No Words Are Wasted

This is not a triumphant blog post. But it’s something.

The worst days are the ones when I just don’t sit down. Then I find myself at 9 PM wanting to get in bed with a book but feeling like I have to try to squeeze 500 words of novel out of a brain that’s already been exhausted by a day of screwing around on my iPhone.

On the other hand, when I do sit down to write, even when I don’t know what’s going to come out I almost always produce something of value. Sometimes something I never expected.

A lot of the time I still don’t get around to working on the novel. It’s been several weeks now. It’s much easier to just write down my thoughts which might turn into a journal entry or a blog post (hi). It’s much easier to avoid doing the work that’s the hardest, that makes us feel the most like despite writing for our entire adult lives we have no idea what we’re doing.

But there’s still no solution that I can see other than just sitting down and starting to write even when we don’t know what’s going to come out and would rather just be looking at the Internet instead.

Take something that’s in your head and get it out of there. Even if it’s misshapen, even if you never share it with the world. It changes you, just a little. You’re not quite the same as you were before you wrote; you’ve taken a step.

That’s why no words are wasted.

When the Levee Breaks

Look, I’m gonna be straight with you: it’s been a bad couple weeks for writing the novel.

The lack of numbers speak for themselves. We could spend a thousand words right here delving into the reasons why I’m not writing right now, and I daresay that’d be ironic—spilling ink on analysis instead of on writing. Not today. Today I’m just setting this assertion down:

I’m still here.

You know what? I’ve still written more novel in the last couple months than in the last seven years. And the thing is, this time? I know I’ll be back. Two weeks, three weeks? That ain’t nothing looking back on the dozen novels that’ll pop up on my shelf over the next couple years.

I never had the attitude to say that with confidence before. Now I do. I might write some novel tomorrow, I hope so, and it’s possible that I won’t. But I’ll be back, see? I’m cut out for this thing, and I know that in a way I never used to. Maybe it’s just that my writing coach told me so—in fact, that’s probably a big part of it—but that’s fine. I’ll take the mindset where I can beg, borrow, or steal it.

Because if I’ve learned anything over the past year or two? Since I decided to take this writing thing for serious again?

It’s all a head game. All of it. Always.

That’s about all I have to say tonight. Not much of a blog post, but a necessary one; at the very least, necessary for me, right now.

And I know it’ll be necessary for the Dan of six months or two years or two decades from now that needs reassurance that stumbling off the path isn’t a header over the edge of a cliff; it’s just a stumble.

And if there’s a version of Dan with another name that comes across this at just the right time? That’s even better.

You stepped off the path? I feel you. It’s fine. Just step back on.

Next time perhaps I’ll share what I have been doing to coax my uncooperative self back into line. But one thing at a time.

What difference does mindset make, anyway?

I did it again: I signed up for a ‘free indie author summit’, so I guess I’m on a bunch more authors’ mailing lists, and I have a bunch more videos to watch and take notes on.

This all seems great until you realize it’s just another form of procrastination. But let’s dutifully try to extract some value. The first three videos, by Joanna Penn, Adam Cross, and Jennifer Blanchard, are about “mindset”.

I’ve already been convinced mindset is important. The last few years of paying attention to people I admire, authors and entrepreneurs, makes a pretty compelling case. Among other things I’ve adopted the idea of doing daily affirmations: you get up in the morning, and you look in the mirror, and you tell yourself about the person you want to be.

I’ll admit it: I’m doing this every morning. I have a repeating reminder in my phone. I look in the mirror and I say out loud, “I am a successful author,” and then I describe what that looks like for me.

Does it help? Remains to be seen. The idea is, you put yourself in a mental state where you start to do the things that will make the visualization a reality.

I know, it sounds like airy-fairy nonsense to me, too.

Let’s put it this way, though: If you look in the mirror every day, literally or not, and tell yourself, “I’m a failure, I’ll never finish a whole novel, I’m no good at this, I’ll never be as good as whoever,” do you reckon your chances of success will,

a) improve,

b) plummet, or

c) stay the same?

I know you want to say it’ll have no effect whatsoever because we love to cling to the fantasy that we’re beings of pure reason, and surely nothing as stupid and unscientific as talking to ourselves could make any difference in our behaviour.

But you know what? There seems to be science that suggests it does, and it doesn’t take much introspection to realize your self-talk can really mess up your mood. So why wouldn’t that work in reverse?

And if there’s a chance this will yield an advantage and the only downside is I feel a little silly I don’t need to read twenty peer-reviewed articles to give it a shot.

I did get a good piece of clarifying advice from Jennifer’s video, though. She talked about shaping the mindset practice, that thing you do every day, to the place you are in your journey. Because ultimately the point of mindset is to guide your actions—if you don’t take action, your mindset is totally irrelevant. So if you’re just starting out, like I am, to build the habit of writing, structure your language around that. I’ve been saying things to myself like, “I’m a successfull author, I write books and have an audience of people that can’t wait to read them. I work on what I want, when I want, how I want, I live the lifestyle I want…” well, that’s a nice visualization of my desired identity, but it’s taking a long view.

Instead, Jennifer suggests something like this, based on the actions I need to perform:

“I really enjoy writing”

“It’s easy to sit down every day and write my words”

“I have a habit of writing every day”

“I’m excited to make a little more progress on the story I’m telling”

I like this because I like positive feedback loops. People think of the phrase “positive feedback loop” like the “positive” means “good”, but it doesn’t; it means “increasing in magnitude”, and we must focus on that. You set up your mindset to do certain things, then you do them and find out the mindset is slightly more aligned with reality (hey, I DID enjoy writing my words and making a little more progress), which strengthens your mindset, which makes it a little easier to live the things you’re telling yourself are true…

Repeat a thousand times and call me in a year.

I’m going to give this a shot in the coming days and weeks and see if my consistency improves. If you try it, let me know how that goes for you, too.