New writers like to ask successful and prolific writers the secret to writing. And authors really love talking about their ideal writing environments. They talk about how necessary it is to have the comfy chair, the desk free of clutter, the music or the white noise or the silence, the right temperature in the room, the smell of fresh coffee, the inspirational view, etc.
But while there’s no perfect setting and no right or wrong place to write, what’s truly fascinating is what the environment does for their process. And as soon as we shift to talking about the process, we’ve moved into the realm of the internal environment. So the next time you’re tempted to blame your external environment for your lack of productivity (or give it credit for your next productive writing session), dig a little deeper.
When doubt creeps in or that inner critic plays the “imposter card,” it doesn’t matter how smoothly your pen writes or how many walks in nature you take, you’re going to struggle. And if you’re not mentally prepared for these moments, then they could derail your writing plans.
So what if we shifted from preparing the external environment to considering how to prepare the internal writing environment? What would that look like?
I have some thoughts:
1. We’d embrace abundance and banish scarcity thinking.
One pattern I notice is that when I find myself trapped in scarcity thinking, I tend to reach outside of myself for solutions. So, for example, when I’m feeling insecure about my writing, that’s when I start really noticing my environment. That’s when the “magical thinking” creeps in: “maybe if I change rooms, I’ll shake my ideas loose,” “maybe if I clean up all of this clutter, I’ll feel more relaxed and the words will flow.”
Now, sometimes magical thinking works. Occasionally, when I change rooms, go for a walk, or do some organizing, the words do flow more smoothly. But this rarely happens when I’m trapped in scarcity thinking.
In these moments, it’s not my external environment that’s giving me trouble. It’s my internal environment. What I really need is to banish the scarcity thinking and embrace abundance.
When I’m feeling insecure, there are a couple of culprits:
- I’m insecure about my writing abilities
- I’m insecure about my ideas
What helps me the most with the first culprit is to remember that I can learn anything I need to know. So even if I don’t have all the information I need at my fingertips or I want to learn to write in a particular genre, I can be confident that I can figure it out. My writing skills are good enough and if they need to be supplemented along the way, that’s no problem. This is how I embrace abundance.
With the second culprit, I remind myself there’s no zero-sum game when it comes to ideas. Ideas are abundant. I have thousands of them every day (some better than others). Also, it doesn’t matter how many people have written on my topic, there’s still more to say and I have a unique perspective to share.
2. We’d commit to continual improvement, not perfection.
Perfectionists have a really hard time writing or finishing a piece of writing (I should know. I have some serious perfectionist tendencies). However, perfectionism can come in many forms.
I’ve recently restarted the process of writing my own book. I started writing it early this year, but I was derailed by my perfectionism. My big problem was that I was more committed to perfectionism than to continual improvement.
This time around, I’m focused on consistently hitting my word count (5,000 words per week) for two months. Because I’ve let go of worrying about not having an outline or a clear enough idea of where I want the book to end up, I’m content to let it unfold as it will. I know there’s plenty of time for my perfectionist self to come out to play during the editing process.
This reminds me of a George R.R. Martin quote I recently stumbled upon:
I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house…The gardeners dig a hole, drop a seed and water it…as the plant comes up…they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have; they find out as it grows.
I’m going the gardener route this time around.
3. We’d trust our actions.
The most powerful way to prepare our internal writing environment is to simply write. The act of writing certainly can counter your scarcity thinking. You can’t help but embrace abundance once you have written 20,000 or 40,000 words. I mean, look at all those words you have to play with and mold into your fantastic book! What a relief!
The truth is actions speak louder than the words in our heads. So let the act of writing push away all of your doubts.
Don’t have any ideas or feel insecure about your writing abilities? Write anyway. Once you put those words down on the page, I promise that when you revisit them tomorrow or next week or in three months, you’ll think they’re better than you do today.
When all else fails, take comfort in this quote from Anne Lamott:
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.
And the next time you have the thought that ________________ needs to happen before you can write, remember that the future is uncertain and we only have the present moment. Then, write. Let your fingers convince your mind that you can do this.
4. We’d seek out the support we need.
Now, I admit, the first three steps can only take us so far. There are times when “write anyway” and “write anything” is simply not the advice that we need (incidentally, this is why I’m not the best book coach. Most of my advice boils down to “write anyway”). Often, we need a little help from our friends to prepare our internal writing environment.
What stops us from seeking out the support we need? Well, we might not know what support is available or we might be too afraid to tell the world about the book we’re writing. But if there’s one piece of (more helpful) advice I could share with all new writers, it’s this: talk about what you’re writing early and often.
Do not wait until you have a full draft of your manuscript before you share your ideas. Waiting only prolongs your agony, discourages your friends from giving you honest feedback, and reinforces the belief that writing must be a solitary activity.
Now to answer my earlier question: What if we shifted from preparing the external environment to considering how to prepare the internal environment?
If we focus on preparing our internal writing environment, we truly can write anytime and anywhere. And doesn’t this sound like a lovely outcome?
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