How to Stop Breaking Your Most important Promises
So let's get nitty gritty, really nitty gritty, about how you make clear promises to yourself you're competent to keep, or how you stop breaking your most important promises to yourself. So what I see a lot with my students is what really gets in the way of getting the writing done is these sort of vague or impossible or very inflated promises of when they will write, how much they will write, and how well they will write. So we have to actually start teasing out what we're gonna write, what we feel about our writing, from being very clear and committed to when we will write and how much. So what we do now, is we say something like, "I'm gonna write brilliantly sometime." Right? It's like when you get up in the morning, you put your exercise clothes on, but you don't really have a plan for when you're gonna exercise. And you get to bed at night and you still have the exercise clothes on, and you haven't exercised, right. And it's kinda hung over your head all day and made you feel wors...
e and worse about yourself. This can be the thing that blocks you more than anything with writing, is the fact that you're not making clear promises that you're competent to keep. So we're gonna stop doing that. It is so, it's so unnecessary and so unhelpful. The reason why we have to make clear promises we're competent to keep is there is no terminal point in writing. If I make a rocket, the rocket either goes up and does what it's supposed to do, or it doesn't, right. It either fails or it succeeds. My favorite book is War and Peace. When my husband and I were dating, we're like you know how you do that when you're dating, like, what's your favorite book, I wanna read your favorite book. He read all my books, it was very sweet. So he got about a quarter of the way through War and Peace and he quit. And I was like, you can't quit, that's my favorite book. He's like, I don't like it. There's no terminal point in writing, what, we could all call out our favorite books, and I promise you someone in the audience would be like, you like that? But what about the ending, right? There's no there there. There's no place you're gonna get that says, yes, this is it, I'm successful, I've done what I said I would do. There's no finishing even. Like I wrote all of my books with resource sections, and then they were in print for so long that my publisher came back and said, you can revise your resource sections, cause there's things called websites now, (laughs) and there's not things called cassette tapes anymore. And I'm like, yay, that means I can rewrite my books, right. And they're like, no, that would be too expensive. No, only these little specific sections. But I wanted to rewrite my books, cause I had changed and grown, and I knew new things. So even being published doesn't feel like a finishing point. And then there's the question of success. There's a wonderful friend, she published a book called The Plain and Simple: A Better Time with the Amish, Sue Binder, and this was in the '90s. And it became a surprise New York Times bestseller. Nobody expected it. She was like, a potter, and she wrote the book, it was the first time she had written anything. And it was very lovely for her, but it wasn't something she was thinking about, but she was happy about it. So she was in the grocery store one day, and she runs into a neighbor. And the neighbor says, "What's new?" And she goes, "Oh my gosh, I have a book "on the New York Times bestseller list. "Isn't that amazing?" Like, just so sweet. And the neighbor goes, "Huh, what number?" (audience exclaims in wonder) Right. Because success, if it's out there, and it's not in our process, and what we can name for ourselves, it's always going to be a moving target. And then you get on the New York Times bestseller list, well how many weeks were you on? Right, okay. I love this quote by the poet Lucille Clifton. "If someone gives you permission they can take it away. "I give myself permission." I give myself permission. Go back to that Roxanne Gray quote at the beginning, you know, "I control what success means for me." So here's a real nitty gritty way that we can do it. There's four parts to this process that I want to teach you, and then I'll teach you some ways that you might learn it, might use it. Learn to name what is enough for you, for a given writing period or it can be for a week. I do it a day at a time, cause my life is different every day. What is gonna be enough for you in facts? What do you mean facts, Jenn? We tend to use a lot of opinions and assessments about our writing, and that gets connected to the output. So if I write something that I like that day, then I'm enough. Well that is gonna get you real blocked and real tied up. So instead, we're actually looking at, did I do the words that I said I would do, the pages I said, the time I would say? So we start with the fact, I will write tomorrow. And then we add a measurement to it. I will write tomorrow for 30 minutes, I will write a thousand words tomorrow, something you can actually measure. Why is that important, Jenn? That sounds very rigid, I'm a creative person, I don't want to be all rigid. Because when we are working on something that's not tangible, like building a house or building a rocket, our brains can't appreciate it. Our brains aren't built for that. So we can do the work, but because we don't have a way to measure it, we don't think we're doing it, we get discouraged and we quit. The best way to build our intrinsic motivation, which is a fancy word for I give myself permission, is to have ways to say, this is what I said I would do, and I did it. This is incredibly important for something as intangible as writing. And then double check. Can you actually keep that promise that you've made to yourself to write for 30 minutes, no matter what? Cause this is the other place that we get in our way. We think that tomorrow is the day we're finally gonna be superhuman. Tomorrow is the day that the car's not gonna break down, the kid's not gonna get sick, we're not gonna get a headache, and we can actually sit there for eight hours completely uninterrupted without even getting up, right. That day, I hate to tell you this, cause you're not gonna like me, is not coming. (chuckles) And every time that we set ourselves up for that with our writing vague goals or inflated goals, we set ourselves up to feel less than, and we set ourselves up to feel like failures, to feel behind, and that we're not making any progress. But we don't like reasonable goals, cause they're not sexy. Eight hours uninterrupted in a cabin in the woods with the snow falling, you know. Oh that's cool, that's what it means to be a writer. So we go back to our first segment, we have to claim our life, our truth, our work style, because when we actually write that 30 minutes, and we do it regularly, we're really gonna make the real progress, unlike that eight hours of uninterrupted time that's never gonna come, and we can't stay and concentrate for that long anyway. So you double check, can I really do that? If you do more, great. It's not a reason to raise the bar on yourself the next day. And then the really fun part, is when you're done, you celebrate right away, even if you feel like a dork, which you will. So there's some really interesting research, B.J. Fogg at Stanford, a number of other researchers, that when we keep our commitment to ourselves and we do a little celebration, we wire together the neurons that say, yay, way to go, this feels good. But at first, it feels really silly. So what does it look like when I finish my writing? (giggles) I go, yay, nobody can dim my shine, woo! Which has a family story behind it. So, if you saw me doing that, okay wait, you did just see me doing that. If you saw me doing it at my office, which I actually think my neighbors can see me, you might think it was a little silly, right. But you have to come up with your own natural way to celebrate. So if you thought, right now without thinking about it, what would celebration look like for you? Just let yourself like, if you just finish your writing, you don't really feel like it, but you're gonna try this, what would you do that would be with your body, with language, with a smile? Yeah, wah, anybody else? Yeah, it'll wake you up, come on. Celebrate a little bit with me. (nervous giggles) What would celebration look like? Those of you at home, come along. Little dance, yeah, yeah, little stretching. So you're not gonna want to naturally do this, but it's gonna make this habit of keeping your commitments to yourself wired in your brain in a much more positive, grounded way. Small wins are extremely motivating, but you have to acknowledge them. And if you're not seeing, if first of all, you didn't have a commitment, I'm gonna write tomorrow, I'm gonna write sometime, then you don't, there's no part of your brain that says, well I did what I said I would do. There's no there there to celebrate. And then if you don't pause to say, I did what I said I would do, wooo, then there's no actual ability to take in. Does that make sense? All right. So your homework is try this out for a week. What would it be like to step away from vague or inflated goals or assessing your writing by how you wrote that day, and actually grounded in a doable no-matter-what measurable fact, and celebrating? Try it out for a week. You might find it a little rigid or strange, but you might also find it really reassuring, and really build your self trust and your self confidence.