We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Reasons it’s hard to do creative work that other people will see:
- It’s damn scary, and we don’t like scary things.
- There’s an endless supply of less-scary things that may or may not need to be done.
- It’s easier to do those other things and plan to do our work later.
Here’s a list of things I find myself doing when it’s time to sit down and do my work. Some of these might sound familiar.
Things I Do Instead of My Work
- Compulsively check ESPN.com, Google News, and trumpetherald.com even though I rarely watch sports anymore, get the important news from people around me, and have read enough trumpet gossip for ten lifetimes
- Check Facebook for the 27th time today
- Watch an “educational” video on YouTube (just finished one on colonizing Venus!)
- Update the monthly budget
- Re-review my calendar for the day
- Tidy up my office
- Make coffee
- Have a beer
Why Do I Do These Things?
The answer’s pretty simple:
I’m afraid of reading my own writing and thinking, “This isn’t very good.” Or worse: “This is derivative and not very good.”
I’m afraid of someone else reading my writing and thinking, “This isn’t very good.”
I think, irrationally, that I’ll be less scared later. I’ll write my symphony tomorrow.
How Do I Do My Work?
This is something I’m struggling with right now, to be honest, but I’ve found a few things that help:
Using accountability. This blog comes out on Tuesdays and Fridays. My About page says so, my readers expect it, and I expect it of myself. I can procrastinate for a while, but at 11:59 pm, the post is either up or it’s not, and the feeling of missing a public deadline is worse than the feeling of sitting down to write.
Remembering that the only way to get good is to be bad for a long time. If my goal is to become a better writer so I can share what I’ve learned, I’ve got to start where I am and write a lot. If I don’t write now in order to improve slightly, I’ll just have to write later to get that same improvement.
Voicing my fear. Forcing ourselves to admit out loud that we’re afraid gives us a little dose of shame, a powerful motivator:
“I’m procrastinating because I’m scared.”
“I’m watching a replay of a Bryce Harper home run because I’m afraid of writing a blog post.”
“I’m reading about trumpet mouthpieces to avoid actually playing the trumpet.”
The battle with fear is a daily one, and it’s never over. That’s what makes it interesting, and that’s why symphonies are worth writing.