discovering it and giving voice to it.

That’s the important work.

Because in there, when you least expect it, is where you find the great.

How being lazy helped me write more.

I haven’t written a blog like this in a while. One in which I lay out in a carefully detailed plan how I am so creative and able to construct sentences that produce such strong emotions in people that they can’t but help themselves to a click on their twitter share button. Or maybe just go “meh”!

But recently I have discovered something in how I write that may or not be helpful to you. I discovered that when it comes to many things I can be pretty lazy. I can procrastinate like no other. But I think I have found a way to make my laziness work in my favor.

Let me explain.                                                       

If I am lying upstairs on my bed watching the latest episode of Portlandia or Hannibal  and I realize I have left my phone downstairs, those stairs become a mammoth trek of survival and self discovery and to be perfectly honest my bed is pretty comfy and cosy so forget that. Or if I have chocolate and I want to eat it but at the same time I don’t want to eat it, I will simply put it into Britt’s drawer on her side of the bed. Again, a matter of feet becomes a hundred mile journey and that will be enough to resist the tempting lure of chocolate. 

Yes, I’m that lazy.

Also, American chocolate’s not that great.

So I got to thinking how this could work in my favor when writing. When I sit down to write I come face to face with procrastination or resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it. The internet is my resistance. I will check my emails accounts, then check a couple of online communities that I am part of, then Facebook and then Twitter. A whole two minutes later and I will repeat the process. Unsurprisingly, not enough has changed in the world in that time to warrant such excessive checking.

Thankfully I have a new system in place. I have two online productivity tools that I will tell you about in a minute which have saved my life.

But first, what is my real problem? Is it laziness or something else? Well actually, I think it is both.

I love to write. I even want to write. I wake up some mornings and have the insatiable desire to write. Then I try and nothing really happens and I click refresh. That’s on a good day. But what this tells me is that there is something worth pursuing here and it’s worth fixing. So I ask myself, what if I didn’t have the internet?

What if I am upstairs and I didn’t have the internet to tempt me from writing? Well as I have established I am pretty lazy so even if I am upstairs without the internet I am unlikely to go looking for something downstairs. My problem is not so much that I don’t want to write but that when faced with the choice of writing or doing anything else, I will choose almost 100% of the time, something else

So I remove the internet.

Now before anyone starts panicking, don’t worry you still have access to FB and Twitter and can still send me countless annoying farmville invites.

But I block the internet for myself. Using these two great tools. Leachblock for firefox and Waste No Time for Safari. They’re both amazing and have literally saved my life and helped with a few writing deadlines. I can block the internet for specific time periods everyday. Sometimes I purposefully leave my phone downstairs do I don’t have the distraction. Sometimes I tell myself that I need the internet for research but usually that’s a sneaky way of saying I need to see what kind of things are topical so I can write about them. But that’s not good for anyone, believe me.

There’s always an excuse.

So with a double tag team of laziness to go somewhere else and the removal of options to distract me, I can get to work. Removing any other options leaves me wanting and able to write and I can feel like I have worked. Which helps me feel good, which motivates me next time I need to write.

Sometimes I need to get out of the house to write but even then I’m too lazy to go home and so end up writing more.

Maybe you’re not as lazy as me and that’s ok. I don’t judge you. Be thankful that you aren’t like me.

For the rest of us though, lazy is OK. It can be your friend and can be used to your advantage. Resistance is sneaky but you can be sneakier.

So get writing, or building, or creating. Whatever it is you do.

Just be lazy.

 

Why I live Tweeted the Grammys

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Two nights ago, I did something that I have never done but always intended to and live tweeted an awards ceremony. On Sunday night, as I am sure many of you know, the Grammys took place and so I decided to join in with some of my favorite tweeters/bloggers/writers and have a bit of fun.

What’s the point of this you ask? Here’s a few reasons why I live tweeted the Grammys. Continue reading

There is a bit of Dougal in all of us.

father-dougal-mcguireResistance doesn’t think, “how can I use the fear of failure or the fear of success to stall her from working.”

It thinks, “how can I use the fear of failure and the fear of success.”

If we were afraid of only failure then we would be able to justify working using success. So if I think “I might look stupid but at least I could help one person see something fresh”, then it’s worth it.

So resistance evolves to include the fear of success too.

“If this goes well I may be asked to take on more responsibility, which I’m not ready for” or
“If this post gets people talking and coming back I’ll need to write something just as good or even better”.

Notice how the fear of success quickly turns into the fear of failure.

We might need to come up with other great ideas, or we might need to surprise ourselves.

The good news is that this frees us up to be generous. When we focus on the potential failure or success we are focusing mainly on ourselves. We’re afraid of looking stupid or getting people’s hopes up and then feeling stupid when we let them down or make a mistake.

The antithesis to this is generosity where the only goal is to give without expectation of anything in return. You can’t feel stupid if you don’t care.

I can write a blog post that resonates with people and that’s fantastic so I work to make that happen again. But I do so by simply doing the work and putting it out there because it’s the right thing to do.

Whether it connects or not isn’t so important; it’s part of the active strategy to keep being generous.

Surprisingly though when we keep doing that, eventually something sticks. Something you write encourages someone or even better, the hope to do their own work. If you stop being generous eventually you’ll become so self obsessed and paralyzed with fear that you stop working altogether.

And your work is far too important to us to let that happen.

Fear of giving.

We fear creating because we don’t like change and creating by its very nature, produces change.

We also fear creating because if we create then that means we are giving something of ourselves over for free. We may get paid but really it’s free because our work doesn’t always mean others will be vulnerable in return.

It’s a gift and that is all. A gift for the sake of being able to give. Continue reading