8.5.14 - On Showing Up

I read a great article this morning by Leo Babuta called “Making Yourself Work.” It's an excellent piece, and I highly recommend reading it. For the crib notes, Leo makes a point I’m sure you’ve heard before: Showing up is the most important part of getting your work done.

But we’re creatives, you say. We work for ourselves, at our own pace. We have freedom! We decide whether to open our manuscript or go have lunch with friends. Our boss isn’t going to chuck us out the door for not showing up. We’re just creating stories for our readers, or music for an unseen audience, or paintings for future clients. We don’t have to punch a clock. That's why we got into this racket.

We have such a delicate faith in ourselves. If we build it, you will come. So there’s no need to really push ourselves. We’ll get it done. Someday. 

Right?

Wrong. Like in any other profession, if creatives don’t show up for work, we do get fired. And being fired by your Muse is a pretty shitty thing to have happen.

This is why I preach discipline. Creativity is a muscle that gets stronger and more defined the more you work it. You have to touch the manuscript (painting, song, lyric, blog, etc.) you’re working on every day. I think this is the most important part of being a creative. 

If you can’t write new words, you need to edit. If you can’t edit, start at the beginning, and read. Renumber your chapters. Change the font. Count the words. Eventually, things will click, and the words will pour onto the page.

But if you write one day, then walk away, the muscles atrophy. And it gets harder and harder to call the Muse down on your terms. When you start working to hers? You’re screwed, because she can be very flirty.

At least, mine can. I too need this reminder. The new Sam book is starting to shape up, and I have been working hard on it. I’m in the last big stretch, the last 25K, and I hit a stumbling block today. 

I started a scene at 11:30. At 12:30, I broke for lunch, having only written 100 words. At 1:30, I had 200, and was lost. I didn’t know why in the hell the scene was here. But something told me it was important. I’ve been doing this long enough to trust my Muse when she starts something.

All afternoon, it went like this. Me staring at the page. Not knowing what I was doing. I went back a few chapters, editing forward. Still nothing. Had a chat with my agent. Still nothing. Decided to call it a day with 300 words, very disappointed. And as I was closing the manuscript, boom. It hit me. I looked back over those meager 300 words, and saw where my subconscious was going. It is a HUGE golden thread that allows me to answer an entire subplot’s critical question, and might just be the last puzzle piece I’ve been looking for.

If I hadn’t read Leo’s blog this morning, I might have given up earlier this afternoon, when I wasn’t feeling it. But I kept after it, and something magical happened. I finished with only 1000 words, but what would have happened if I'd given up? 

Showing up is 9/10th of the battle. I love proving it to myself. Prove it to yourself, too.

Write hard, my friends.

 

While I was struggling this morning, I added a new page to my website with some live interviews and podcast links. Check it out!

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.