You do not have to write an entire book all in one day. You do not have to get every word right the first time you plunk the little keys that put the letters that make a sentence on the screen. You do not have to finish a whole page. You do not have to have sunshine, or feel tranquil, or even brush your teeth. The laundry can wait, the dishes can wait, and your stomach will not start to feel better until after you sit down at your desk. You know all these things, already. You’re just stubborn, and whiny, and anxious; and you like your sentences to be built on multiples of three.
Or maybe you’re the kind of writer who wants to have a shiny new book, yet doesn’t want to do all the work it takes to have a shiny new book. Or maybe you’re not opposed to the work, you just don’t know where to begin. You have so many ideas and it’s hard to commit to just one thing, so you get inside your head and imagine all the things that could go wrong with your first chapter, or the narrative arc, or your tendency to only come up with three items in a list before moving on to the next topic.
Because maybe you don’t have what it takes for the long haul. Maybe your attention span is too short, or your ideas are too shallow, or you just don’t want to find out what happens when you write a whole book that nobody wants to read. Or buy. Or publish. So, why bother with the work in the first place?
After all, you’re feeling kind of hungry now, and you’ve already made it halfway through the page. In fact, this is probably the three hundred word mark, right here. Close. 298. (Dang. This is harder than it looks.)
So, now what? This is usually where a good idea first starts to show its face, but you’ll have to keep ignoring that churning in your stomach, and now your fingers are starting to shake, too. Ah, what the heck! Go eat a bowl of cereal; nobody’s going to read this post anyway. Because there’s no point to it. It’s just a bunch of gibberish you came up with to make yourself do the thing, hit the keys, and fill up the blank space looking back at you. What good will it do anyone to see what it’s really like when you get started with a new project?
But then again, maybe you’ll have a change of heart after you eat that bowl of cereal. Maybe low blood sugar was your real enemy all along. That and being so cold that you had to warm up your tea for the third time this morning. So what if you spilled it when you opened the microwave and cursed loud enough for the dog to wake up from her nap? That’s beside the point, because now you’ve remembered the other people out there trying to get their work done today. The other writers who might need reminding that this real life is the only place we have to get our work done.
Though we often wish it would, the real work doesn’t happen at writers’ conferences, or in daydreams, or overlooking a small villa at the beach. Well, not for anyone other than James Patterson.
For the rest of us, the work happens at our kitchen tables—with dirty dishes in the sink and unfolded laundry on the couch. Whether the weather is great or terrible. It happens when we push through the doubt and anxiety and fear of failure that plague each one of us. It happens when we tap that first key, and decide what word will come next. It happens with faith, perseverance, and surrender—just like the rest of life. And like lots of other good, good things; sometimes it happens best, a little at a time.