Are you willing to fight for it?
Writing means everything to me.
I feel the most whole when I am writing. I feel the kindest to myself when I am writing. I feel like everything is balanced and everything will eventually be okay when I am writing.
I used to only write when I felt inspired, when that first sentence would pop into my head and I knew I could tap out another 1,000 words to go with it. I would wait on those first sentences or that notable story. I would pray for those first sentences as I drove around town and went to work, knowing the true work could not begin until the gods of inspiration smiled upon me.
It’s why, for a long time, the essays I wrote would come sporadically. I would blame it on inspiration and lack of it. I thought I was a real, brooding artist because I was at the mercy of inspiration and now I see I was simply wasting time.
This was the mistake I made for a long time on my path to become a writer. Waiting. Thinking about it. Believing the muse would just show up without me having to sit down and put in the hours. Gosh, I missed so many precious hours and so many words from not sitting down to write, thinking I could somehow beat the system and only sit down when inspiration struck.
I no longer believe in waiting for inspiration. I no longer drive on backroads or go on hikes waiting for inspiration to strike me. I sit down. Every single day. Even if only for a half hour in the morning. To write something. To fight for the feeling that makes me feel most alive.
Maybe you’ve already missed a lot of hours. Maybe you’re someone who dreams about being a painter and yet you never paint. You dream about being a public speaker but you don’t ever write a speech. You dream about a blog but you won’t take the first step. This is a lot of us, we are bound up by fear of the creation process. It’s a dragon that we must learn to tame, something inside of us we need to hone and shape and allow for it to go free.
At the start of 2019, I made a goal for myself that I wanted to be more present in my work and create three times more content than last year. Content, for me, is words. More essays. More books. More words. Three times more.
That’s a pretty big goal and I can tell you why goals like this have failed in the past for me.
In the past, I didn’t quantify the goal. I allowed it to be loft and high up. I didn’t stop to think, “How can I make this goal into real action steps?” If I had asked myself that question earlier, I would have achieved a lot more goals by now.
So I looked at the goal of being more present in my work and creating more and I realized the two go hand-in-hand. If I could become more present in the work I was doing then I could create more. I also want to say that even though I am a fulltime writer, I don’t spend my entire day writing or waiting on inspiration to come. I write for approximately 2-3 hours (that’s the maximum) in the earliest hours of the morning. The rest of the day is full of emails, projects, meetings, and other work. I say this because it’s easy to make the argument that I have more time than others but I believe in this process whether it’s 20 minutes that you have or 2 hours.
I decided to create something called the “phone box.” I knew that if I could just hide my phone away for a small pocket of time then I could free to create without distraction. It might be the computer for you or email for you. Honestly, I write at the earliest hours of the morning because I know it’s the time of day when people aren’t checking their emails. I feel free to do what I want with my time.
I emptied out a small white tin I bought from IKEA and I stuck a label to the front of it that read, “BE PRESENT.” Inside of the tin, I included a small card and a pen to count up the days where I successfully used the phone box.
Don’t spend money on it. Don’t go out and buy something new. Just find a box, or a drawer, or an envelope— whatever you have at your disposal to put your phone away for a few hours.
Now it has become a habit I rarely even think about. I head up to my study. I put the phone in the box on airplane mode. I take a few sips of my coffee and read a few pages in a book before I sit down to write something meaningful or create something on my deadline list. I can retrieve the phone when, and only when, I’ve finished the task and I feel satisfied. There are days where I forget about the box and just leave the phone downstairs or in my bedroom because the habit of having something to “check” while I am creating is gone from my rhythms.
Some days the phone sits in the box for an hour. Other days, it is in there for 3 hours. The time the phone sits in the box isn’t the point, it’s what you manage to get done without your phone that matters.
To date, I’ve marked off 22 phone-free work times in 2019. It is definitely more than that but those are the number of times I actually remembered to make a tally on the card in my phone box.
Something is working up against your ability to create and you need to stare it in the face. The smartphone was designed with addictive habits in mind. The creators of apps want you to spend hours and hours on your phone, scrolling for satisfaction. That’s why it is so hard to tell yourself, “Just two more minutes” before you log off Instagram or X out the dating apps. The apps are designed to get you craving notifications while providing you with an endless scroll so your brain can keep devouring this feeling of being rewarded.
The research is all there (and has been there) for a long time that distractions are messing with our productivity and ability to meet a bottom line. We are preoccupied. Our emotions are wrapped up in too many things. We are going back and forth between the phone and the work. We are wondering why we cannot focus but the problem is right in front of us.
Life is too short and too unpredictable to not step out into the world and go after what makes your heart beat wildly. No one can do that for you. No one can take the first step. If the thing standing in your way is idleness and distraction then be willing to cut the thing off and take a step back.
If you never step out to do “the thing” or write the book or start the project then you’ll only ever be someone who talks about stuff and doesn’t do it. We all know that kind of person. I’ve been that person and the only thing that has separated me from talking about the thing and actually doing the thing has been cutting distractions out and giving myself no other choice but to take the next 20 minutes to create.
The world has something it needs from you. An old friend of mine once said to me, “You get one shot and the world won’t cry over what you never did.” She paused and said something I will carry with me always, “Don’t make the universe regret you.”
I knew at that moment I didn’t want to be a distant regret or something who talked but never moved. I’ve got a voice and you do too. And there are other people out there who don’t get that same chance to use their voice or set out to “do the thing.” We get freedom and so we should not take it for granted.
Learn how to use your freedom. Start. Start small. Start slow. But start. Don’t go to the ground never having tried for something good, something worthy, something that broke your heart with the injustice of it all.
Screw December 31st and the goals you set when the clock struck midnight. It starts now and it starts with a single question:
Are you willing to fight for it?