Now that it’s September, I’m raring to go. As a longtime teacher and lifelong learner, the start of the school year has always carried the possibility of a fresh start. With fall right around the corner, I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

What’s the Writing Project that’s Calling to You?

What’s on your dream list? Is this the year you’ll write a book? The year you’ll finally tell your story?

When we have something that’s big on our list, something we want so badly, here’s how that tends to play out:

  1. We’re so inspired! Woo-hoo! I can’t wait! This is my time. This is my project.
  2. And then a hint of doubt creeps in. But I don’t know where to start. It’s such a big project … so overwhelming.
  3. We start to question ourselves, question that flash of inspiration. Is this the right place to start? Is this the right thing to do?
  4. Before long, we’re swimming in a sea of doubt and overwhelm. We’re starting to shut down.
  5. From here, there are usually two paths:
    1. Try harder! Force it—make it happen! Create a rigorous, complicated system/schedule to stay on track.
      1. After a day, or a week, of these punishing standards, fall off, give up, rebel. It was too hard. I couldn’t sustain it.
    2. Start watching TV instead. Eating snacks. Start numbing. Slowly giving up.

Sound familiar?

I’ve been down this path so many times, I can’t even tell you. Haven’t we all? And that’s because starting or restarting a writing project—or anything else we care about, for that matter—is hard. It’s scary.

And if you’re anything like me, you want it to be easier. To knock it out of the park. To do it once and have it be done.

But a writing project is a series of small steps. And it’s all about starting and restarting again, much like an exercise routine or any other habit.

Miss a week while you were on vacation? That’s ok if you’ve established a regular routine. But if you’re already exercising sporadically, this is where the voice of doubt will take you down. Why bother now, you’ve already missed so much, yadda yadda yadda.

What’s Really Tripping Us Up

When we really care about something, when we put ourselves on the line, fear arises. And since our inner critic is tied to our fear, that annoying little voice starts going crazy, looping into an endless litany of what’s wrong with you, why you can’t do this, you’re a terrible mom, a terrible person, you’re so selfish, yadda yadda yadda.

Starting (and restarting) a writing project you care about always includes some kind of dance with our inner critic, I promise you.

This is something most writing teachers don’t talk about. And it drives me crazy, because fear and the inner critic are some of the biggest reasons we get stuck. If you don’t start learning how to work with your fear and its many manifestations, it’ll keep you from realizing your dreams.

Two Steps that Will Move You Forward

The antidote to that dance of fear and self-doubt is a) understanding this is a normal part of the process and b) not giving up your power by putting too much energy into it.

If you do, you’ll fall into overwhelm–that whirlpool of fearful thoughts/ questions/ expectations that keep us from moving forward. See if any of these sound familiar:

  • I’m waiting for the stars to align before I can start writing.
  • I’m waiting for my schedule to open up before I can start writing.
  • I’m worried what people (my husband, my family, my sister) will think.
  • I’m worried I’ll get sued.
  • I’m worried I can’t do it.
  • I’m worried what will happen if I do do it.
  • What if my story doesn’t matter?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • I don’t know how to do it.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer.
  • Am I really a writer?
  • What if this isn’t right? What if I’m starting with the wrong scene, the wrong story?
  • This is too hard. If I were a better writer, it would be easier.
  • This isn’t supposed to be this hard. Maybe that means it’s not meant to be.
  • What if, what if, what if?

If you’ve grappled with any of these thoughts, it’s probably your inner critic at work.

Remember: the inner critic lives on fear. Change (even the very idea of it) will send her into high gear. And when fear is driving the show, chances are we’re in fight-or-flight. Which means we can’t think clearly–literally. It’s impossible.

That’s why I always start by settling my nervous system so that I can think clearly and start moving forward from a place of power.

From there, I break it down into small, manageable steps. Maybe that first step is simply sitting down at my desk for 10 minutes, like Elizabeth Gilbert when she starts a project.

Whatever it is, break it down into small baby steps and schedule it in your calendar.

This is how you create a sustainable writing habit.

And remember: a sustainable writing habit is what will get you to the finish line.

How Gratitude Helps

In the meantime, here’s a trick that might help. When I’m really stuck in the muck and spinning out (as I was last week, when my kids were home sick and work was piling up, including a big tech project that completely overwhelmed me), I nudged myself to do the following meditation.

I learned it from David H. Wagner at a Kripalu retreat years ago. Gratitude, he teaches, is the antidote to fear. You can’t focus on both at the same time, and this meditation will calm down your nervous system, I promise. Give it a try.

Find a comfortable place to sit down where you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes, take a moment to feel your body in the chair, your feet on the ground. Take a few deep breaths. When you’re ready:

  1. Envision your loved ones gathering around you: your partner, children, parents, friends, neighbors. Let the crowd grow. As it does, feel how thankful you are to have these people in your life.
  2. Next, feel your body in the chair. Take a few moments to be grateful for all your body does for you: your heart, that beats without you having to do anything, your spine that holds you up, your arms, that allow you to hug your loved ones, etc.
  3. Next, take a moment to feel the seat beneath you, being thankful for that. And now the floor beneath you, the food in the fridge, the shelter this home provides for you and your loved ones, etc.
  4. Now bring to mind a project you’re working on—something you’re excited about. Take a few moments to connect with the heart of that project and what’s calling you. Fan the flames of that excitement.
  5. Finally, take a few moments to envision someone you love unconditionally (i.e.: a child, a pet, etc.). Surround them in warm, loving light. Really bathe them in that love. When you’re ready, expand that warm, soothing love to include yourself. Marinate in it for a few minutes. Allow yourself to really take it in.

Powerful, right?

Every time I do this meditation, I feel so much better. Not only am I breathing easier, but I feel grounded and much more connected to the good in my life. Plus, my inner has receded into the background, which is always a gift.

As are you. Thank you for being part of our community!

With gratitude,

Tanja

P.S.: Yesterday, I did a FB Live on this topic. You can watch the replay here. I’ll be doing another FB Live next Wed at 1pm MT, so keep an eye out.

P.P.S.: On Wed 9/18, I’ll be leading a free, live training: 3 Secrets to Successfully Write Your Memoir and I’d love to have you join us! Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Everyone has a story worth telling. Here’s what will set you apart.
  • Overwhelm will keep you spinning in circles. I’ll show you the way out.
  • Self-care and mindset are essential when writing memoir. How and why harnessing the power of your inner critic is crucial to telling personal stories.

There will be a live Q& A, and I’ll also tell you about my class, Memoir Mastery: How to Write a Compelling Memoir, which has a brand-new bonus attached to it right now. Spaces are limited, so save your spot here.

P.P.S.S.: If you find this blog useful, would you consider sharing it with a friend via email or Facebook? Thanks so much! It helps us grow.

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