Accept the Impossibilities and Keep Going

Filed in The Writing Life, When Writing Is Hard by on May 18, 2012 • views: 650

ObstaclesI came across a paragraph in a magazine article today that caught my attention.

The author was talking about hitting snags in the writing process that can be discouraging, and what to do about it. I felt the statement could hold true for doing just about anything worthwhile—especially going after your dreams.

Here’s the paragraph. Note the author was listing possible triggers for “writer’s block,” a situation where a writer finds it hard to move forward on a project.

You’ve discovered a problem in premise or structure or some other fundamental aspect that can’t be resolved. [Novelist] Annie Dillard’s advice: “Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles.” Accept it and keep writing, she says. (The Writer, May 2012)

This paragraph applies really well to writing, but I think it could apply equally well to any risky endeavor—say, starting a business, beginning a family, losing weight, or creating anything new and worthwhile.

A new novel always starts out as being full of possibilities. As I imagine it, I can see the characters, picture their struggles, and view the outcome as if I were watching a movie. I charge into the first few chapters, filled with eager excitement.

But it’s doesn’t take long—usually around chapter four or five—for everything to become much more complicated.

The important question is, what to do then?

Obstacles Cause Us to Question Ourselves

A novel is a complicated project. It takes a lot of what my dad would have called elbow grease to even get a first draft down, say nothing of creating a polished, publishable manuscript.

Good writers make it look easy.

That’s why so many people think they can write a novel…if only they had the time. It’s also why there are so many half-finished novels sitting around in drawers across the country.

Raising a family may look easy too, especially when you see successful parents carrying it off so well. Running a business, piloting a plane, losing 40 pounds. It all looks easy at the start.

But it rarely is.

There are always obstacles along the way. And obstacles are what separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don’t.

According to an article in Psychology Today (11/7/2011), “Few important things in life come easy.” You may have heard some variation on that quote from your parents. How easy it can be, however, to doubt yourself when that first obstacle raises its ugly head.

Here are some possible thoughts that may go through your head:

  • What made me think I could do this? It’s beyond me.
  • This was a bad idea in the first place. I was afraid it was.
  • I didn’t think about this. I don’t think I can get around it.
  • I’m never going to make it. I should just stop now.

I know when I hit that unavoidable snag in my novel, I always doubt the premise, the plot, the characters, my ability to write, you name it.

How to get around those obstacles and continue on?

How to Motivate Yourself to Keep Going

The number-one advice I’ve come across in writing is this: allow yourself to fail.

As soon as I give myself permission to write junk, I write. I overcome the obstacles. The plotline starts to reveal itself, the characters become more clear, and away I go, excited again about the project.

I think this advice would be equally worthwhile in other areas. Of course, when you’re starting a business, you may be risking a lot more than your time at the computer.

Still, you have to give yourself permission to fail.

Here are some other tips that may help when you come across obstacles. Be sure to write in if you have more.

  • Step away from the problem. Go for a walk, go out with friends, play a round of golf—anything to get your mind off the issue. You’re more likely to come up with a solution if you let your brain relax.
  • Sleep on it. Studies have shown that sleeping on a problem often enhances your brain’s problem-solving skills.
  • Broaden your thinking. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that thinking more globally helped people to overcome obstacles. In other words, step back from the problem and take a wider view. What are you missing?
  • Change your attitude. Are you feeling frustrated? Afraid? Panicky? Realize that you’re unlikely to come up with a solution when you’re emotionally upset. What’s the worse than can happen? The endeavor fails. Other people have failed. It will be okay if you do, too. Relax. Get a massage. Go for a walk. Get yourself in a better frame of mind, and the solution is likely to pop up.
  • Think wildly. Imagine the most ridiculous solution you can. Make it so outrageous that you get yourself laughing. Laughter often breaks up mental blocks. Think of another silly solution, and another, until you can work yourself backwards into something that just might actually work.
  • Listen to your inner voice—your gut feeling. If you can’t hear it, spend some time alone in nature until you do.
  • Believe in yourself! Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do. Bet on yourself. Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend. You can do it!
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