Many people I know tend to express some aspect of their lives as being OVERWHELMED, and that they wrestle with ANXIETY on a daily basis. In developing your craft as a writer, in publishing a body of work over time, in connecting with your audience in meaningful ways: how do you create greater capacity for these things to happen?
How can you create more expressions of accomplishment (“I am working on my fourth novel!”) than you provide excuses for procrastination (“Oh, I haven’t written for weeks, the kids started soccer.”)
Creating capacities is an obsession of mine: how to develop skills, processes, and strategies that address the overwhelm and anxiety that spreads through our lives like a virus. Capacities can have exponential potential: they can be honed (as a craft); can be reused again and again in different ways as your writing career grows and evolves.
This is a mindset I default to when considering authors: you are not just publishing a book, not just creating a product and putting it into the marketplace; you are developing capacities as a creative professional. Because for many authors I know, the book is one of many that is inside them.
Creating Habits That Build Capacity
I am writing my first book. After years of planning, outlining, and failing to do so, I am now just doing it (hat tip to Nike.) I have been working with a friend who is a book coach to help frame what it is about, and then she had me start writing it.
Then something unexpected happened, something she didn’t ask for: I started writing 1,000+ words a day for the past 20 days. When I sent her the last batch of pages, she responded with this:
“87 pages???? Do you SEE that? 87 pages?? Weren’t you the guy struggling to write a 3-page article about 3 months ago?? I’m sort of baffled by what’s happened — and awestruck and thrilled for you!! But I also sort of don’t get it. This never happens….”
My friend is book coach Jennie Nash, who was recently featured in a Writer Unboxed interview here, and who has published seven books of her own, plus working with goo-gobs authors. So that feedback from her, admittedly, feels good.
“Honestly, I don’t see it – the 87 pages. I see 1,000 words every morning. The habit has made it easy to see this – work through it – and move on. I just wrote my 1,100 words for the morning, which I needed to get through before I could read and respond to email. That is all I see. ”
And I wrote 1,000 words towards the book before I was allowed to work on this very blog post.
If you would have asked me a couple of months ago about writing a book, I would have told you that there is no room in my life to write a book. It’s not even about time, it’s about creative energy, which all goes into working with writers and developing these blog posts, and other material. Realistically: there is no room to write a book.
Yet… there clearly is room for 1,000 words per day.
What is astounding to me is that after just a couple weeks, I already I feel that I have created a CAPACITY to write. No, the writing isn’t amazing. No, this book may not do well. But… I have already proven I can sustain 1,000 words per day; that I can partner with a book coach; that I can learn how to write better by creating a process of writing, editing, and publishing.
Through this, I now know I have the CAPACITY to write book after book. And that – the body of work will matter more than an individual book. And yes, hopefully one of them will do okay! :)
What capacity is providing to me is knowing that I will be a BETTER writer in 3 years than I am today. And that I will be even BETTER than that in 6 years.
The Second Act is More Magical to Me Than the First
As I get older, I am finding myself more drawn to stories of the second act in someone’s life. How a person creates something incredible in mid-life, or later in life, after they have already been defined by other roles: in their family, in their personal life, in their career.
This is the reason I tend to obsess over Steve Jobs, a man who achieved so much when he was very young, but dramatically more in the years just before his death. Or Frank Lloyd Wright who, after an incredible body of work, created iconic masterpieces at an age where most would consider retirement. He was 67 years old when he began work on Fallingwater. The same age as when he began working on the Johnson Wax building. In popular culture, by this age, he had fallen out of fashion. These buildings proved them wrong.
Wright was 76 when he was first contacted about designing the Guggenheim museum in New York. My dad is 75 years old. I love the idea his best work is still ahead of him. (no pressure, dad.)
Youth is fine and all, but it’s bizarre how much it has taken over our culture. I much prefer the discussion of “the second act.” Of recognizing and encouraging the wisdom that accompanies experience, and that age is something to be celebrated, not covered up.
I wrote a post last week about a writer I know who passed away with work left undone. I received an overwhelming response from this, and some expressed a sense of sadness that his work was cut short. What I try to remember is this: Look at HOW MUCH he was trying to accomplish when most people retire and “wind down” their body of work. He was creating new capacities, pushing himself to new places, accomplishing milestones that many only consider when they are 40 years younger than he was.
I love that.
Creating capacity in your life as a creative professional is a topic I have been exploring for awhile:
- Finding Maximum Capacity
- Writers, Readers, and Expanding Our Capacity to Create
- Preparing for Success (and finding more time to write)
Clearly, for writers, the capacity that matters more than all others is the craft of writing: to communicate your vision in an elegant and effective manner. This is why I get less involved in all the politics of publishing that seems to be a distraction. And it’s why I obsess over how one’s work connects with readers, and has a true effect on their lives.
How are you creating new capacities in your life?