Over the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly making my way through the Writer’s Workshop by Sarah Kathleen Peck. One of the many things I’ve taken from it so far is that being a successful writer is less about talent and more about practice. The people who succeed are those who show up and put in the work.
It’s obviously really, because this is true about almost every area of life. Sarah was talking about writing when she wrote the following:
“What I’ve found time and time again is that you must cut out all that crap in the space between thinking of something and doing something about it.”
But I instantly recognised the lesson from when I was training for a half marathon earlier this year. I had left it too late to start training properly and was finding every excuse not to go running.
“But it’s raining…”
“There’s no point because I’m too tired to push myself.”
“I need to eat first because I’m so hungry.” (And then, “If I run now after eating I’ll get a stitch.”)
Eventually it got to the point where I was seriously thinking about pulling out of the race because I felt that even trying would just be too embarrassing. It was time to take some drastic action.
I drew myself up a timetable for the next few weeks, and almost every day I put in a slot titled “run”. I acted as though it was non-negotiable. I removed the bit between thinking of going for a run and actually going for a run. I just went. I made myself go even if I felt too tired. To get myself out of the door I promised myself that I could stop after ten minutes if I wanted to. By the time that ten minutes was up, I usually wanted to continue. Within two weeks I got myself from a position of just about managing to run five miles, to regularly running eight or nine. Just by showing up and doing the work.
I eventually became bored of so much running so I joined a gym. I use the same motivational tactic as I did with marathon training: I write the classes I’m going to go to that week in my diary and I stick to them like scheduled appointments. I remove the decision from my day so there isn’t any “should I go to the gym today or not?” Instead, I know that I’m going to a pilates class at 8pm, and I fit the rest of my evening around that.
I’ve learnt that in order to make myself do something, I need to remove the option of not doing it. It might sound dull, but the secret to my motivation is scheduling.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But until I started The Writer’s Workshop it hadn’t occurred to me to do it with other areas of my life, to mark blocks of time in my diary for “writing” or “craft” or “content planning.” And yet I fritter away entire evenings playing spider solitaire and listening to music because I feel like I have nothing else to do. What would happen if I planned what creative pursuits I would like to achieve each week, and planned my time accordingly in advance? Might I start seeing progress on my writing and craft in the same way that I’ve seen progress towards my fitness goals?