So many people describe themselves as ‘self made’. It’s an outlandish concept. We all emerge from someone. We all have childhoods and environments that affect us and we all exist within various networks, physical and emotional. I’m certain we can make huge changes in our lives. We can re-invent ourselves, change our values and goals, and become the writers and people we want to be. But the idea that we don’t need others along the path is both arrogant and delusional.
No-one is self-made, but we can all make changes with the right support and this can come in many forms:
- Making your environment support you
- Having implementation intentions
- Shifting to transformational relationships
- Being accountable
- Making your moments matter
- Working with a mentor
Make your environment support you
If you want to write and don’t have a space to do it, you are much more likely to give up. Last year my writing only seemed to happen if I was away from home. As soon as I was back work took over, often seven days a week. The desk in the office was for work from home, so writing there invariably drifted into working instead. The desk in the bedroom was a time and space-share so felt awkward.
So in the New Year I bought a desk and set up a spare bedroom as a writing room. I’ve written at least 50 blog posts since then, edited the second novel in a trilogy I’m working on, written a complete draft of the third novel in the trilogy and completed a short book on writing process.
Your environment is either supporting you or tripping you up. If your pantry is full of unhealthy foods, they are harder to avoid. If you don’t own a yoga mat and have a space to put one down and a regular time to exercise, how is it going to happen? The same holds true for writing — your need a place for it to happen that is calm and away from distractions.
Develop implementation intentions
An implementation is a strategy that short circuits procrastination without relying on constant willpower. They make a decision for us ahead of time so that it becomes habitual and intrinsic.
If the alarm goes off then I will get up
If I walk into the kitchen to cook dinner then I will first pour a glass of water
If it’s 7 a.m. (or whatever time works for you) I will write for an hour.
These simple ‘if…then’ strategies make it more likely we will keep promises to ourselves and others. As Timothy Pychyl says:
…an implementation intention may well be the thing that gets you to exercise in the evening even though you usually feel much too tired to begin.
For writers, and for any creative endeavours, having implementation intentions that fuel a regular, unassailable writing practice makes all the difference.
Shift to transformational relationships
Supportive relationships are those that give more than the sum of the parts to those involved. So many relationships are transactional — one person gives, the other takes or I give X in return for Y. We need transactional relationships to get through the day-to-day, but these relationships are pragmatic. They are often short-term — a contract of some kind — and they are often reactive, based on expectations of a certain type of exchange and value.
Transformational relationships, on the other hand, rest on shared philosophy and values. They are more likely to be long-term and to meet deeper aims and intrinsic needs. They are proactive rather than reactive and based on collaboration rather than self-interest.
As Benjamin Hardy says:
…transformational relationships are about giving the most you possibly can in attempts of helping others. They’re about advancing other people’s goals in a synergistic and win-win way — because clearly, you could do far more together than alone
Transformational relationships thrive when we see other people as subjects, not objects. They require trust, generosity, creativity and love. They change not only those involved but the world around.
Transformational relationships aren’t paid for or earned, which is exactly why they have so much power to make us grow. As writers, the more we develop as human beings, the deeper our writing will take us. The less we objectify people, the more alive and engaging our writing will become.
Who do you share your writing quests with in a way that keeps you on track?
You might find accountability kicks in if you apply for a grant — having a funding body that you have made a commitment to in terms of how you will use a precious and generally competitive resource can be a great incentive.
For others, belonging to a writing group or having another trusted writer to share goals and milestones with can keep the work going.
Or it might be a family member or partner (though sometimes they are understandably reluctant to be the person making you keep your promises.)
And, not as a replacement for being accountable to others, but every bit as vital: be accountable to yourself. It’s important to keep your promises to yourself — if you don’t trust yourself then your self-esteem will evaporate. So learn to say no to the non-essentials and the distractions and the things that waste your time. It’s precious.
Make your moments matter
Play and creativity are often linked. Writing about The Role of Play in Development, Lev Vygotsky noted in the 1970s that
In play the child is always behaving beyond his [or her] age … in play [s/]he is a head above himself [herself].
And, as Marina Benjamin points out in ‘Unlocking the Creative Mind’ in NewPhilosopher, May 2018, this is similar to Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, (a series of lectures which he died before completing) in which he lists the literary values that keep creativity alive as
- Lightness — which counters ‘the weight, the inertia… of the world’
- Quickness — a vivacity of energy that ‘gives you an idea of the infinite’, the way in which you control time within your writing.
- Exactitude — a way of getting ideas from chaos; of achieving clarity and precision.
- Visibility — seeing the imagination as a place for the potential and hypothetical; paying attention to the world and to what is in the writer’s head, especially when these things might be otherwise marginalised.
- Multiplicity — because writing represents the multiple ways in which everything connects it should be ‘overambitious’; it should aim high, collide ideas, push at their boundaries.
- Consistency — sadly Calvino died before this lecture, but we can surmise that a regular writing practice may have been part of it.
When you approach your writing in the spirit of play, you allow your unconscious to take you sideways, to take you deeply into flow. You forget yourself and the writing happens.
Find a mentor
Mentoring works well when it not only gives support, but is collaborative and transformational. In this case, the mentor is likely to gain as much as the ‘student’ and both experience change and growth.
Good mentoring is not solely or primarily about content but about what students take into their writing lives. It should enable those mentored not only to write well, but to think for themselves as writers.
Students should emerge from the process thinking of writing as their way of life and taking delight in the process. They should be able not only to talk confidently about their writing, but about themselves as writers, and feel that writing informs who they are. A good mentor should want her students to dig ever deeper into themselves and their environments, always pushing their own boundaries.
Chip and Dan Heath define mentoring as a process of setting high standards and adding assurance through direction and support in order to lead to enhanced self-insight.
Mentoring can be a major investment of your time and resources, but this adds to the sense of how seriously you are taking yourself as a writer. Investing in yourself is a huge incentive to grow as a writer. It signals to the world and to yourself that you have made the commitment; that you are a writer.
Becoming a Different Story with journalling…
This autumn I’ll be launching a journalling course for becoming a different story — working on creativity and the writing life. If you’d like details sign up to my email list or email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll send you my 9-chapter eBook on writing and the writing life. Or just feel free to continue the conversation here on Medium.