Last week I wrote a short article that I'd been meaning to write since last summer. I had the title, the premise, and some fairly fleshed-out notes for it since June. I'd even pitched the idea to a website last fall, and the editor was interested in it. And then I sat on it for another three months. I'm not sure why, except that I worry about failing my own good ideas. This piece seemed like one of my better ideas, and I wanted to do it justice.
In the end, I wrote and edited it in a few hours. Just a few hours of work after nine months of dilly-dallying and fretting. That's a lot of wasted time and psychic energy for a 1,000 word article. Goodness gracious, I could have had a baby in the same amount of time! (Thankfully, you don't have to change an article's diaper. Well, not after you get past the shitty first draft phase.)
This kind of avoidance is not good for my creative process, my productivity, or my professional goals. I meet external deadlines for clients all the time. I'm a champ when it comes to other people's work. But when it comes to my own self-directed work, I can get waylaid by fear, procrastination, and the desire for perfection. This means that I have a long list of projects waiting for me to finish (or start) them: articles I want to pitch; a manuscript I want to finish; another manuscript I want to start; essays I want to submit; guest blog posts I want to write.
So what happened last week that enabled me to start and finish this one piece in particular? I've started having weekly library dates with a local writer friend. Once or twice a week, depending on our personal schedules, we meet at the library and write. We don't work on anything together, and sometimes we don't even sit at the same table. But we're co-working: showing up and sharing the general space so we don't have to be alone with our writing. She often shows up earlier than me, and I usually stay later than her. We exchange a few words from time to time, but mostly, we just do our own thing.
This approach is turning out to be far more effective than I would have imagined. Knowing that my friend will be at the library encourages me to show up. Otherwise, I feel like I'm letting her down, even though she doesn't need me to be there. If I don't show up, I'm letting myself down—which is something I do far too often. It's easy to let myself down when no one else will know about it. But if I let myself down by not showing up at the library, my friend witnesses my absence. Something about her bearing witness helps to hold me accountable.
It feels good to discover something that can enhance my writing process and help me overcome my natural sticking points. I already knew that I need a quiet space to write, so a library works better for me than a café. I have a quiet studio at home, but I'm finding that getting out of my house (where I live and work as a creative entrepreneur) helps me to hold the library time as special. I'm more focused when I'm there, less inclined to get sucked into social media, and more inclined to do my creative work rather than client work.
I've only gone to the library for a handful of writing dates so far, and they haven't been perfect. I still give in to the temptation to check Facebook and my email. It takes me a while once I'm there to sink in to whatever I'm working on and really be alone with my writing. At first, I showed up each day not really knowing what I would write. Last week was so productive because I decided in advance what I was going to work on. This approach eliminated the need to faff about, fretting over which beloved project I should choose. I chose, I arrived, I wrote. It was pretty great.
I'll keep showing up for my weekly writing dates as long as they support my process. At this point in my writing life, I know that persistent practice is what is going to make me a better—and more fulfilled—writer.
Register for The Writing Life: Rituals, Rhythms, & Practices. This online class will help you to practice showing up for your writing. (It's all about the practice.)
When you understand your unique creative process, you'll be more relaxed, more prolific, and more consistent in your writing life.
One former student declared this class "the best investment" he's made in his writing. The next session runs March 15-April 11. Details and registration are over here. I hope you'll join us!