Let me ask you something. Does this ever happen to you? Where you start noticing a pattern of behavior, especially about yourself, and suddenly it’s everywhere? It’s kind of (okay: really) annoying.
Lately I’ve been noticing all the ways I’m trying to figure out the “right” way to do something (or: anything). I do this with my writing. My hobby. Even in shopping. I overload on options, flooding my mind, paralyzing me with indecision. Trying too hard. Endlessly reaching for the “better” way.
Problem is, there will always be a better way.
I seem to be living like Goldilocks,
waiting for everything to be “just right”.
My writing for example. There are so many stories I want to tell, the weight of it gets to me. I have been trying to figure out how to get all of those ideas out of my head and onto the page, but I get stuck every time. As it turns out “trying to figure it all out” is not the path to creativity. Allowing it to happen is. That’s a good point and something that I started to write about, but couldn’t finish because even writing about allowing got me in trouble for trying too hard at it.
(Sigh. Is anybody else tired?)
I’ll give you another example. I wanted to write about being “enough”, but as it’s an important topic I had lots to say about it and couldn’t figure out how get it all down. I tried outlining it and found I could easily divide it into six different essays. Six! But instead of this exercise bringing me clarity and lots of material, I further complicated matters with new problems.
What do I say where? What point do I make when? What order should I publish these in? Or maybe it would be better to write all of them before I publish anything so I can figure out what goes where? AAARRRRGGGH!
More stuckness. Less joy. I write for the joy of it yet I habitually kill my joy by overthinking it.
Meanwhile noticing all the ways I’m chasing “better”
doesn’t make me feel better about myself.
Time to stop. Rant over. The problem is clear.
First, a dose of compassion because there is no need to beat myself up for any of this. Nothing wrong with wanting to do it right, I’ve just gotten confused about what that looks like and how to get there. Besides, noticing the problem is good, it allows me to do something about it.
Next, I need to shift perspective and make room for the solution. (as I wrote about here) Changing focus always helps so I started doing other things.
Then one day I’m looking at my bookcase when my eyes hit on “Bird by bird”, by Anne Lamotte. I love her. I say that because I love her quotes on Pinterest and read snippets online, but frankly I haven’t actually gotten into the book yet. Early chapters were about novel writing and I wanted to learn about blogging so I switched to another book as this was “not quite right”. Now it’s gathering dust.
There she is again:
Anyway, back to the book.
The title “Bird by Bird” is explained by a short story on the back cover:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Just like that I have the answer to my writing problem:
Start somewhere. Anywhere. Figure it out as I go.
Take it bird by bird.
It’s not the amount of stories I long to tell that weigh so heavy on me, it’s my insistence on figuring out the best way to tell them that drags me down. Come to think of it, I don’t even believe there is one way of doing it that is “just right”. Especially since I get to decide what that is.
“Right” is a decision
and can only be made by me.
Instead of reaching for the way to do it that is “just right”, I can “just” find a way to do it and call it alright. Call it all: right. By calling all options right, I take the pressure off and make room for joy to come back in.
And this doesn’t apply to just writing, the same idea applies to anything else.
So next time I notice I am overwhelmed by too many things and too many options and I’m trying to figure out: how do I do this thing? I’ll know the answer:
Bird by bird, sweetie.
Just take it bird by bird.