by Gabriela Pereira
A few years ago I decided to make my New Year’s Resolution that I would give up making resolutions. This might sound counter-intuitive but let me explain. For years I thought the only way I would make progress toward my goals was if I planned every incremental step with military-like precision. The problem was, I spent so much energy with all the preplanning that I never got around to doing much in the way of writing.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle, because I talk to a lot of writers and at least half of them tell me their biggest challenge is building discipline and finding motivation. In other words, what we all need is a giant dose of chair glue.
This got me wondering: Why is it so hard for us to put pen to page, even though we say we want to do it? Writing shouldn’t feel like this much of a struggle, but it is… even if we love it and we dedicate our lives to it.
I believe this problem stems from a series of myths about creativity, myths that are perpetuated by the creative establishment. I talk about these in depth both during my recent TEDx talk and in the DIY MFA book, but here are the big three:
- The Velvet Rope Myth
- The Polish-It-Until-It’s-Perfect Myth
- The BIG Idea Myth
The Velvet Rope Myth
This is the notion that writing is an insider’s club and we’re not one of the “cool kids.” It’s the belief that our writing might not be smart enough, literary enough, or good enough to be publishable. When we buy into this myth, we begin to think of creativity as a rare commodity, and if someone else has it, then there’s less to go around for the rest of us.
Even if you’ve experienced success in your writing, you might still feel the shadowy presence of imposter syndrome. I myself grapple with mental gremlins of self-doubt all the time. Whenever I have a deadline looming or a big project on the horizon, I start to wonder: What if my ideas have dried up and my last book/article/talk was the best I had in me? I stomp around the house for a few days, tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth; my husband (lovingly) calls this the “freaking out stage” of my creative process. Yet as soon as I stop with the sturm und drang and sit down to write, the ideas flow like water.
[Can you impress us in 1500 words or less? Enter the Short Short Story Competition today! Deadline January 15, 2018]
Over the years, I’ve discovered that these gremlins tend to get louder and more obnoxious right before I make a huge breakthrough. It took a long time, but I’ve learned to recognize imposter syndrome not as the harbinger of my creative doom, but as a sign that I’m on the right track.
It also helps to know that we are not alone. In my role as podcast host of DIY MFA Radio, I interview hundreds of authors—from debuts to bestsellers—and I’ve discovered that we all feel the same insecurities. If so many of the greats struggle with imposter syndrome, who am I to think that I’ll be the exception?
The Polish-It-Until-It’s-Perfect Myth
This second myth is a doozy because on the surface, it might actually seem like a good idea. I am a firm believer in the pursuit of excellence, so if we want to reach our publishing goals, shouldn’t we polish our writing until it’s flawless? The problem with this myth is when writers get hung up tinkering with the minutiae and never share their work with the world. Ever.
When I started DIY MFA I was in a big hurry. All I wanted was to build a platform and publish a book already! But in all that rush to reach success, I overlooked the value of a glorious (but also messy) time that occurs at the start of all our creative careers. I call this the Zero Moment, and it’s that time where we’re just starting to flex our creative muscles.
Looking back, I realize that those early days were a wonderful opportunity to fly under the radar and take creative risks. Because so few people knew about me or DIY MFA, it gave me the chance to try some radical experiments. Some of those attempts blew up in my face, and I’m glad no one was watching. Others were surprising successes and helped make DIY MFA what it is today.
But I never would have learned what I know now if I hadn’t put my writing out in front of an audience. It might have been a tiny audience (twelve followers, and one of them was my mother) but by sharing my work even in those earliest days, I was able to hone my voice and fine-tune my ideas. If we hoard our stories until they’re perfect, we’ll never get that crucial early feedback that will help us reach our goals.
The BIG Idea Myth
Just like when we polish our writing ad nauseam, many writers often struggle with waiting for that one BIG idea, that one epic concept that will make all their writing dreams come true. In some cases, writers wait and hope for so long they end up getting nowhere, and in the process they ignore other less glorious—but still very good—ideas that come their way.
For other writers, this myth plays out as “Shiny Object Syndrome.” In this case, every time they get close to finishing a project, a sparkly new idea pops up. They think: This next idea might just be my BIG idea! And they drop everything to chase that new shiny concept.
But as writers, our currency is words not ideas, and until a story is on the page, it doesn’t really exist. That’s why these myths are so damaging, because they keep us from doing the real work.
Why I Don’t Make Resolutions (and what I do instead)
For years, New Year’s Resolutions would derail me. I would set lofty goals at the start of January, only to fall short after a few weeks. At that point, imposter syndrome would set in and I’d start to think that I didn’t belong in the creativity club. Wanting to prove my worth, I would tinker with my writing, hoarding it and never letting it out into the open. When I did muster the strength to share anything, it felt like my heart would stop from the panic of hitting that “publish” button.
Eventually, through sheer willpower, I started building a body of work on a blog, but even then, I was always waiting for that one BIG idea. Little did I know that by cranking out words day in and day out, that tiny blog would eventually grow into something much bigger than any “BIG idea” I could have dreamed up.
All these creative myths have one component in common: they distract us and keep us from doing the important work, which is writing. The answer for overcoming these myths is simple, though also so obvious it took me years to see it.
Just do the work.
The way to reach the goal you’re chasing isn’t to focus on what’s ahead at the horizon. Instead, learn from the track record, the footprints you’re leaving in the ground behind you. This is why I don’t make resolutions anymore; they’re too pie-in-the-sky for my taste. Instead, I look at my track record and ask myself two questions:
- What’s working?
- What do I need to change?
This new approach lets me hit the ground running and take immediate action, right at the start of the new year. It also keeps those pesky mental gremlins at bay because if my attention is focused on doing the work, there’s no room for those myths in my mind.
DIY MFA Book Club
If you’re anything like me and you’ve struggled with making your writing resolutions stick, you’re in luck! DIY MFA has just kicked off our Book Club, a free online event designed to help you blast through your blocks and get writing.
Part writing challenge and part read-along, the Book Club will walk you through the most important tools and techniques from the DIY MFA book. You’ll also get exercises to help you put the concepts into action.
During the Book Club, you’ll receive a writing prompt every few days so you can get those words on the page and break through those limiting mindsets. Not only will you build more effective writing habits, but you’ll make progress toward your goals because you’ll be doing the real work it takes to get there.
It’s free to join! Just click here and sign up with your email address.
Hope to see you in the Book Club!
This is a guest post by Gabriela Pereira—author, speaker, and self-proclaimed word nerd—whose book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community shows you how to recreate the Master of Fine Arts experience without going back to school. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, Gabriela’s mission is to empower writers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth. She earned her MFA in creative writing from The New School and teaches at national conferences, local workshops, and online. She also hosts the podcast DIY MFA Radio, where she interviews best-selling authors and book industry insiders about the art and business of writing.
Looking for way to get your story up off the ground? Now is the perfect time to get started on your 2018 writing project! This course has everything you need to get you writing your book, novel, short story, memoir, or essay. You will learn everything from basic grammar to examining different types of writing. Start writing today.