Take it away, Rob...
My first attempt at writing a nonfiction book - back in the 1990s - is still, to this day, unfinished.
This sad fact is especially ironic because the planned book was about motivation - and how to overcome obstacles to the creative process.
Of course many of the ideas the book was meant to explore I have used in the 30 or so books I've written since. But you may find it curious that my first book was basically on a back-burner for about a decade while I struggled to find the time and the motivation to write it!
I read the other day that procrastination is not solely based on a fear of accomplishment, but on a fear of beginning. And not just beginning in the sense of starting out, making notes and thinking - but as in really starting, as in being involved in creating.
This idea resonated with me because I realized that's why I never got around to writing that first book. All the time I wasn't starting and being truly involved in the book, I had no reason to pursue its completion.
Of course, for years I believed the book should be written. I even conned myself into believing I was, in some sense, writing it because the book's planned content occupied my mind so often. But clearly, the more I thought about the book, the less I wrote.
As I've said often - since - thinking is not writing. More especially, thinking about writing is definitely not writing! But the practice of thinking about writing is a trap that many would-be writers fall into - a worrisome pit of self-doubt and delusion that often entails endless self debate with no real constructive purpose.
When you're in a pit, you need to construct a ladder, not just think about various methods of freeing yourself.
I guess that's one of the reasons why I developed the Easy Way to Write philosophy. That is, when you write, don't think. Don't analyse what you're doing because questioning what you're doing rarely achieves anything useful. It just slows you down.
No amount of thinking and planning helps to get the job done - unless you're actively involved in the doing.
Yes - if you get stuck, take time out to break down your project into doable chunks - minutely, if necessary. But then, get back to tackling those pieces - quickly and with purpose. Don't stop to think or plan or delay for too long.
Serial procrastination is often a product of perfectionism: the inability to create unless everything is notably brilliant from start to finish.
But any wise old artist will tell you that the illusion of perfection is just that - an illusion, created by years of trial and error, a willingness to fail, and constant activity in pursuit of perfection.
Leonardo kept the canvas of the Mona Lisa with him all his life. To him, it was never finished. He added to it, changed it over and over, forever infusing it with the perfection it's now famous for.
With Da Vinci's other work, he was on the clock. He finished them because there was an end date - a time beyond which he wasn't going to get paid. The deadline necessitated his other work's completion.
And so it is with you, my friend. You must work on a project to its completion but have the courage to stop when the time feels right - or the money runs out. You must accept that your work must cease at a - usually self-imposed - end date, beyond which you cannot afford to keep going…
For the professional artist, the skill of knowing when to stop can itself take years to learn - but it's a practice that all creators must contend with and learn to accept.
The fact is, the more importance you attach to a project, the harder it will be to begin it - and fully grasp the necessity of its completion. This fear of the end-date is something you don't want to feed or escalate. Because the greater the challenge in your mind, the more excuses you will find not to start with a real view to letting go of a project when it's done.
Perhaps you'll never feel like you're ready... but that's the best place to begin. You learn by doing, not by preparing, planning and thinking, but by being truly involved - and knowing your end date.
These days, when I finish projects, I often look back and can't really fathom where all the necessary effort and inspiration came from. Sometimes, it's almost like the finished product was created by someone else - someone with a skill base and motivational standpoint separate from my own.
To me, I'm still the guy who couldn't get his first book written!
I think this is the way creativity works.
You don't really go from a wannabe to a success, as if they're two different entities. You're still both. It's just that one - the doer - fills more of your time than previously.
Harnessing success is about doing, being active, taking steps - no matter how small - on a consistent basis.
Don't beat yourself up about your faults and failings.
Yes, be aware of your faults, see them as positives. Use your issues as a source of motivation. Embrace your foibles. Accept your limitations. Gather strength from your insecurities - everyone has them, even the great and good.
Most of all, take action.
Write. Be involved in your writing.
We all make mistakes. It's part of the creative process.
As the actor, Robert Mitchum, once said, it's why there's an eraser on the end of a pencil - and a backspace on a keyboard for that matter.
Don't be afraid to begin. Don't be afraid to fail. You can always delete what you've done and start again. All artists do it - it's part of the process.
See the ability to edit, clean up, delete and polish as your best friend, the part of your nature that helps you the most. But remember that, without activity, there's nothing to perfect.
Things don't create themselves. We do.
Intention is only useful when there's matter to rearrange. And no amount of thought changes anything until activity kicks in.
As Nike say, just do it!
And, as I always say:
Rob Parnell is the author of over thirty #1 Amazon bestsellers. He has been helping writers achieve their dreams since 2002. Visit his website, The Easy Way to Write, or Udemy.com for his online video courses. Though British by birth, Rob lives in Australia with his wife, Robyn Opie Parnell, and their beloved pets.