Feeling Overwhelmed Is Part of the Process
Being overwhelmed is not something to fight and get over and THEN start your writing. It’s a natural part of the writing process. Seeing the scope of your life or your expertise or whatever topic you feel called to write about may feel like a towering mountain stopping you in your tracks.
That stream of internal chatter builds layer upon layer of limiting thoughts.
Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? I can’t do this. Who am I to write about anything? It’s all been done before, who wants to read another memoir, another business or productivity guide, another mommy blog, another story of overcoming challenges . . .
The truth is, it has all been done before. And that’s been the case forever.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey and how it’s essentially a universal process told again and again in every great story. The underlying structure may be the same—venturing out into the unknown, undergoing a series of personal transformations, then returning as a new person—but the actual story itself has infinite variety. Nobody will tell the story of dealing with a divorce the same way you will. Nobody will tell the story of dealing with depression the same way you will. No one will write about your work or your expertise quite like you will.
Your life, its insights, and how you express yourself will infuse the story in a way that’s never quite been done before.
Reading + Writing = #writerslife
When you’re not writing—perhaps you’re procrastinating or avoiding the important work you’ve set for yourself (we all do it!)—take the opportunity to read about writing. Study the craft, pay attention to how your favourite novels are structured, figure out why certain non-fiction books keep you hooked. Reading is the other part of the essential helix of your writing life, so here are my favourite books on writing!
1. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
This was my textbook for a creative writing class in college. I keep coming back to it because of the idea of taking things one step at a time, that writing does not tumble out of you fully formed and perfect. This is the “fantasy of the uninitiated,” a fantasy that has a long shelf life…
The two single most helpful ideas I invoke on a daily basis are “short assignments” and “shitty first drafts.” (Shitty as in rough and unpolished, not intended to be an assault on your self-worth!) Both these tools help keep perfectionism, the main obstacle between you and the first draft, at bay.
To do a short assignment, write only as much as you can see through a one-inch picture frame. This might be your opening scene. It might be a setting you saw in a dream. Whatever it is, the task becomes manageable because you’re not sitting down to write your entire magnum opus; you’re “taking this bird by bird.” The shitty first draft is like a Polaroid developing, where you’re allowing yourself to stitch together your short assignments in some semblance of a story or narrative.
I come back to this book every time I forget that writing is iterative and first drafts are not only necessary but the foundation of the writing process. This book will help ease your cramped psychic muscles and give you permission to write, and to continue to write even after you’ve convinced yourself out of it.