Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Mantra: Start

Hello all. I'm back again, and thrilled to be. Perhaps another time, I'll give reasons for my absence. But for now, let's get centered for our week.

Monday's Mantra: Start, Don't Finish.

I know what you're thinking: What? Isn't this blog about getting things done? Well, not precisely. This blog is about staying serene despite what's happening in your business. While getting things done can contribute to serenity, an obsession with getting things done often has the opposite effect: It makes us rigid and harsh, focused on the thing we can't control (when we finish an article, an edit, when someone will call us back, etc.) rather than what we can (scheduling the next interview, spending 30 minutes on writing).

The fact is, the finishing will take care of itself. It's the starting (or continuing) that's hard. I know this personally. This week I have two rewrites, a long reported feature to write, a fellowship to apply for, pitches to send, and four stories to set up and do interviews for. It's enough to make me throw up my hands and decide my bed--and those books on my Kindle--really need my attention.

This was driven home to me recently by a coaching session with an energetic and prolific client. Like everyone else, she's had her go-around the ring with procrastination. We were talking about the problem and I noticed the way she was talking about it:

"I was supposed to write this story yesterday, but then I wasted two hours paying a bill."

"Then I was going to do it today, but this other thing came up and I let it get in the way."

"And tomorrow I have five interviews, and I'm just going to have to make time for it."

Wasted. Let it get in the way. Forcing it. Pressure. Stress. They create an urgency to finish something--anything--even if it's not the thing we're worried about in the back of our minds. So, not surprisingly, we focus on the things we can get done, not the things we need to do. The bills get paid. The email gets responded to. And the article (or edits, rewrites, interviews, drafts) go undone. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, time management is an issue for all of us, and we could always probably be more efficient. And let's be honest: Starting to write a story can feel like clawing yourself out of a pit. But it's this kind of pressure that stops us in our tracks. Because every day we put it off, every day we excoriate ourselves for delaying and delaying, we hunker into a stance of having to make it up to ourselves. We imagine our clients standing there and tapping their toes in impatience. We tell ourselves over and over again that we are letting ourselves down. We dread work. We get that sick feeling of just wanting it to be over with.

And finishing becomes more important than ever.

What we forget--and what my client and I discussed--is that amid all this chatter about get-it-done and make-it-up-to-me, we forget to get started. Because getting started is insufficient. But it's also the only thing that will bring us back to our center and give us the priceless sense of serenity.

So here's what I intend to do this week: Rather than focusing on the deadlines bearing down on me, I am going to remember just to start. Just make a list and do the first thing on it. When I begin to feel that keening impatience and that feeling of inadequacy attempts to pull me under, I will start again. I will just set the timer for 30 minutes and write. I will set the timer for 30 minutes and contact sources. I will set the timer and spend a few minutes working on the revisions. I will just do the next right thing.

As E.L. Doctorow says, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night: You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

So get started today. Pick up the phone. Open a Word document. Read a few paragraphs in a book. Believe it or not, persistence will get you all the way there, if you just keep starting again and again.

And, when you do finish, you may just find that you've arrived with your serenity in tact.


Marcia Layton Turner said...

Such good advice, Heather! I always feel more at ease when I get started on something. If I'm nervous about a particular assignment, I try and at least write a few sentences before I go to bed, so I can avoid starting the next day with a blank page.

Susan G. Hauser said...

I've missed you!