Warning: naughty language ahead.
Coffee shops blaring reggae music.
Coworking spaces where everyone wants to talk to you. Airplane seats with prying-eye passengers. Oh, the woes of not-so-starving writers who drink single-origin espresso.
But, for as well as it seems we treat ourselves—yoga breaks, tea breaks, two-hour lunch breaks (I learned recently that “break” meant that you were technically supposed to be doing work before and after. Mind, blown)—we can be pretty shitty to ourselves when it comes to commitments, resentment and real honesty. As solopreneurs or freelancers or whatever we want to call ourselves, we sometimes treat ourselves with way less regard than we’d ever let a partner.
It’s time we stop being our own worst-nightmare boyfriend. Here’s how to recognize and conquer those tendencies, and also be the travel-friendly, modern entrepreneur you want to be—you know, one who actually gets work done.
And not only work, but a writer’s work—a craft that requires dropping into a soft, still space inside of ourselves from which to pull gems or ashes or weeds, depending on the day, even when someone is yelling, “Almond-milk cappuccino on the bar!”
1) Associate a particular aroma with writing. Make it sacred.
Pick a natural scent or scent combination (incense, essential oils, herbs) that makes you feel calm, centered and ready to dive in. When you’re home or in a private space, light it up, put it on and keep it going the entire time you’re writing.
Then when you’re out somewhere in the world trying to head back into your writer space, whip the scent out of your bag (even if you can’t light up the incense or you aren’t going to douse yourself in rose geranium), close your eyes and breathe it in.
Start writing with the tendrils of it wafting from your nostrils and you’ll be in.
2) Make practical decisions that make it easier (not harder) to do your work.
Oops. Did you not bring your charger because it was too heavy/bulky? Did you “forget” your mouse, even though you hate editing without it? Are you going to a particular coffee shop to “work,” even though you know that everyone and their mother and their trainer and their energy healer is there?
Why are you doing this? It’s a set up. Realize it’s a set up. You’re ensuring that you make it nearly impossible for yourself to work. When you know you’re prone to being in a weak state (me, all day, every day), don’t do this to yourself. Be kind to yourself; bring the freaking charger.
3) Notice the ways your mental resistance comes up—there’s probably a pattern.
In addition to being in the form of an ill-advised decision, resistance can also come up as a mental construct. Here is how I write and how my resistance comes up:
I start with an anecdote about something, an observation (you’re staring at a girl’s bright, shiny red shoes while your lover is telling you why he needs to remain long-distance, and she’s tap, tap, tapping them on the ground) or whatever bulbous thing I happen to be thinking. My process is to see where it leads.
When I can capture my feeling in words so that the two harmonize, sometimes that thing happens, the same thing that happens to the girl with ASMR on This American Life (a tingly sensation, a “head orgasm.”)
Mine is more a happy disappearing, an enveloping into a vast, safe room inside myself, where I can dance around in shiny red shoes and run as far away as I want in them.
I do this for a while, exploring the territory and then it happens. I stop writing, maybe to sip my coffee, look around, overhear a barista say a phrase (“you might not have noticed, but the first thing I do is rinse out the filter”) and I’m out, just enough, so that subtle-tornado feeling rises inside of me that says:
Just stop, Amy. It’s easy. You don’t have to write this. It won’t matter anyway. Just drink your coffee, then let’s go on a yoga break.
Or, its kinder version:
You can finish this later. You’ve already started, so it’ll be easy to tie this up. Go ahead, indulge in that conversation about chemicals and formaldehyde in bleached coffee filters. You know you want to. And hey, maybe it’ll even be fodder for your writing…
Lies. All lies. Well, maybe not the fodder part… but I’m not strong enough most of the time to really mean that, to really do that, to come back to the flow. I get too scared of the current when I’m out of it, watching it crash against my subconscious.
So now, I try to notice. I say, Hello, old friend. I know you want me to go play or you’re going to be mean today, I don’t know which. But I’m going to write now, and this is play, and this is belief and soul and rhythm, and this is everything. Fuck off.
4) Speaking of fucking off—if you’re going to do that, do it right.
You might as well enjoy your afternoon off under a tree or in bed with your lover, the window blinds painting your bodies like zebras, rather than destroy your self-esteem by showing yourself that, yet again, you are unable to write. You told yourself you would and now you’re not even doing it. Why are you even trying, says the voice. Of course this is why [insert self-deprecating statement here].
No. Don’t listen. Do your work or don’t do it, but don’t live in between. It’s paralyzing there.
Keeping commitments to ourselves is so important because it’s how we learn to trust ourselves. It’s how we consider ourselves reliable or how we learn that we’re pushovers, that we can walk all over ourselves.
And it takes a lot to build that trust back up again after a period of treating yourself with disregard. If you notice it, catch it and stop. Each moment is a decision—choose the one that makes you feel stronger and it will get easier next time.
5) Utilize music the right way to get back on track.
In college, I would do calculus homework to the song “Tremble” by Nichole Nordeman. It’s a slow, soft, Christian song. It just happened to be the song that I had started a playlist with, and sometimes the repeat button would be stuck and I’d be too lazy to get up and unstick it.
What it did was set the tone—when I heard those first melancholy piano notes, I knew it was time to get down to work, to use my brain, to flow, to go in.
And a lot of times, that’s all you need. One song, two songs, to kick things off, before you start to fly.
6) Stop giving yourself reasons to resent yourself.
If you’re someone who loves being able to work from anywhere, make sure you’re actually working from anywhere. You set up your life so you can do this, so honor that choice and do it. You already know you’ll feel 100 times better when you have a productive day—and while only you know what that means, you can always feel the difference.
The more you make yourself promises and break them, the less you’ll trust yourself and your ability to do awesome work. You have to remember that you control your moments, your time, your output. Don’t be averse to discipline; just the right amount can give you more freedom than you’d ever have without it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Jamie Khoo/Editor: Catherine Monkman