This post is coming a bit late but actually fits perfectly with today's topic. I wasn't able to get this out on Tuesday because there was a huge building fire in our area that cut off the internet. Fortunately, it was in an empty building, no one was hurt, and all was mostly fine but it blew up transformer boxes. Besides having a lawn full of ashes, I've been without the internet for a few days and wasn't able to post the podcast.
This is such a coincidence because the topic today is about being “behind” in writing, though it can also be applied to any area that you think you are behind in.
Over the few days that I couldn't post the podcast, my brain was shouting at me the whole time that “I am behind.”
On the one hand, it's possible that my brain could be right - I wanted to post this on Tuesday and it did not, but does that actually serve me to think I am behind?
All I know is that that thought, "I am behind," made me very anxious and it’s a lot harder to problem solve when I’m anxious. Plus, on the other hand, Tuesday is just a made-up date. There is no universal rule to say I must post a podcast on Tuesday, so saying I’m behind also might not even be true.
Where I see this thought pattern show up a lot for writers is thinking that we are behind on our writing. Our made-up writing schedules and goals, we say we are behind in. Or we think that other writers are further along than us. That is what I wanted to talk about today.
Whenever we find ourselves comparing our progress to others, or thinking that we are behind, our brains always like to report it as if it’s just the reality that is happening.
"There was a building fire and we are behind in writing." - Facts from the brain
But there is no universal measuring stick to say what is the correct writing place to be at.
There is no letter from the Writers Guild of America that shows up to say, “We regret to inform you that you are behind on your writing.” It’s all just thoughts.
What you think is “behind on your writing” someone else might think you are miles ahead of them.
Neil Gaiman could think he is behind on his writing while comparing himself to Stephen King, and Stephen King could still think he is behind if he planned to write three hundred books by this time. It’s all relative and there is no universal measuring stick. Being behind on your writing is not a fact, it simply your own thoughts.
I know I spend a lot of time on this saying “it’s not a fact,” “it’s just a thought” and that is because this distinction is absolutely critical.
The problem with believing that thought is reality is that what usually happens, is we start criticizing ourselves in an effort to get us to write more.
We might think that we are lazy, that we don’t have enough discipline, that we are too slow, that we aren’t smart enough. We find an endless list of things to shame about ourselves, trying to get us to work harder and write more.
Of course, this does not work.
Criticizing yourself only makes it harder for you to write because you are so mentally exhausted from your own berating.
When you think it’s just a fact that you are not far enough along and that other people are ahead of you, you beat yourself up about it, which causes you to write less, and when you write less you produce more evidence that you are far behind and other people are further along than you. Giving yourself more reason to beat yourself up.
But it was never the other people or how many words they’ve written, and it was never how many words you haven’t written, that caused you to write less, the action of you writing less, all stemmed from the belief that you weren’t far enough along.
It was your thoughts, and actions that produced the result of where you are now.
When you can stop comparing yourself to others and take ownership of the results you’ve created, and that’s when you have the power to create more progress.
If it’s a fact of the world that you are behind, there is nothing we can do about it, if it’s a thought, that is in your control to fix.
I want you to pretend with me for a moment that you believed something else.
Let’s just go to fantasy land and imagine that we believed the thought, “It’s okay to be where I am in my writing.”
How does it feel different to believe that?
For me, when I believe “it’s okay to be where I am in my writing” at first I feel relief. After the relief, I feel calm. When I feel calm, I can write with a free mind that is not wasting precious creative energy beating myself up about my writing progress.
Whenever our brains tell us we are behind, it always pretends to be reporting the facts.
It always can find a great list of evidence to show you why those are the facts. But you will never get to the writing progress you want by believing that is true.
Even if you came to me and said, “Stephanie, on my calendar, I was supposed to have written a thousand words and I didn’t write any.” That would be a fact – 0 words written –but we don’t have to make that mean you are behind.
Thinking that you are behind does not serve you to actually get ahead.
You think it’s going to motivate you, but it’s doing the exact opposite. Instead of asking the question is this true, you want to ask "is this helpful?"
You might not be ready to jump to the fantasy land of believing it’s okay to be where you are in your writing, and that’s fine. But we know it’s not serving you to think the opposite.
You need to get some distance between your thoughts and the reality of the situation because your brain still thinks it’s a reality that you are behind.
Every time you get the thought that you are behind, or that other people are further ahead, I want you to shift that thought to, “I notice I keep thinking that.”
“I notice I keep thinking that I am behind,”
“I notice I keep thinking that they are further ahead.”
Adding in the, “I notice I keep thinking,” part will give you that space to explore that your brain might not be reporting the reality. That’s when magic can start to happen – in that little bit of space.
Getting control over this thought pattern in writing is going to benefit you in so many other areas of your life.
I promise you, if this is your thought pattern, you do not just have it for writing. If you continually believe that you are behind, I guarantee that you can find a never-ending list of things you are behind in. Having a relationship, having more money, having a family.... and it’s just as true for all those things that there is no such thing as being behind.
Everything is relative and it’s all your own thoughts.
Doing this work on your writing will have a trickle-down effect on all areas of your life. Then you can start enjoying where you are and celebrating the progress you’ve made.