Get Your Booty in the Chair
“This is shit.”
Ah, yes, the pain point of the creative process. The moment you want to lay your head down on the table, simultaneously acknowledging the feeble attempt at producing something worth reading and the garbage that actually came out. It’s the frustrating agony of willing quality words to move through your fingertips but struggling to find the actual words to do so. It’s the moment you’re reminded of all those romanticized ideas you had about the craft, all the scenes of Carrie beautifully writing while gazing out her window in Sex and the City, all the holiday movies about writers moving into country homes for the season to write exactly once in the entire movie, or the evenings you’ve spent sitting among the books at a bookstore attempting to absorb the brilliance of other writers through sheer osmosis. Or is that just me?
I’m not a published author (not yet at least), but I’m confident in one truth I’ve learned in years of blogging and writing: writing is hard. Those words at the beginning of this piece were the exact words bouncing around my brain as I looked at my most recent work. It took all the strength I had to keep myself from highlighting the entire page and hitting the delete button. In addition to the difficulty of writing, I’ve also learned you won’t get anywhere if you keep deleting the first attempt.
Buried amongst the unnecessary, sitting somewhere within the self-aggrandizing, sticking out amongst the embarrassing, there is a pearl waiting to be found. If you refuse to look at what lies unkempt, you’ll never find the single piece you want to carry forward. You lose the beauty of the process when you expect the first attempt to be your best.
No part of me is ever excited to sit down and start typing. Rarely do I make my way into a seat knowing exactly what I’m going to be writing about. It’s a dreaded moment: sitting down in front of a blank white page hoping inspiration will come along and strike at the very same moment, like light filling the room when you flip the switch. It simply doesn’t happen that way.
Instead of sitting down, expecting inspiration to strike, or leaning into the “this is shit” moment, I ask for help in doing the hard thing. Simply stated, I say a little prayer. Now, if you grew up with a mother like mine who loved the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, you may very well have Aretha Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer” stuck in your head after reading this. If that’s the case, you’re welcome. If not, give the song a listen and the movie a watch, it’s a Julia Roberts classic. I digress…
Sitting in the most uncomfortable position, silent stillness, I close my eyes, raise my clasped hands to my forehead, and pray “God, give me the words.” A deep breath follows and my mind begins to wander to my weekend plans, but I pull it all back and once again pray “give me the words she needs to hear.” With that phrase, she pops into my head – the young woman I’m writing for. The young heart, bearing the pain I once walked through, looking for some way through it all. This is for her, not for me. It’s a powerful purpose check.
If that fails, typing out a stream of consciousness does the trick. It may not be the day two thousand words find their way onto the screen, but even 300 words written is better than no words. Something is better than nothing. Consistency is better than perfection. I imagine it’s the same in many long-term pursuits. Practice once in a while, showing up to do the thing only when you feel like it, doesn’t do much in the pursuit of the goal. The road to the finish line is filled with days you don’t want to show up, days when it feels like you’re moving backward, days when you do actually feel like a bad-ass, and days when you just do the thing to get it out of the way. Not every attempt will be brilliant or masterful, but it’s still worth the attempt.
I see the same results in a workout program. Muscle strength only grows when you show up consistently. You can’t start with 15-pound weights one day, take three weeks off, and expect your body to lift 30 the next time you decide to show up. That’s a guaranteed path to hurting yourself. It doesn’t work like that. Progression over time is key to safe, healthy muscle development. One day, one workout at a time, while challenging yourself just a little bit each time.
As a recovering perfectionist, there’s a relief to be found in doing a little each day to improve over time. I’ve found in my own writing process, the single most challenging part of the entire craft… is sitting down. Thinking about whether or not I want to do it only results in procrastination. The goal is simple: get my booty in the chair each day. The words will come eventually, but I have to be in the position to catch them and write them.
Your craft may be different than mine. Your goals may be different than mine, but that doesn’t mean the path to the goal is different. Consistency in practice is key. You may have heard the popular Malcolm Gladwell quote, “it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials”. Obviously, 10,000 hours doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a lifetime, but that’s a lifetime of improvement to reach mastery in your chosen craft.
As a lover of writing, I’ve asked other writers about their process and have read books on writing to learn what it takes to become a great writer. The answer is always the same – writing. To be great, to produce great work, it takes practice. As much as I love reading, I can’t read my way to being a great writer. It helps, but the sure-fire way to becoming a better writer is by showing up to write.
This has been a lifelong love of mine. Before I met my husband; before I discovered my passions for feminism or social justice or coaching; before I was speaking… I was writing. Some of my earliest memories are of time spent in my bedroom, sitting at my little blue desk, writing poems, very short stories, and love notes to my family. This work has evolved to a blog, typically written from my kitchen table while drinking a cup of coffee, but it’s still the space where I get to make sense of my thoughts. This is where I get to make a little more sense out of the pain and confusion of life.
So, you may not have a chosen craft that makes you feel more alive, but maybe there’s a rhythm you want to add to your life. Perhaps you want to spend more time reading books, more time in holy study, more time meditating or practicing yoga. Maybe you want to add a workout routine to your day or send a card to a friend each week. Maybe you set an intention for the new year that hasn’t quite happened yet. Maybe you wanted to get back into painting each week or develop your drawing ability….
Whatever it may be, doing something each day is better than nothing at all. The greatest challenge to adding that new rhythm is in starting. Get your booty in the chair. Put your phone down and press play on the home workout. Turn off the TV and find a book that grabs your interest and holds it within the first chapter (I have some great recommendations if you’re looking). Grab your holy book and start with one page. It doesn’t have to be immense or complicated. The focus will come when you’re in the space to receive it. Create the space. In a process of adding something new to your life, be your own greatest cheerleader, not your biggest critic. Find 15 minutes and start. Then, do it again tomorrow. Keep showing up. Your strength and talent will grow. But you have to get your booty in the chair.