Wednesday, 24 April 2013


I spend a lot of time trying to motivate myself.  I have a perfectionist streak and am convinced that everyone else is working harder and better than me. Every time I read about a writer who has been published and/or had other success before they're 30, I feel like I'm lagging behind. It's time to realise I'm not in a race.

I lost sight of the value of stepping back. When you paint a large canvas, you have to step back at frequent intervals to see how the whole looks. Focusing on the detail makes you lose sight of the bigger picture and you can no longer see the whole. You may have to leave the room and come back later, when you can see the canvas with fresh eyes.

It's the same for writing: stepping back is essential to get a clear view.

It's relatively easy to see the importance of stepping back in the case of individual projects. Most of us learn that setting a draft aside for a length of time, whether it's for several weeks or just several hours, can help our rewriting/editing to be more effective. But how often do we remember to step back from our writing as a whole?

I'd been dashing around trying to write as much I could, making long to-do lists of all the stories I needed to draft or rewrite or edit or enter in a competition. Although I knew my priorities were the two projects that came out of my MA dissertation, a short story collection and a novel, I found myself neglecting them. I was procrastinating by doing work that didn't matter as much as my priorities. I tried putting my priority projects at the top of my to-do lists, but had limited success. I would either work on other projects or not work at all.

So I tried a drastic solution: I gave myself permission to stop writing. No to-do lists, no deadlines, no goals. All I asked of myself was time to consider how I wanted to continue with my writing career.

This time has been invaluable. It's given me the chance to reflect on the kind of writer I want to be and the break from stressing about my (lack of) progress has let me recharge. And the weird thing is, I've done far more work on my novel!

When you have mental health issues, it's essential to place your wellbeing ahead of everything else in life - even writing. If my mental illness worsens, I can't write. However, recharging is beneficial for everyone. It helps realign your priorities and refreshes you. As a result, you find time to do the things that are most important to you. In my case, that's working on my priority projects and letting other writing take a backseat.

It also means accepting that I'm not in a race - it's more of a solo run. Obsessing over my perceived failures and being a perfectionist is detrimental, because there's no one else to compete against. I've tried competing against myself in the past and discovered it gets me nowhere. There's no point in sprinting to the finish line; it's crucial to enjoy the run.

After all, an artist doesn't build a career on exquisite details if the rest of the canvas is a mess: he/she must produce superb paintings, which accumulate to create an exquisite portfolio.

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