The Habit of Beginning

Here’s an article I wrote when I was going to have a blog on generic productivity tips, before realising it was hard enough for me to maintain a single blog on writing. I like it and the chances of anyone reading it on that short-lived website are pretty slim, so I made a few changes to make it relevant to writing and here it is!

The hardest part about doing anything creative is sitting down to start the work. The doubt in your mind will do anything to stop you from achieving this deceptively simple step. The good news: if you can overcome that doubt, it only gets easier from there.

Doubt doesn’t want you to start anything.

So many people who decide to create something find themselves crippled by doubt. I didn’t notice it myself at first, but it’s there. It usually disguises itself as rational thought (you don’t have time to start a business), reasoned arguments (you probably wouldn’t make enough money as a playwright) or real-life examples (Billy from school tried to be an actor and he failed). It seem’s that there’s a part of every creative’s brain that wants them to be comfortable and safe, and doesn’t want them to take risks. Chances are, yours is no different.

You gonna start writing that book today? Well, how about you get up early and start! Wait a minute; just check your email first. Maybe check YouTube. Wanna have some breakfast? Hey, a new episode of that show should be up on Netflix now! Oh crap, it’s 4 pm. Well, today is a day off anyway. And I have tomorrow off work too! May as well enjoy the rest of my day. I deserve a break.

Yeah, that’s all doubt. Or resistance, as described in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Or Eckhart Tolle’s pain body. It doesn’t matter what you want to call it, or if you think it’s an internal or external force working against you. The point is, you’ve got one hell of a battle on your hands if you’re ever going to get anything done.

Effortless creation is a myth.

Comfort is the weapon doubt will use to kill us. It’s comfortable to sleep in. To go to work. Even those who would rather do anything other than their day job are comfortable with the routine it offers.

But creatives enjoy what they do, right? And what if you’re not actually interested in making a living off your creativity? If it’s just a hobby, surely it’s something you can do when you feel like it. And if you don’t feel like, why push yourself? If you really wanted to do something you would be doing it all the time.

Absolute crap. Anything you make that involves no effort and no sacrifice will generally be shit. So stop kidding yourself by waiting for inspiration to strike. You got your inspiration two months ago when you decided to write a play. What the hell are you waiting for?

Inspiration is not motivation. Stop confusing the two.

Inspiration is a thing that happens. You get an idea. You realise you want to achieve something. You realise how you want characters in your story to interact. You realise a new product line, or painting technique, or plot point.

What you cannot be is uninspired. Uninspired is a made up term that people say when they mean unmotivated. Inspiration doesn’t make you act; it doesn’t make you do anything. Inspiration is just the thought in your mind. You’re free to act on it, write it down or let it fade away. It’s your motivation that will determine how you act on your inspiration. When people say “I’m so uninspired to write my novel,” what they’re really saying is “I can’t find the motivation to write my novel.”

Make sure you’re motivated towards the right thing.

Okay, so now we’re clear: what we need is motivation, not inspiration.

Well, motivation is doubt’s favourite target. And doubt’s favourite weapon is to present you with the big picture. Nothing will de-motivate you quicker than an unachievable goal.

You wanna write a book? 100,000 words? And you’ve written, what … five words so far? 

Oh, you’re gonna start a YouTube Channel? How many subscribers do you have? Three? All of them related to you? Good luck with that!

Here’s the truth, though: all you have to do is sit down and start the work. Everything else will flow from there. This is the one thing doubt needs to stop you doing. And if you can win this battle, the whole process becomes so much easier.

Yes, there is a lot to do between now and finished novel. Between now and your first million subscriptions. Between now and the finished canvas. But that’s not the goal today. All you need to do is sit down and work, and achieve what you can in the time you have.

Build the habit to sit down to work every day.

We’re in this for the long haul, and this is only the beginning. What you achieve when you sit down to work is, at this point, irrelevant. 50 words, 5,000 words. A bio for your YouTube page. A rough sketch. What’s important is you’ve overcome doubt’s attempt to stop you from doing something. And if you can make that a daily habit, everything else can be built on that foundation.

Dreams, goals and aspirations are all good things to have. I would say they’re critical to the success of any creative endeavour. But when it comes time to work, you need to focus on one thing: sit down and start working. Your one goal is to achieve only what you can achieve today. Everything else will follow.

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