We’re coming up to the holidays and I’m so excited to do all the holiday things I love. Like baking, watching movies, listening to music, all the things.
I’m going to take a couple of weeks off work, and at that time, I had planned to spend a lot of time writing a story that Tiana and I are working on together.
I spent about two weeks telling Tiana how I was going to write a lot over the break, and fantasizing about how much I could get done in that time. All the while, not writing at all.
I know I’m not alone in this thought pattern. We all fantasize about being the "perfect" writer.
Whatever perfect means to you – maybe that’s someone who writes every day, or someone who can write ten pages at a time, or someone who finishes a novel a year. Whatever it is.
It might even be a fantasy about being perfect in another area of your life – like reading 2 books a month or consistently going to the gym 5 days a week.
We fantasize about this because we think that if we were able to achieve perfection in that area of our lives, then we could finally be happy with ourselves.
I want to be clear, these perfectionistic thoughts don’t sound like “I would be happy with myself if I wrote 5 days a week,” and they don’t sound like you thinking, “if only I could be perfect.” No, that would be too obvious.
The perfectionist thoughts usually sound like “reasonable” goals or “wants” that you just happen to have.
You’re not actually thinking, “I want to be the perfect writer.” You’re thinking thoughts like:
“I just want to write 5 days a week”
“I should be able to write a chapter a day"
“I would really love to read 2 books a month”
“I’m just happier when I write more”
Do you see the difference?
The thoughts sound convincing and helpful, and yet, you are not achieving any of the things you say you want. Often, you aren’t even attempting to achieve them.
Sometimes we make detailed plans and schedules around accomplishing this goal but we never start the plan. Or, we are able to follow it for a short time but once we fall off the streak we never start again.
If you ever had a calendar that you got to tick off on the days you wrote, you know what I’m talking about.
What happens with these fantasies, is that they usually turn into waiting until the "right moment" to start them. Waiting for the vacation, waiting for the break, waiting for the writing retreat to begin writing. Sometimes it’s just waiting for the weekend.
The idea of getting to write a lot over some kind of break is the perfect, perfectionistic fantasy.
We already have that fantasy about wanting to be the perfect writer, and then we tell ourselves that we get to become that person over the break. And we fantasize about how amazing that’s going to feel.
At that moment – this is what’s so crazy because the brain doesn’t know the difference – at that moment, we get to feel amazing.
That’s why these thought patterns are so addictive. They feel good because when we’re picturing our perfect selves, we get to finally feel good about ourselves.
We haven’t done anything, but we picture ourselves being perfect (even if that’s not what you call it) and we feel good.
But that tomorrow – or that break – is just a fantasy. It is not reality. Reality is the moment you have right now. The current state of your life. Reality is today.
Waiting for the vacation to write means that you don’t actually spend time writing. Or if that vacation comes around and you do start writing a little, it doesn’t last because you’re not able to achieve the perfection you dreamed of and start feeling bad about it.
It also doesn’t last because you have no reliability with yourself to actually do the thing you said you would do. You have very little practice with actually following through with writing. And still, you expected to magically be different a person over this break.
When you inevitably fail at writing over the break, you beat yourself up about it.
You know you’re not reliable, you know you don’t follow through. So you feel awful, and you’re mean to yourself.
Unfortunately, the solution for feeling awful, is that same thought pattern you know feels good. You fantasize about starting again tomorrow.
Or you fantasize about how things are going to be different after vacation. And you know what, “you work hard and everyone needs a vacation, and so you’ll start writing again when the vacation is over.”
Sounds so reasonable. Thinking about it, we get to feel good about ourselves again.
We all do this, it’s so sneaky. You can end up doing this for years. Forever really. Because as long as we’re alive, there is always the possibility of tomorrow.
The dream of the writing vacation is an indication that you are not willing to be present with your current reality. You are not willing to love your current state of being and you are not willing to accept what you can currently do.
Writing the book becomes impossible because you do not accept setting realistic plans. You’d rather play a game on your phone while having the fantasy about being the perfect writer, than to face the reality that you can currently write for 30 minutes, once a week.
Because we can’t think good thoughts about ourselves if we only write for 30-minutes once a week.
It’s so ridiculous, but this is what we think.
We have trained our brain that the only time it can think good thoughts about us, is when we’re following that perfect writing schedule. We do not let ourselves feel good about ourselves unless we achieve perfection. Which never happens.
The reason why you can’t set realistic goals is that you tell yourself that you are not good enough as you are. You don’t want to be with your current self.
You don’t want to be the writer you currently are. You want the fake elation of imagining yourself as the perfect writer instead.
If this is you, like it is me, you need to stop waiting for the vacation.
You need to start practicing the skill of being proud of yourself now, as you are, and taking pride in your real accomplishments. Taking pride in the fact that you wrote a sentence. Taking pride in the fact that you wrote once this week.
I suggest including things that aren’t writing as well. Pride in the fact that you made your bed, called your mom, ate some vegetables. Start developing that mental skill.
You’re going to tell yourself that that’s silly and not enjoyable. Because you’re so used to having the elaborate fantasy.
But this exercise is about appreciating all you are now, appreciating what you currently have and what your current reality is. Remember, even though the fantasy feels good, the result of repeatedly thinking it is no reliability with yourself and then feeling bad about yourself later on.
There are 3 steps out of this perfectionistic, fantasy cycle:
Accepting your current reality.
Setting small, achievable goals.
Being proud of yourself for following through on your commitments.
You have to be on to yourself when you notice you are fantasizing about the writing vacation. If you spend a lot of time planning to write, but not actually writing, you need to be on to that.
Notice how you feel when you are in the fantasy. It will feel good. And then notice how you feel when you're in your present reality. If it doesn’t feel good, if you don’t want to be your present self, you have to start with accepting your current state.
I recommend that you go back and listen to “Episode 24. Scheduling Time to Write that Actually Works,” if you want to learn more about the solution.
Also, Tiana if you are reading this, don’t worry I am on to myself. You probably were anyway and were just waiting for me to come around and see the light. And I did.
I am having withdrawals from enjoying the fantasy high. Telling myself I will write a few sentences a day is way less appealing than imagining myself finishing a book in two weeks.
All you reading this, you’ll have withdrawals from the fantasy too.
Note: this is pretty advanced work. If you think you intellectually understand it but can’t seem to apply it in practice, that is totally normal.
If you need help, you can get a free coaching session or sign up for one of our coaching programs.
We can help you stop with the fantasies and start living a writing reality that you are truly proud of.