So you want to be a writer?

Have you ever wanted something but failed to act? Most have had this unpleasant experience. It’s one of frustration, regret, and angst. Sometimes, the untold delay looms at the forefront of your mind. Sometimes it is more unconscious, revealed only be countless dreams of running late, getting nowhere, and arriving unprepared.

Ultimately, life is complicated and many people drift through it. We hope to realise some future ambition but instead live in a state of confusion and denial. So far, so mundane.

A Personal Story

I remember the moment I decided I was going to finally focus on writing fiction. I’d already written plenty of non-fiction, and I wanted to try my hand at a novel (obviously; rather than trying something sensible first — like short stories). Instead, I had a grandiose vision of writing a masterpiece. I’d been carrying around a novel idea, pun absolutely intended, for about ten years.

And, finally, now I was going to write it.

Except, I didn’t. I procrastinated endlessly. I talked about writing, thought about writing, dreamt about writing, but rarely got anything significant on the page. I tried to ‘work out the details’ in my mind. Planning rather than doing. In reality, I just needed to write the bastard thing.

My frustrations grew each day. I succumbed to all of the distractions. Running errands or playing Football Manager or drinking endless cups of tea or going to the pub with friends or going to work to earn money — such a tawdry business — or sleeping or eating or exercising or watching Game of Thrones.

You get the idea.

Frustration and thinking are a toxic brew
As the frustration grew I found myself angry at all this wasted time. My thoughts became darker, self-critical and more chaotic. I’d go to bed tired, frustrated, and tense. I’d think and think and think, which, given that I’m a professional, experienced, and an excellent therapist — if you don’t mind me saying — came as a shock to me.

But then, anyone can succumb to these human flaws. Something had to change. Both within and without. And then something happened.

The power of pain

One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself in a ditch and nursing a broken heart. Completely bewildered. Completely bereft. It felt like the worst experience of my adult life — and I consider myself to be pretty tough. Still, I’d been a fool and paid the price. All I could feel was pain.

Character is found in our responses
 Life is a series of problems. However, to me, the events that occur in our lives are not so important — it’s our reaction to them. Do we bounce back or do we sink into despondency and dank despair? There is no shame in being knocked into the dust. But, after a period, you have to pick yourself up.

So that’s what I did. At least, after an adequate period of getting drunk and crying into my beer, I picked myself up and took stock. Rebuilt myself. Refocused on the important things: sleep and exercise, hydration and nutrition, going out and having a laugh with friends. Combined, these elements created a platform for well-being. Like medicine.

Writing… lots of writing
 Oh, and writing happened. Lots and lots of writing. I stopped the endless cycle of nibbling away at my dreams. Suddenly something seemed very clear: I’m either writing or I am not. Only one course of action will leave me going to bed happy. Clearly, I had to prioritise writing.

I set myself a target: 4000 words per day. High but achievable. I then made sure I wrote before doing anything else, barring exercise. No errands. No emails. No Game of Thrones. I had to overcome the procrastination habit, which — for me — involved meditating away the frustrations and fears. The writing flows when you’re relaxed. Writing is a form of meditation in itself.

So what changed? Well, two things.

On confidence and fear

Firstly, my confidence in my writing was low. This came as a surprise — I’m normally over confident! However, I hadn’t written anything significant for over two years, and I hadn’t attempted fiction since childhood.

The lesson? Don’t expect yourself to be confident before starting out. Allow confidence to build via action, reflection, and experience.

Secondly, I discovered that heartbreak is painful but not fatal. In fact, I found I could deal with it pretty well. Some long-held fears melted away: of failure. Of rejection. Of other people’s opinions. Could they be worse than a broken heart? If I can deal with that I can deal with anything.

Behind most procrastination lies the fear of not being good enough. Well, no more. I intended to do what I’d set out to do. Write. And then write some more. I will write what only I can write, and it’ll either be good enough or not.

Only time will tell.

The importance of taking risks
 Success is a matter of risk. You have to look inside and be honest with yourself. Are you doing enough to make things happen? Are you too afraid? Do you have to make more time? Gather the resources you need? Recognise that any great undertaking, whatever it might be, will cost you in time and effort and uncertainty.

Be honest with yourself. Are you going to smash the hell out of it? Or are you going to take little dainty nibbles? The latter isn’t going to work out too well in my opinion.

And it’s about application. You’re either writing or you’re not. Getting on with things or not. Whatever you’re trying to achieve in your life, create a measure of success and failure. A daily or weekly marker that you’re either hitting or not. I don’t always write 4000 words per day, but I aim to. That is good enough.

Whatever you want to achieve in life, my advice to you is this: look within. Appraise what you need. Be confident, and make a start. Your future self will thank you for it.

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Originally published at on August 22, 2016.