One of the benefits of working for an organisation is that someone else has decided the components of your job, and your role is to execute that to the best of your ability.
When you work for yourself, you have a lot of decisions to make around what you do and how you go about doing it. But there are still some parameters that are decided for you, such as what your clients want, and when and where they want that delivered.
However, when you are an artist, or an author, or any other kind creative enterprise, you set your own rules. About pretty much everything. You choose when to work, where to work, and what to work on. All of which can come with vast choices, and as I’ve discussed before, too many choices can lead to overwhelm.
When there are so many things you can do, it can be difficult to get started on anything. In the third episode of their new podcast, Art Juice*, artists Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher discuss the question of How to Motivate Yourself When You Don’t Have A Deadline. This really resonated with me, because the week before I’d written “Start Editing My Novel” at the top of my ToDo list. And when I reviewed my achievements from last week, starting to edit my novel was not one of them. As I listened to their discussion, I pondered if it had anything to do with the fact that even though I have an idea of when I want to publish my novel by, I don’t have a hard and fast deadline. By which I mean that the sky won’t fall in if I don’t do it by then.
What I found interesting was that Alice and Louise have different experiences of this dilemma. Alice, for example, says that she finds setting herself deadlines a useful practice, because there are so many things she could do, that it can be difficult to find the focus to just get started on one thing. She recommended asking, ‘what am I doing this for?’, which really helped me. Even if you don’t have a hard and fast deadline, reminding yourself of why you’re doing something in the first place can be a powerful motivator. She also shared that she loves to get herself into the zone by learning different techniques, which made me think of my random writing.
Louise doesn’t have the problem of getting started. Mainly because she doesn’t put herself under the pressure of having to get something finished. So she finds that a deadline, rather than being a motivator, is actually demotivating for her. She finds the whole process of painting fun, so she’s never at a loss to start.
The discussion between Alice and Louise really got me thinking about what had stopped me progressing with my novel. I have a complete first draft that now requires me to edit it. It’s the next step to publishing the novel, which is my ultimate aim, the ‘what am I doing this for’: to publish this novel and start on the next one in the series.
At first I thought it was what Alice had spoken about: the overwhelm of too many choices. After all, there are lots of different ways to go about the editing process, But I had already decided what I was going to do, based on advice from other authors. My process would be to put a fresh piece of brown paper on the wall, write up the different elements that make a good story in a sort of timeline, read the novel through a couple of times while taking notes, and then start to rewrite it in a fresh document. So it was difficult to blame overwhelm of choice. Although the task does feel daunting, which is an overwhelm of sorts.
So what was the procrastination really about? I listed all the ‘reasons’ I hadn’t started: the room where I do all my plotting and planning and brown-paper musing is a mess; I need to move existing brown paper from the wall in order to make room and couldn’t decide what should move to another wall – chapter synopses, character profiles, or plot-lines (yes, I know, getting a bit ridiculous…); I didn’t know if it was really best to start a fresh document or over-write the one I have – seriously?
And then I started to get to the real reason. It began with ‘what if I don’t do it right/properly/the way I’m supposed to do it, and ended with ‘what if I read the first draft and it’s so shit that I can’t do anything with it?’. So there you go, the root of the problem: good old fashioned fear of failure! Hooray! At least I know what to do with that one.
So yesterday I started. I started not by faffing about with brown paper and walls and tidying rooms. I started reading the novel. And yes, so far there are bits that are shit. But there are also bits that are good. It still feels a bit daunting, but I guess I will just have to tackle it the way I wrote it in the first place, one day at a time. And I’m taking a leaf out of Louise’s book and deciding to find the process fun.
So thank you Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher for inspiring me to tackle this thorny issue head on; I’m already looking forward to listening to the next episode.
*I’m not much of a podcast kind of a person, because I need something to do with eyes. But I’m loving this podcast and highly recommend it to you if you want to hear more about creativity, art, the artist’s life, painting, or just two lovely women having an interesting conversation. You can find Art Juice by clicking on this link. *