blog, productivity, self improvement

10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Yourself

recognise and remove internal and external roadblocks to success

selective focus photo of yellow sunflower
Photo by Zszen John on Pexels.com

You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.
Wayne Dyer

We all want to succeed. When success doesn’t come, we tell ourselves stories about why that might be.

  • I’m unlucky.
  • The timing isn’t right.
  • Other people have better connections.
  • People like me who are ______ just don’t win.
  • The market is overcrowded.

Most of these excuses are false. And you know it. Humans are really good at rationalising their failures and placing the blame elsewhere.

Be honest.

Whether you bottle it up or act it out, are you keeping yourself from the things you say you want?

Doubt Is The Only Certainty

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
Dale Carnegie

There’s something you want, but you doubt your ability to get it. Deep down, you don’t think you deserve it. Seeing someone else with what you want makes you envious, so you become hypercritical of yourself or that person, which both lead to bitterness and anger.

Criticism and envy are signposts to what you really want. Figure out precisely what that is, and you’re well on the way to getting it.

Success looks very different to each of us. If you envy the writer with a number one bestseller, what element of their success annoys you most? It could be critical acclaim, financial security, freedom to write all day rather than be employed, or even the fact that they look so damn happy in their photos. Why can’t you have that?

Use that feeling. You can have what they have if you master your self-doubt.

A certain amount of doubt is healthy but too much is paralysing. Start with your definition of success and make a plan to get there. Don’t let doubt stop you. It’s time to act.

Risky Business

He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.
Shannon L. Alder

Do you order the same food from the same restaurant every time?

Do you try that new restaurant you drove past yesterday, or do you only visit places that others have given at least a 4.8 review rating?

Risk aversion keeps you locked in place ruminating over all the ways things can go wrong if you change. You follow the herd, even if the herd isn’t going your way.

Moving towards your dreams always entails risk. It might be more difficult than you thought. You might not make it. It might not look as good from the inside.

But what’s the alternative?

The only way you’ll know where your limits are is to push yourself further. You can’t reach a new level without taking a chance that you might fail. Don’t discount the possibility that you might succeed.

Focus on the chance of success and accept that you’ll probably have to try more than once. Failing forward is tough, but taking each failure as a lesson helps you build the resilience and feedback you need.

As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Adjust your aim and keep swinging.

Stuck In A Rut

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

It’s often said that change is the only constant in life. We can only navigate a hugely complex world by filtering, simplifying and making mental models.Even though we’re hard-wired to prefer novelty, we also resist change because of the strain it puts on our mental bandwidth. Add to that fear of the unknown, and we retreat into the familiar safety of the comfort zone.

Resisting change eats away at you because repressing emotion consumes more energy than expressing it. Imagine you’re punching something. Now imagine you pull that punch at the last minute. You use energy for forward motion and more energy for an equal reverse motion. Not only that, but denying the punch leads to anger and resentment because you don’t get the release you need.

All that energy expended, yet you’re stuck in the same rut, settling for less. It’s exhausting.

You know you need a change when you’re bored repeating the same routine, when you’ve stopped learning, when there’s less and less reward in your activities.

You also know when a situation is bad for you and you need to change it or leave.

When you’ve poured a great deal of time and energy into a job or relationship, change can feel like a waste of your investment. This sunk cost fallacy stops you from cutting your losses and leads to inertia, staying with something that has no hope of improvement. What is right for one time and place may not be right forever.

Face that growing feeling of discontent head on. Use your journal to uncover its source or talk it out with someone. Identifying the source is the first step to deciding what changes you need to make, and they may not be as extensive as you fear.

Unresolved conflict between what you have and what you want often transforms into anger that is directed towards the self in anxiety and low mood, or outwards into hostility and envy.

Find the courage to confront the possibility of change so that you control the process.

Busy Doing Nothing

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
Jim Rohn

I expect you’re a busy person, like everyone these days. But are you doing the things that matter even if they’re difficult, or giving in to distraction?

If you find yourself down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos after looking up a simple fact online, you’re not alone. But the resulting guilt and shame can be enough to derail you from your actual work. Procrastination can wear many faces, including filling your time with “worthy” activities like reading or research or reorganising the kitchen cupboards.

It’s not enough to be busy. You need to be productive, not merely occupied. Getting clear on the day’s priorities is the first step, and an ordered schedule will help you achieve that. Each Sunday, spend thirty minutes with your planner and set aside time in the coming week for must-do and want-to-do tasks.

Knowing what to do and when gets around having fifty things you could be doing bouncing around your head, but being unable to pick one and therefore doing none of them.

Like eating your broccoli before dessert, must-do items come first. If you’re a rewards person, finish the task before you have your cookie, ten minutes of social media or whatever.

If you’re prone to distraction, minimise it. Use one of many stripped down desktop apps so you focus. Leave your phone in another room. Research has shown that even if it is silenced, your smartphone still pulls your attention.

Can’t bear to get started? Does the task feel overwhelming? Use the Pomodoro technique to break it into ten or fifteen-minute chunks. If a task fills you with dread, get it out of the way and eat the frog first. Everything else will be easier by comparison.

Get on task, stay on task, and accomplish more with your time.

The Truth Is Out There

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
Abraham Maslow

You probably know someone who likes to consider their options carefully. They gather information, take opinions, and always think twice. They feel safer when they have more evidence.

Then there are people who make choices based on their feelings about them, good or bad. Often they are highly intuitive. Journaling becomes a sacred rite as they dig deeper and deeper into emotions.

Too much analysis leads to paralysis. Too much thinking about feelings is another route to procrastination. Faced with an overload of emotion, you might manage it by repression, distraction, or numbing. In any case, you get nothing done.

Deep thinking is a good thing — as long as it leads to action. At some point, you have to declare the thinking phase complete, draw up a shortlist of options, and then choose one.

A list of pros and cons is the simplest tool, and the act of writing them down clarifies your thoughts.

A simple scoring system can help you prioritise different options. For example, when buying a house, I had a list of essentials like location, number of bedrooms, and living space. The second list was for desirables like south facing and size of the garden. By allocating one to three points for each essential and one point for each desirable, I was able to compare houses with different features more easily.

If a house missed any essentials it was out of the running, no matter how lovely. Scoring helps to take some of the emotion from the equation, especially for big decisions. Making your lists forces you to be more objective, but there’s nothing to stop you allocating your points in any way that feels right.

If you’re considering a major decision like a job change or relocation, try visualisation. Imagine yourself in a future where you’ve stayed unchanged and not followed through. Do you feel regret or disappointment? That’s a clue that this change could be right for you.

Of course, you can’t see the future, but you can use a combination of techniques to make the best decision you can. Emotion allied to objectivity gives you the best of both worlds.

Get Out Of Your Own Way

Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.
Alyce Cornyn-Selby

Your inner roadblocks are expressed in different behaviours.

  1. self-doubt — envy
  2. risk aversion — following the herd
  3. resisting change — settling for less
  4. lack of discipline — procrastination
  5. overthinking — distraction/numbing

You might recognise yourself in any or all of the scenarios above. We’re only human and none of us is perfect, but naming the obstacle is the first step to overcoming it. Outer behaviours always reflect inner thinking, so mastering your internal dialogue will improve your chances of success.

Make better decisions, accept the risk of failure and do it anyway, and follow through with action.


(first published by Publishous on 17.7.19)

Have a comment or suggestion? Drop it below.

blog, creativity, productivity, writing, writing process

Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection To Get More Done

because done is always better than perfect

green and black android smartphone on table near notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.
Margaret Atwood

Do you have a zombie work?

It’s the one piece you can’t get right, a short story or blog post or novel that haunts your hard drive.

You’re stuck because you can’t figure out the right style of the gowns in your Imperial court, or your research on spring weather patterns in Kansas has led down increasingly arcane corridors.

You’ll publish or submit, someday. But it’s not perfect yet, so the world never sees it.

What Are You Afraid Of?

We’re scared to death to try new things because we think we have to get it right the first time.
Joel Salatin

Perfectionists often procrastinate. You believe if a thing’s worth doing, it must be done properly and nothing less will do. So you either rework and edit endlessly, or you don’t even start because you can never get it absolutely right. And you can’t edit an empty page.

You conceal these feelings behind strong psychological defences and sublimate them into pointless activity. But research isn’t writing. At some level, you know that and you’re disappointed with yourself.

At the heart of perfectionism is fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of success, because then you have to do it again, leading back to fear of failure.

To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand your fear and master it. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action despite feeling fear. 

Courage is taking a deep breath and doing it anyway because your desire for something is greater than the fear of what might happen.

If you never challenge yourself to move past fear, you cannot improve or grow. In order to step out there and thrive, you’ll need to let some ideas go and embrace new thinking.

Start With The Bad Stuff

Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.
Salvador Dali

Fear is a basic emotion that we all understand. You fear humiliation and ridicule for getting something wrong. Perhaps you replay some old memory of being laughed at for a minor error, and that underlies your current avoidant behaviour.

There are two reasons why you should leave that in the past where it belongs.

  1. Everybody sucks at the beginning. Every author, actor, artist, or sports person you admire now was once terrible at their chosen discipline. They wrote awful prose, missed more shots than they scored, and forgot their lines on stage. But they carried on and used those early failures to improve over time. Nobody has a perfect score overall.
  2. People aren’t actually watching that closely. They are as consumed by their inner lives as you are by yours. Even if they look your way, they forget you the next moment as their own drama takes over. Though you might feel as though everyone is looking at you, they’re really not. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect. Knowing about the spotlight effect is liberating. It frees you to do whatever you need to do without the pressure of a supposed audience.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
 

Act Like A Baby

Babies are the world’s fastest learners. From zero, they learn to feed, walk, talk, and live in a social unit, all within two years. They achieve this not by being perfect, but the opposite. They stumble, fall, stand up again.

They babble nonsense and parrot speech without understanding at first. Eventually, they achieve a level of competence that allows them to run, jump, and sing a nursery rhyme.

They don’t beat themselves up because they can’t yet recite Shakespeare. They simply chatter and listen to adults when corrected. Each time they repeat, they’re closer to the goal of intelligible speech.

You learned to speak, walk, and countless other complex skills in the same way. If you had waited to speak until you were perfect, you wouldn’t have uttered a word for years.

Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Understand that supposed errors are signposts back to the right path, and you’re much less fearful of your results. Judge not against some unattainable level of perfection, but against where you were last time you tried.

You already know how to learn and improve. Adjust your aim, and try again.

Less Isn’t More

That which we persist in doing becomes easier — not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, you say, but you prefer quality over quantity. People repeat this justification for low output as if it were gospel truth. It’s completely wrong.

In an experiment, students in a ceramics class were split into two groups. One group was told that they could get an A by turning in one perfect piece. The other group was told that they would be graded solely on the total weight of pieces produced, of any quality.

The results were surprising.

The second group produced a large number of extremely good pieces. They were liberated from the pursuit of perfection and given free rein to experiment without being penalised. I’d bet money they were happier with their work too.

Repeated practice increased their skills and confidence. They weren’t paralysed by over-analysis or worried about criticism. They did not fear the impossibility of lightning striking twice, because they knew how to create a storm. They were able to replicate good work because they understood what went into making it.

The more you make, the better you get. Quantity leads to quality.

paclomartinezclavel via pixabay

Let It Go

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
Leonardo da Vinci

How much poorer we would be if Dali had refused to let anyone see his paintings, or if Michelangelo had obsessively chipped away at and repolished his David. Remember also that an artist’s most famous works comprise only a fraction of their total output.

Writers learn more from finishing one story than from starting and abandoning ten. You’ll learn where you wrote yourself into a corner, and how to figure your way out. You’ll learn how many plots you can juggle. You’ll learn what makes a good ending. And eventually, you’ll join up all those skills and move from conscious competence to unconscious competence.

In other words, you will master your craft and spend more effort on deciding where to put the ball than how to kick it.

At some point, you have to declare a thing finished and stop editing. The more refined your skill, the harder it is. You always feel there is just one more thing you could improve.

Let it go. Ship it. Publish, submit, and move on to the next thing.

That’s the secret; always have a next thing. Each piece becomes a little less precious when it forms a smaller part of your portfolio. You may still have your favourites and the ones you shrug over, but the whole collection is what matters.

Confidence comes from improvement. You know you can make another piece, and it might be even better than the last. And if it’s not, that’s okay too.

That is true creative freedom.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Garden Party

cake-tea_Skitterphoto
Skitterphoto via pixabay.com

listen to this poem here:

There is a place where the sky is
amazingly, truly blue
always perfect summer
floral silk flutters in a warm breeze.
Tea and cake on elegant lawns. We watch
the world go by.
And in this place
the string quartet plays on
all worries fade to leave us
contented, soft.
We float on half-heard conversations
skirt around the deep
drown in the shallows while our hearts
barely beat.
More cake? Yes please
this sponge is rather good.
And no amount of genteel words can fill
the gaps and missing parts
but yes, a fine day, a fine day indeed, yes
I heard, it’s such wonderful news.

Lips moving, tasting, swallowing
a full portion
of nothing at all.

blog, creativity, productivity, self improvement

How To Persevere When You Feel Like You’re Failing Creatively

Simple tips for maximising success as a creative

astronomy dark dawn dusk
Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

I want to be a cat in my next life. Cats are great role models. A well-loved pet would be ideal, but since I’m a cat that’s not essential.

I can rely on sharp claws and keen senses to feed and defend myself. I carry myself with supple grace, accept affection on my own terms, and find the warmest spot in the house to sleep. Sounds pretty good.

But in this life I set goals and strive to exceed them. Sometimes that works. Today I’m tired and a little disheartened, because the reward for my efforts is unpredictable and I can’t figure out what’s worth repeating.

You’ve probably had days like that too. Days when endless hustle and failing forward feel like hitting your head against a brick wall, over and over. Days when it’s hard to believe in yourself and stay motivated.

Can you rediscover your appetite for the hunt? Can you be more like a cat?

A Numbers Game

Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts. — William Bruce Cameron

Comparison might be the thief of joy, but we still have to track our stats. How else will we know where we stand?

Looking at numbers drives you to a kind of madness. Whether you count views, followers, pounds lost or lifted, or revenue, numbers draw you in. The world shrinks to a set of digits that you then equate to your own value.

If they’re going the wrong way, heaven help you and the people around you.

Peak madness is achieved by then comparing those numbers to other people’s numbers. You inevitably come up short because you only look at the most successful — those who you hope to emulate someday.

But you want someday to be today. You want the bragging rights, the book deal, and the interview on a popular TV show — now. Hasn’t it been long enough? Probably not. It takes much longer than you think or want to build success.

Remember when you longed for just one fan or even ten reads? Other writers are still there, hardly out of the starting gate. You’ve moved past that, and as long as you keep creating you’ll move past your next milestone too. Perhaps there are other measures of your impact.

Views and reads matter to writers, but they don’t map exactly to engagement. Look at comments, however brief. Out of your whole audience, those who comment are the most engaged fans. They take time to read, vote, and then reach out to you.

Treasure your commenters. Reply and thank them for their time and interest. Make a connection. I won’t pretend claps don’t matter, especially if money is involved. But when you’re still some way from your next milestone, the smallest dopamine hit of approval is welcome.

Like No-one Is Watching

A flower blossoms for its own joy. — Oscar Wilde

There’s deep satisfaction in doing something well. Craftsmen of old spent time making sure the back of an object, though not usually seen, was still beautiful. You can turn a finely tailored jacket inside out and find no loose stitches or raw seams. Every part of a created object reflects the skill and attention of its creator.

Writing can be art, but it must always be craft. Your writing should be the best you can produce. Live by the Beyoncé principle: over-promise, over-deliver, and keep on growing. Standards vary from day to day, but should never be less than good. Make it good, then make it better.

How do you know it’s better? On your down days, take your latest finished piece and compare it to your work of six or twelve months ago. Look at those older pieces and see how they could be tightened and polished further.

The same applies to losing weight, getting fitter, or learning a skill. Look back at where you started, review your SMART goals, and progress becomes clearer.

There’s a long way to go yet, but you’re on your way so give yourself credit for the journey so far. Take a reward for effort, and keep going.

You want to be known for consistent high quality. Henry Ford said quality means doing it right when no-one is watching. One day, those eyes will be turned on you. Be ready.

No Shortcut to Greatness

A few years ago I bought a car from a doctor at the start of his career. He was selling the car to help fund his planned attempt on Everest.

Wait a minute. Mount Everest? He wanted to be an Army surgeon. He also wanted to climb Everest before he was thirty. Both goals required a ton of hard work, so he made a plan that matched his impressive ambitions.

Now imagine someone builds an elevator that goes to Everest’s peak. Almost anyone can book a ride and stand at the top. How impressive is that? Not very.

The fact is, we value what we pay for. And the reverse is also true; we don’t value what we get for free.

How does that connect with writing or whatever business you’re in? It means the hard work you do is integral to the payoff you get. The harder you work, the sweeter the reward.

Now you can reframe the work as building a bigger payoff. Giving your work both intrinsic and future worth carries you through the inevitable gloomy days when the wind dies in your sails.

Don’t drift in the doldrums when that happens. What you do when you’re losing is the measure of your character. Get out the oars and start rowing.

Riding Out The Storm

But this time you can’t row. You’re caught in a perfect storm; work, health, relationship or financial issues make it impossible to do more. You’re barely surviving as it is. What to do now?

Maybe you can’t lean in, but you can limit backsliding. Three things will help you.

  1. Harness the power of a tiny goal. Write for five minutes, exercise for ten minutes, meditate for three minutes every day. Set the bar so low you’re bound to win. The little wins accumulate to stop your sense of mastery from fading completely. Choose your goal. Mark a cross on your calendar each day you achieve it. Winning streaks have power.
  2. Work on strategic aims. Get into the not urgent but important box of tasks you mean to do sometime but haven’t yet. Watch a tutorial on that software you bought but can’t use. Do some digital admin; clear out old files that clutter your desktop, file your receipts, check your antivirus is up to date. Use the Pomodoro technique and work in fifteen-minute bursts. Finish one job before starting another.
  3. Focus on the goal. Picture yourself at the finish line. What will you need to get there? Do you need extra training or equipment? A goal is a dream with a deadline, so don’t spend too much time thinking. Planning is a prelude to action and not a substitute for it.

Dreaming With Eyes Open

Sometimes you can fake it till you make it; other times you can’t. When the fears of not good enough and you’re going to fail take hold, you’ll struggle. Struggle is an inescapable part of life, of daring to hope for better. Hold fast to dreams, but know that they aren’t enough to get you where you want to be.

‘The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.’ — Robert Downey Jr

A cat doesn’t make a jump by staring at its feet all day. It focuses on the landing. If it falls short, it digs in its claws and scrambles up. Then it sits and licks a paw as if it exerted no effort at all to reach the target.

Keep moving, whatever you have to do, however tiny the progress. Look back only to remind yourself how far you’ve come already, then turn your eyes forward to the peak. It’s always uphill to the top.


(first published 30.7.19 in Mind Café on Medium )

Have a comment? Drop it below.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry, relationships

Retrograde

stars man torch_martin-sattler
Photo by Martin Sattler on Unsplash

listen to this poem here:

This place I’ve been before
almost home
a shoe that didn’t quite fit
I’m sliding in anyway

(close my eyes)

can almost see the way we were
hear your laughter unravelled in time
distance draws the bitter barbs
leaving only the ghost of sweetness

(let’s pretend)

feast on crumbs of forgotten memories
rake it over, find one last spark
call it enough
better than nothing at least

(a once-familiar kiss)

it only looks like backward motion
from where I’m standing
so stay with me awhile
and I promise not to cry

(we already know how this ends)

listen to this poem narrated in reverse here:


(with thanks to Wil Roach – first published in PS I love you on Medium 28 July 2019)

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, productivity, writing, writing process

It’s Time To Call Yourself a Writer – And Mean It

Own your title and stand tall.

woman holding a pile of book in front of red letters spelling the word LOVE
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.
Junot Diaz

I know your secret.

You want to share your secret — but also you’ll never tell, because then the truth would be known and you’re not ready for that.

It’s time to reveal yourself.

You’re a writer. There, I said it.

Are you already blushing and stuttering, denying what you know is true? Maybe feeling a bit angry at being exposed? Then read on, because you need to fix this immediately.

But Are You Though?

If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.
Michael Jordan

Most writers realise their calling when still young, though some come to it later. Hobbies and interests come and go but those of childhood have a tendency to remain, even if they’re driven underground by adult responsibilities.

Some avid readers remain just that, while others start making up their own stories. You might not have written a word for years, yet the idea nags at you. You keep a journal or scribble bits of poetry when you feel sad. You read novels and think you could do as well — if not better.

These moments can be the beginning of a writing career if you go from thought to action. Dreaming gets you nowhere, you must act. Talking about it, thinking about it, or planning it isn’t enough.

To be a writer, you must write. And you must finish your stuff.

A chef doesn’t serve a raw pie. A surgeon doesn’t down tools halfway through closing a wound. And a writer finishes what she starts, no matter how hard it is.

Stephen King said that if you’ve paid a bill with money earned from writing, then you can call yourself a writer. That’s true for a professional, but we all have different goals and money is only one.

A writer has an itch, a compulsion, a need to express themselves in words.That’s you, and you want to know how to own it.

Not In Public

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
Robert Heinlein

So you want to call yourself a writer, but something is holding you back. Perhaps you remember being dismissed or ridiculed by someone whose opinion mattered — a parent, teacher or friend. They told you writing poetry was banal and writing romance was pathetic wish-fulfilment.

They told you your words were no good, and by extension, you were no good.The resulting shame caused you to bury writing where nobody could find it and use it against you.

Things are different now. You’re grown, and nobody can tell you what to do. These wounds run deep but you can heal them without therapy.

  1. Recall what was said and who said it
  2. Write it down
  3. Write a letter to that person telling them they were wrong
  4. Burn or tear up the letter

Anyone can write, just as anyone can cook. But not everyone can do it well. Maybe you think you’re not good enough because you’re not Neil Gaiman or Stephen Covey yet.

You must practise. Write a thousand words, then ten thousand more. Make writing a central part of your life so that it becomes familiar. Lose your fear of the thing you love and get good.

No Words To Say

Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
Neil Gaiman

Imagine this scene. You’re at a social gathering and someone you know asks, “So I hear that you write, what are you working on?” They smile encouragingly. What do you do?

  • Flight — you get away as soon as possible without answering
  • Fight — you deny it or make some self-deprecating remark
  • Freeze — you’re terrified and unable to speak

You’re a writer and words are your tools. It’s time to use them.

You need two stories; one for you and one for your work.

a woman wearing face paint in the shape of an eye mask
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

What Would Super Me Do?

Beginning. Middle. End. Facts. Details. Condense. Plot. Tell it.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Picture yourself as a confident writer. If that’s too difficult, create an alter ego (why do you think authors use pen names? Just for anonymity?) A superhero writer who looks like you but acts like she was born to do this.

Now ask yourself WWSMD? What would Super Me do?

She’d face her questioner and smile. Then she’d say something like, “That’s so kind of you to ask. I’m working on some short stories/ editing my novel/ posting on my blog.”

When the follow-up questions come, she’s ready with the address of her blog and an elevator pitch for her book. She isn’t ashamed of who she is. But she isn’t her work either; it’s part of her life, not her whole being.

So use your skills and write those stories. Write the description of you as you are now, making the best of your position. A single sentence should do. Make it active and avoid using the word ‘try’.
“I’m writing a YA novel in my spare time.”
“I’m blogging about gardening.”

Then write the next part, where you anticipate the follow-up questions. Be vague; say it’s at an early stage, or in editing, or that you plan to find an agent in the future.

If someone is asking personal questions like how much money you’ve made, don’t get angry or embarrassed. Find words that you can say with a smile, then change the subject.

“When I make my first million, I’ll let you know!”

Writing an elevator pitch is a great exercise for any novelist and forces you to condense your story into its essentials. Try it, and you’ll find it easier to write queries, blurbs, and synopses.

Do not put yourself down by saying that your writing isn’t serious, or that you’re no good. Nobody wants to hear that. Don’t apologise. Avoid any opinion, just stick to the objective facts.

No Fear

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
Rosa Parks

Fear is at the heart of our troubles.

We don’t tell the truth about our work and ourselves because we fear an imaginary outcome. As writers, we’re blessed and cursed with well-developed imaginations, full of monsters and disaster.

It’s never as bad as you think it will be.

Practise in low-risk settings first. Try out your routine on a trusted friend, in the same way Chris Rock tests his routine in small clubs before going on tour. Tweak and adjust until you feel happy with it.

As you get more confident, expand your arena. Last year my online writing group produced an anthology of short stories. Each writer was tasked with getting people to be part of the street team who would be early reviewers. Did I want to approach people and ask for something? Hell no.

After I calmed down, I wrote a short Facebook post that started with, “As some of you may know, I am a writer.” Writing it down was less scary than speaking it out loud. Two surprising things happened.

First, lots of people agreed to be part of the launch — not always the ones I expected.

And second, I introduced myself to my social network as a writer, and the sky did not fall. In fact, it became much easier to say it in person.

Claim Your Title

Claiming your title as a writer is simple.

  1. Write stuff — and finish it.
  2. Release old programming that doesn’t work for you anymore.
  3. Write your story of the new you.
  4. Practice makes perfect.

Soon you won’t need an alter ego because you will become Super Me, proud writer and not afraid to say it.

Go on, you can do it. Start today.


(first published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium 21 July 2019)

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blog, creativity, productivity

6 Signs Your Creative Project Is On Track – Even Though You Doubt Yourself

You’re doing better than you think

Graffiti of "trust your struggle" in green paint on grey brick
Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

How are your creative projects going right now?

When you start your book or your business, it’s both scary and exciting. Your motivation is high and you can see your progress.

Then you hit a wall, where you discover how hard it’s really going to be. But you pushed on, and now you’re in the middle somewhere. Maybe you’re questioning yourself, or maybe other people are feeding your uncertainty by pointing out problems or deficiencies – or by getting much better results than yours.

Whether it’s a day job or your side hustle, you’re working and planning and getting stuff done. But are you doing enough, are you seeing results, are you getting there – in short, are you winning? 

More to the point, do you feel like you’re winning?

It can be difficult to know where you are when there are no maps and few signposts along the way. Some behaviours are markers of future success, as long as you keep going. You can use them to gauge your progress.

You look forward to doing your work

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Aristotle

As a newly qualified doctor, I regularly worked 70-100 hours a week, with very little sleep when on-call. The long hours were difficult at times, but I loved my work. Learning new skills and doing something I believed in outweighed the fatigue – at least in the early years.

When you love what you do and can’t imagine not doing it, you know you’re on the right track. Stress and resentment come from slogging away at something you hate. 

When the game’s worth it, you’ll put in whatever it takes.

You do the grunt work without complaint

Perhaps this is how you know you’re doing the thing you’re intended to: No matter how slow or how slight your progress, you never feel that it’s a waste of time.
Curtis Sittenfeld, The Man of My Dreams

Every job and activity has boring grunt work. Singers practise scales, gardeners pull weeds, artists clean brushes, and everyone does paperwork. Grunt work is repetitive and unglamorous. It also makes better skills and tools so that you can get on with the beautiful act of creation.

When you perform the menial tasks of your work mindfully, you elevate them. You see that there is really no difference between pouring concrete in a foundation that’s never visible, and carving a fine oak fireplace that will be admired. Both are integral to the finished house. Both deserve your care and attention.

How you do the small things is how you do the big things.

You’re focused on process rather than results

If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.
Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Making stuff happen is hard work. You’re on the right track when you focus on what is within your control. You can produce, but you can’t directly influence how your product is received or how well it performs. 

Steve Jobs said that real artists ship; and he implied that they make another and continue to ship. Nobody remembers Apple’s Newton PDA now. It failed, but looking back we see it clearly as the ancestor of tablets, touch screens, and more. Jobs stayed focused on realising ideas that were ahead of their time; eventually, the world caught up.

You have one job – execute your ideas using functional processes. Pay attention to your results and use them to guide the next iteration, but don’t get hung up on apparent failure. You might simply need to refine, repackage, and repeat – until you create an iPad.

Your win is out there.

person holding red strawberry
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

You grow your skills

Anything is better than stagnation.
Arthur Conan Doyle

You know that experience isn’t measured in years but in growth. It’s not enough to write a thousand words every day. Those words must be better and more effective over time. To do that, you seek out feedback and opportunities to learn. 

Successful people are not threatened by the skill of others, they’re inspired by it. You’re humble enough to realise that mastery is always out of reach, but striving for it gives your creative life meaning. And since teaching something is the proof of learning, you’re comfortable sharing your knowledge with others. 

You are only in competition with yourself.

You reach flow states often

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
Mary Oliver

Remember the last time you got so caught up in your stuff that suddenly it was dark outside, you’d missed dinner and three hours had vanished? That magical state of flow happens when you’re fully absorbed in something that is challenging and enjoyable.

While it can be hard to summon a flow state at will, take notice of how you get there. Then aim to replicate it as often as you can because 

Flow proves you’re definitely doing the thing you were made for.

You own your identity

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.
Seth Godin

Yes, impostor syndrome is real and you’re as prone to it as anyone. But at some point on your journey, you’ve become comfortable with your title and status.  

You stop qualifying it or hiding behind your day job, and one day you describe yourself as a writer, or entrepreneur, or artist first and wage slave second. Or if your paid job is your passion, you express that without shame.

Feeling secure in your own skin is a sure sign that you’re further on in your growth than you think. Don’t allow others to project their own fear of failure onto you. 

It’s not arrogant or boastful to own and celebrate your successes, large or small. 

On Your Way

Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.
Leonardo da Vinci

Six behaviours show that you’re doing the right thing in the right way.

  • You look forward to your work
  • You do the grunt work without complaint
  • You focus on process, not results
  • You grow your skills
  • You reach flow state often
  • You own your identity

Success is never guaranteed; all you can do is shift the odds in your favour. Fortunately, that is within your power.

When you find the right path, keep going.

blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, productivity

The World’s On Fire And The Sky Is Falling – Create Anyway

colourful photo of graffiti artist by Maxime Bhm via Unsplash
graffiti artist using spray paints by Maxime Bhm via Unsplash

In a time of destruction, create something.
Maxine Hong Kingston

The world is on f*cking fire — Bill Nye said it so it must be true.

When your house is on fire you grab your prized possessions and run. But when the world is on fire, there’s nowhere to run. Faced with the constant stream of bad news, you could be forgiven for simply giving up.

What’s the point of your life’s mission when everything’s going to hell? Your tiny contribution can’t hold back an endless ocean of misery.

It’s so hard to keep going when you’re not succeeding like you hoped, so you might as well binge on ice cream or gin or Netflix.

What’s the point of creating?

A Day In A Life

We’re given only a limited time to make a life. Life has the meaning you give it, no more or less. Meaning comes from finding and using them to do your thing despite all the negativity.

There’s someone out there who needs your thing, right now. That could be entertainment, the tools to do a job, or a map to navigate heartbreak. They see themselves in your thing and it gives them hope.

I once wrote a scene in which two gay men argued about being their authentic selves. A woman sent me a long comment saying she wept, thinking back to the compromises she made in earlier life. She felt it was her story, and for a moment she was less alone.

Emotional connection transcends time, gender, or place. Without connection and authentic feeling we wither and die. That might sound a bit dramatic when you look at a blog post or poem you just wrote, but you can’t know the state of the person who receives your message.

Who knows what your creation could achieve?

The Small Stuff Is The Big Stuff

Think back to a time when you read something that spoke to you. There was probably nothing Pulitzer-worthy about the content in itself. Yet on that day and for you particularly, those words sparked a feeling or a memory. You felt as though someone reached into your chest and peeled away the layers protecting a soft spot.

You felt seen and heard.

Those words were written for you, even though the writer didn’t know that. Like a singer who shatters a glass with a high note, words resonate with a frequency that the heart answers.

Now consider all the myriad ways we struggle each day. We carry our pain and that of others. We try to live a good life. We try to be happy. But often we fail. That’s when we need help.

Create something that can help, even if you don’t see how. Offer perspective, advice, or encouragement. Share your tools, your story and your gifts.

Remind people that there’s always beauty and hope to be found, even if you have to dig through dirt to find it. Remind people that the sun is hidden behind dark clouds, not gone completely.

Once you put your creation out there it no longer belongs to you. It’s a child of your imagination, and it will make its own way in the world. Your job is to make it strong, and let it go.

Lives can be saved and hearts repaired by the smallest of acts. You might never know who you reach, but they’re waiting right now. Defy the darkness.

Go create.

(first published 26 June 2019 by Publishous on Medium)


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