Today, I will make a bold statement about writing. Striving toward your goal is not enough to reach it. When we strive for things, we inherently struggle. We feel conflicted, pressured, perhaps frustrated. We work hard at striving. We fight to keep our head above water, but often times we find that we are striving against ourselves. Our consciousness wants us to do one thing, so we turn around and procrastinate instead. Striving isn’t productive. It doesn’t mean reaching the goal. The longer we strive, the harder we struggle.
I sat down with the novel I had started writing and then stopped. At this point I felt I needed to plan, and then research, and then…. you get the point, I came across an old black binder that sat under a heap of junk on my desk. It has no designs, no pretty words, no plastic pouch on the front. It is just a solid black binder. I’d recognize this binder anywhere, not because the edges are bending but because I know what is inside of it. Between these two cardboard flaps is the novel that I wrote in college. All sixty thousand words of it.
As I leafed through the pages, I asked myself a potent question. What is different now? Why was I capable enough to write all of that then, when now, a few years older and a bit more skillful, I struggle? I thought it might be my new time constraints. With a full-time job, I no longer have the free time to spend staring at my computer between midnight and three in the morning. I thought perhaps, if I had more time, I’d sit down and write, but that wasn’t the case. Even on the weekends, with a full 18 hours to do absolutely nothing but write, I found myself doing anything else. I cleaned, did laundry, bought things on Amazon, made a puppet, sketched, washed the bathroom. I did anything else I could think to do.
I thought that perhaps I was sleeping too late in the morning and that the only way to solve my problem was to get up early. If I got up earlier, I could not only work on my draft, but plot something new, plan a blog post, write a book review, and everything else the ideal me wanted to do. But of course, this didn’t work either. I woke up early for about three days in a row, each morning feeling worse and worse until I decided it was only healthy to sleep through all three alarms and wake up when my body wanted to do so.
If it wasn’t time that I was lacking, if it wasn’t a lack of want or desire, then what was it? What differed between then and now? How could I be so different?
The answer that came to me was choice. Not just wanting to write, but choosing to take action over striving for something. When I was in college, I chose to write. It didn’t matter how much time I had or how much motivation I had. Every day I would ask myself if I wanted to write and every day I chose to say, ‘yes’. Yes I want to write. Yes I want to spend a chunk of my time doing this instead of something else. Yes. I have decided to make this important. Yes.
There was no struggle in it at all. There was no need to say, well yes, I want to write, but I have other things to do and I really don’t know if this is good enough, and I really don’t know if I’m a writer, and I really don’t think this is any good at all. There was no need to feel like I was chasing my tail. I wasn’t starting and stopping; I wasn’t trying to reach anything; I had two options. Either I wrote that day, or I did not. There was no abstract concept of “wanting to write” or “struggling to write when my day was busy and long”, or “I can’t write because someone wants me to go out today.” There was no getting caught up in what I call the “getting there” game in which I felt like I needed to get somewhere else before I could begin.
So Now What?
We all want to feel like we are advancing toward something, that what we are doing will make our mark. Yet many of us fear the result. We fear success, we fear failure, we fear completion because once it’s finished, what will we have left. We live and love in the struggle, in the strife and frustration that advancing with a slow pain brings us; we revel in it; we complain about it; We feel adrenalin from it, but I’m here to say that striving gets you nowhere. It only holds you back. It is not enough to strive for a completed novel. One must choose to take action. One must must ask whether it is better to write or not write and live by the decision.