As a writer, or even just a human existing in the world, we all get busy. We all have different priorities that compete for our attention.
You might have a job, a family, an exercise routine, a pet, a hobby... all these different things that you want to spend time on. And of course, there is the desire to write and maybe a dream of having a published book.
You might find yourself struggling to balance all the different things you want to do, and more often than not, writing gets bumped for something else that feels more important.
For example, you might work overtime instead of writing like you wanted to. Or you help your kid with their homework as opposed to writing like you wanted to.
I want to be clear – there is nothing wrong with working overtime or helping your kids with their homework if that’s what you choose to do. The only problem is when it feels like you don’t have a choice – or you never do the things you want to do, and you constantly feel bad about it. When you beat yourself up later for not following your plan, that’s when it’s a problem.
It’s important to understand why this happens so that you can have compassion for yourself (as opposed to thinking there is something wrong with you, or that you don’t have the discipline or the time to be a writer. None of that is true).
When you find yourself constantly giving up your writing time for something else that seems more important, there are a couple of factors that come into play.
First, writing tends to be a solo activity.
For some people, especially women or those who were socialized as women, we were taught that our self-worth comes from the service we give to others. Though this is not just unique to women, it’s can also be a religious concept you were taught or even the way you were raised.
If you are someone who was taught that their worth is tied to how much they serve others, it can be hard to take that time for yourself to write. And it can feel uncomfortable when you do take that time.
Second, writing requires the skill of delayed gratification. That’s the skill that the marshmallow test displays. Where kids can either eat the marshmallow now or wait a period of time to get a bigger prize.
Writing works much the same way. We spend time and energy upfront, without a reward, in an effort to get that bigger prize later (like a book deal or payment). Except that with writing, there is no guarantee of a bigger prize.
When you have to choose between work (which you know pays you) and writing (which may or may not pay you later), it’s easier for the brain to choose work.
There are other factors too, like whether or not you're buffering with some of the other activities to avoid negative emotion.
The pattern of choosing other activities over writing is very common and is often an ingrained habit.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t change it.
If you want a different result, like a published novel, it starts with changing your thinking.
The first step is to notice what you are thinking or feeling in the moments when you choose the other activity over writing. I promise you there is a thought there, even if it feels automatic. For me, the thought was “this is more important,” and that thought creates a feeling of urgency.
I’d be doing work, my writing time would have started, and I have the thought “work is more important.” It feels urgent and so I pass up writing, and work overtime instead. And then, I’d feel guilty about it later. When I feel bad, I buffer with work (meaning I avoid feeling the negative emotion by distracting myself) and work even harder at work.
The result: I give all my time, energy, and effort to someone else. I give up my dream to support someone else’s, and someone else benefits from all my hard work. All because I believed my thought that work was more important than my dream of writing.
But we always get to decide what is most important.
We can choose to believe that writing our story is the most important thing we could do.
And if we want to have that published novel, if we really want to honour our dreams, we need to believe that.
There are so many things in our lives that compete for importance. But we get to decide what is important. We always have that choice. Deciding something is important doesn’t necessarily mean it gets the most time, but it means it gets some time.
Notice what that thought is for you that causes you to pass up writing.
And notice what feeling is present when you are doing the other activity instead of writing. Do you feel calm and relaxed, or do you feel anxious and stressed?
The next time you are faced with the choice of writing or doing something else, I want you to recognize the power you have to decide what is important. Pause for a moment to realize that you don’t have to believe whatever thought or feeling is telling you to do the other activity. That thought can be there, that feeling of urgency can be there, and yet you still have the agency to decide what you want to do.
It’s okay if what you choose is not writing. But then don’t beat yourself up about it later.
Have your own back and know that you chose the most important thing.
If you do choose writing, be aware that it may feel uncomfortable to not obey that urge to do the other thing. Don’t be scared off by the fact that choosing to write may feel uncomfortable. But you were also going to be uncomfortable if you chose the other activity. At least this way, you are uncomfortable but are closer to the result you want.
Recognize that your writing dream is important. If you are constantly giving up your dream for someone else’s, you're going to lose integrity with yourself. Give yourself permission to let that dream be important, so you can choose it over other things if you want to.
You can also practice a ladder thought. If you have a hard time believing that you have time to work on your story, try a thought like “it’s possible that writing one sentence is the most important thing I can do.” I like this thought for myself because that one sentence often turns into a longer writing session. Thinking it can trick your brain into starting writing and believing that you have the time for it.
Even if you do only write one sentence, that one sentence has taught you the skill of honouring your dreams. The more you do that, the more you will build up that muscle. It’s a practice.
And if writing is important to you, then writing one sentence, and then another, and then another, really is the most important thing you can do.
If this resonated with you but you are still struggling to overcome your old programming, I encourage you to sign up for a free coaching session.