Why did we choose to be writers?
It’s hard to sit down and face that blank page every day. It’s even harder to make a living by writing. But the hardest thing is looking at ourselves in the mirror when we know we should be writing, instead of watching four hours of This Is Us and commenting on how great the writing is.
I romanticized the idea of being a writer for years — over a decade, if I’m being truthful. I’d watch movies about writers that I totally identified with, yet I’d never finished a script, much less a novel.
I’d buy a new composition book and write a few great pages of a project I was so excited about. But it quickly found itself among other fallen comrades in a graveyard of notebooks hidden on the bottom shelf collecting dust. Now, at least they are buried among Google Documents and half-finished Final Draft scripts deep in my hard drive, so I don’t have to see them.
Breaking the Cycle
I didn’t know how to get out of this pattern. When I did write, I felt like I was pretty good. I wanted so badly to feel like a “real” writer. And I truly wanted to get these stories out of my head. They kept piling up in the back of my mind, but I simply could not find a way to get them out and onto the page.
During a particularly low point in my life and mental state, I dug deeper inside my heart to find out what was missing and how I could correct it. I thought about things that had come naturally to me as a child and that I was able to maintain throughout adulthood.
Writing As A Habit
The thing that stood out above all others was my dedication to physical fitness and health. I was an athlete since I was a child, but I also come from a family riddled with diabetes and heart disease. I made a habit of staying fit initially from enjoyment, but in adulthood the motivation came from the desire to live a long life that I could enjoy.
The answer became clear. If I wanted to have a career at all in writing (much less a long career) and actually enjoy seeing my ideas become words on a page, I needed to attack writing with the same discipline and tenacity that I did fitness.
That meant that I had to make a habit of it. Every day, if possible, I had to fight the voices in my head telling me to be lazy, then sit my butt down and actually do the work. The easiest way to do that was to schedule it and commit. Then when my writing time came, I had to attack the page, not sluggishly slip into my practice. I had to write with confidence and with all my heart.
Many people might think two acts so seemingly divergent — one physical and one mental — would need to be approached in different manners. But why would it be any different? After all, they are both predicated on emotion. It takes hard work and discipline to overcome that.
It wasn’t until after I made this habit, and stuck to it, that I started to see results. Just like training a muscle, I trusted the process and kept working. Consecutive days turn into consecutive weeks and then all of a sudden, I felt stronger. I could use my words, like my body, more easily. I could accomplish harder tasks, so then I set higher goals.
When the time came for me to try to write my first novel, I signed up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The goal was 50,000 words in one month, averaging out at 1667 per day. Like group fitness, I practiced with other people who set the same goal, and we tracked each other and encouraged each other along the way.
I had daily goals I needed to meet, and if I fell behind, the thought of others continuing past me gave me that extra energy to push through — like the last sprint of a race, where the only thing keeping you on your feet is the healthy competition of who is running beside you.
The beautiful irony of this approach is that it’s the days when you don’t want to work/write, but you still do, that you really start to see progress. These days make the difference in being “in shape” and not being in shape. Consistency, in anything, is everything.
During this time, something amazing happened. Like the runner that “breaks through the wall” deep into a race, something clicked with my writing. It came easier. I got better. Ideas came to me faster. I enjoyed the process. I looked forward to my sessions. I got into a state of flow, and for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I could call myself a writer. Now I’ve even convinced a few people to pay me for it.
If we wait for inspiration to strike us, we will most likely find ourselves waiting a long time — perhaps forever. There is nothing that will get us going except us getting going. It’s as simple as that. There is no magic trick; there are no special rules.
Then you will see your mind free itself and be open to inspiration and growth.
As Mark Manson (NY Times Bestselling author and entrepreneur) says in his “Do Something” principle, “action isn’t just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it.”
Rain Bennett is a two-time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, public speaker, and writer. Bennett has been featured in the Huffington Post, Men’s Health, and Sports Business Global and is a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle and Chapelboro.com. Based out of Durham, NC, Bennett currently writes and directs narrative and documentary film projects and is finishing his first novel. You can follow him on Twitter @rainbennett