This week I haven’t been running at all. I keep telling myself that I have too much work on, but the truth is I have the same amount of work as I did the week before, and I managed to get out four times then. I feel 100% better when I’m running regularly, and yet somehow I still slip into these periods of abstention when I don’t make the effort. Sometimes putting on a pair of trainers and shorts, especially now it is at least 30 degrees by the time I drop my daughter off at school, is just one hurdle too far.
It was the same when I first started writing. I really wanted to be a writer, but couldn’t seem to get past the first few notes of a story before deciding it was a bad idea. In the hospital where I worked as a trainee physiologist there were several blocks that housed the different departments, all of which were connected via a set of underground tunnels which had the atmosphere of an old spooky asylum. Trundling along those corridors with the sounds of the air filtration system whirling overhead was far from reassuring. Yet I always volunteered for the jobs that took me through these tunnels because the twenty minutes it took me to reach my destination was time during which I could think about books. By the time Friday came around my white tunic pockets were filled with post-it notes of half-shaped ideas formed during those underground trips.
But taking the step of turning one of those ideas into a book took a while longer to materialise. I knew most of those ideas in my pocket weren’t good enough, and some of them might well have been outright plagiarism for which I would have been served with a lawsuit along the lines of King vs Adams. But I persevered until I came upon an idea I thought would stick. After that, I sat down and began to write. Six months later I had a book. But what was it that made the difference? What behaviours that helped me then could be applied to my occasional aversion to running, and get me up of my backside?
Hurdles are something we must all overcome in some form throughout our lives, be it professional or personal. If you are working on becoming an author and sometimes need a boost in motivation, here are a few things that helped me take the step from hopeful scribbler to working writer.
Believe that you are a writer and you are
When it comes to my running, I always think of the reasons I avoid it, namely the injuries I’ve had in the past and the outside temperature that Cyprus is currently baking in. I tell myself that my shin splints will kick in, or that I’ll sprain my ankle again. But the truth is that this is all nonsense. If I just believed I was a runner, I’d be out.
If you want to be a writer, the first thing you need to realise is that nobody can tell you that you are a writer. You must believe it for yourself. And besides the initial boost it will give you, the representation of an agent or a publisher won’t make a scrap of difference to your inherent self-belief. Tell yourself you are a writer, and you are one.
Set a routine
They say it takes thirty days to form a habit, so what if you could give yourself just one month? I took to meditating last year, and now, almost without fail, I practice every day. Where at first it felt awkward to try, now it feels as if I’ve missed something if I don’t manage it. If you could carve out twenty minutes from your day you could probably write 300 words in that time, right? Well 300 words, five times a week is 1500 words. Do that for a year and you have a 78,000 word manuscript. And that’s if you keep up the same pace as day one. My first twenty-minute runs soon shaped up into half an hour, and it only took me a few months before I was heading out for an hour at a time. Would you exchange twenty minutes of your day for a finished book by the same time next year? If so, what are you waiting for?
Overcome the hurdles
I don’t know when it will hit you, but it will. There’ll come the day when you can’t be bothered, when Netflix calls, or when pretty much anything seems better than sitting down with your manuscript. Still happens to me now. It’s a bit like when I first moved to Cyprus. It was a remarkably easy decision and process at first. Sometimes the big things are easier than the small hurdles that crop up when we least expect it. That was what happened to me on the fourteenth night of living here. It all started to feel a bit strange. I got in bed that night and realised that was the longest I had ever been out of England. I wasn’t going home. I reminded myself that Cyprus was where I was living now, that this was my new home, and knuckled down and got on with it.
Push through that first difficulty, and all subsequent hurdles will feel easier to deal with.
The truth is, that if you want to be a professional writer, either with an agent and publisher, or working for yourself as a self-publisher, you must take it as seriously as you take your job. If you only rocked up to work on the days of the week you fancied it, you’d soon find yourself out on your ear. You have a set time to be at work, and if you want to write you need to give yourself the same structure. Maybe a writing group, or a friend can help keep you in check if you can’t do it for yourself. Perhaps an app that counts your words or time. Find what works for you, and stick to it.
Maybe you can’t write every day, but perhaps you can find yourself two sessions a week. Maybe you could listen to one less podcast, or write 1000 words on your commute. Maybe when you eat lunch, you do it while thinking about your next writing session so that when you sit down you are ready to go. If you’re lucky you work for somebody or somewhere with a bonus system, or at least some tea-room benefits. If you hit your writing target, why not give yourself a bonus, too.
Find your community
I like social media in the capacity I use it, but I don’t like all social media. I enjoy writing this blog and interacting with people on Instagram. I like twitter too, especially for things like talking about Game of Thrones with like minded nerds. Facebook not so much. If you want to write, find your community by connecting with like-minded people. This could also help you be more accountable. If you’re like me, you'll feel the pressure of stating your intentions to the public. Get out there and tell people you want to write, and it becomes much easier to do so. There is also a theory that you are a product of the people closest to you in your life, so hang out with writers and immerse yourself in the culture of books, and the benefits will start to wear off on you too.