|Three weeks ago, I shut off my alarm clock. Months of too many good things and too much travel had taxed me to the point where my body was flipping me the bird. I woke up exhausted, used coffee and matcha tea to get me through my day, and then spent the evening feeling wired and tired.|
I found myself saying things like “there’s not enough time,” and feeling the need to push myself even harder. This made turning off my alarm clock feel like a revolution.
And it is revolutionary. We live in a time-sick, crazy world that requires us to be on all the time and rewards us for constantly doing more. I recently read an article about how 90% of all illnesses are either caused by or exacerbated by this stress.
The stress is caused by feeling like there’s never enough time to get it all done.
Writers regularly ask me variations on the “What if I don’t have time for…” question—especially during the year’s fourth quarter. Most worry they don’t have time to:
Write and build their author platforms
Meander through a structureless story
Cultivate the skills needed to write well
Finish their project before the end of the year, or for some, their deaths
Underneath these questions, I hear a deeper, more vulnerable one: What if I don’t have what it takes to be successful?
Success is such a slippery word. When most of us say it, we’re imagining outward successes like fame, money, or recognition. I’m not suggesting you stop striving for these things. It’s just that most external markers of success are out of our control.
What is in our control is how we feel about what we’re doing.
Here’s what I tell writers when they ask what if I don’t have time for questions.
Know what’s important.
In her book Seven Drafts, Allison K. Williams says priority means one. Marie Forleo, Brené Brown, and many other wise people agree with this definition. A priority is the thing you most care about.
Once you’ve identified your priority, examine your behavior to see if what you’ve claimed is truly The One. For example, are you making time for your priority, or does it constantly sit on your back burner? If it does, either you haven’t identified your real priority or you need to rearrange your life so that what’s important gets done.
And please know that even though I focus on the craft of writing, it’s perfectly fine for your priority to have nothing to do with a writing project. Just be honest about it, then let the rest go.
Often, we lean into what if I don’t have time for questions because we’re invested in someone else’s idea of success.
Once you know your priority, create your own definition of success. It always helps if this is based on something you can control. If you’re working on a story, get clear about why this story matters to you. What will it settle in your heart? What feeling will working on it, or completing it, bring forth? This isn’t just a question for creative nonfiction writers. Knowing what’s at stake for you will help you better understand the stakes for your fictional characters.
And let’s get real for a minute. What if you are literally dying and have an important story to tell?Unfortunately, there are no magic wands that will instantly turn you into a better writer. But you can be more open and vulnerable and dedicated to your craft. You can also redefine what complete means, and once you know what that is, you can ask people to help you get there.
Then enjoy the journey
The day you die is the day you’ll finally become the best writer you can possibly be. Until then, the bar on your creative life will constantly move. That means you can continually improve, and there will always be some areas where you’re a beginner.
There is something very delicious about being a beginner. While I love what I do and say thank you every day that I get to write and help other writers, some of my most magical writing times occurred when I wasn’t that good. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I relaxed and soaked it all in. Oblivious to the rules, I took chances that made me see writing in new ways. I met other writers who were as green as I was. We launched ourselves on what looked like a great adventure.
And it has been a great adventure. I hope it always is.
Sometimes the way we keep the adventure going is by letting go or shaking things up. That’s why I shut off my alarm clock. Instead of following all the advice about getting up earlier and using specific apps, I decided to see what might happen if I let my body take the lead.
At first, I was terrified I would snooze until my first meeting or screw up my whole morning routine. But I wake up at about the same time each day, only now I feel more refreshed and ready to tackle my priority. It’s proof that while time isn’t infinite, there’s always enough time for what’s important.
What’s your current priority? What’s one thing you could do to shake up your writing life, or let go of something that’s holding you back?
As you work to answer these questions, know that you have permission to have a priority, and for that priority to be different from what the world demands from you. If it’s writing, take time to write. If it’s spending time with family or working on your health, own it. Let your priority turn your life into one great, powerful story that you always and forever write on.
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