You’re ten years old. It’s a drizzly Saturday afternoon and you’ve finished your chores at home, ridden your bike into town. Your shoes feel squishy and dampness clings to the windbreaker your mother insisted you wear.
Wandering the aisles in a local bookshop, you trail your fingers over the spines of glossy paperbacks and robust hardcovers. The wooden floors squeak underfoot. Your breath feels like a tight package in your chest. “Someday,” you whisper. “Someday my name is going to be on one of these books, lining this shelf.”
Was this you? Is it still?
When you want to write a book … and the world conspires against you
“It’s in here,” the writer says, pounding his chest. “I know that I have a book in me—maybe more than one—but I can’t write it because … (insert reason here).”
Job gets in the way.
These are a few reasons that writers have shared with me when I ask why they aren’t working on their dream. Many of them even do penance for not writing. Mentally flogging themselves, calling themselves names: lazy, uninspired, hack. Writing this script over and over in their minds that says one thing: I can’t do this.
Does the stick work?
Do you see yourself in the above description? If so, I want to ask you something. But you have to promise to answer honestly. Does it work?
Is this stick—beating yourself up for not taking your writing seriously, putting up plenty of walls so that your creative side is stymied, making time for marathon TV watching and gossiping about celebrities and lamenting the fact that you "just don’t have time to write"—does it work?
Why carrots are better
There are two types of action-takers in the world. There are those motivated by “sticks." We see these stories a lot in business publications and glossy consumer mags. These are the Type A’s who wake at 4 a.m. for a two-hour workout, write a scholarly article while sipping an antioxidant smoothie before heading off to their full-time, high pressure, high powered job. Here, they’ll work for 10 hours before starting a round of volunteer board meetings in the evenings.
And then there are those of us motivated by “carrots.” We haven’t quite lost touch with our inner kid, so spend a good deal of time trying to find ways to make otherwise boring things fun. Yes, we have to work all day. But what fun thing could we do after work? What experiment would they enjoy? Trying a painting class? Signing up for hot yoga? Writing a single scene from a book they will eventually finish? People motivated by carrots tend to look for rewards in the every day. And if they can’t find them? They make some of their own.
Writing for carrots
In a recent writing course, a participant told me in a frustrated voice that he wanted the writing time to be the carrot. He wanted that to be the reward, not something that had to be gotten through every day.
And over time, it can be. Implementing any new habit, though, is challenging. And creating a writing practice is a habit.
It is something that won’t feel very carrot-like at all in the beginning. Over time though, it will become less and less difficult. It will become something that eventually you won’t have to think about. Or at least, not as much.
So, when you feel that resistance, hear that negative voice smacking you with the stick, pause. Take a deep breath. And choose to listen instead to the voice that says, “Yes.”
“Yes, I can do this.”
“Yes, I can start with just 15 minutes.”
“Yes, I can make this fun.”
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