It can be so frustrating when you can’t go as fast as you want to.
Maybe you are comparing yourself to other artists and they seem to produce more work than you.
Perhaps they seem to have more success in selling their work.
You want to be faster, better. You want to be like the other writers or painters that you see.
All over the Internet there is advice on how to up your productivity or write more, or get up earlier or bust your limits. Should you follow this advice or not?
How do you know whether to accept your limits or breakthrough them? Let’s look at the case for both and then decide.
Breaking through your limits
Very often it is only our brain which holds us back. We think we can’t do something then prove ourselves right.
With small incremental increases in our effort we can push at our limits in a manageable way. What would it take to achieve your impossible goal? How can you mitigate the barriers which stand in your way? Are they really barriers or are they in your head? What would happen if you ignored them?
Another way to achieve something which feels impossible is to make it fun. If you acknowledge that to achieve it is wild and crazy to even try to achieve your outlandish goal then this can take the pressure off. It doesn’t matter if you fail because it probably wasn’t possible anyway. Seeing the goal in this way can take away the seriousness and free yourself up to have a go.
When I was a life-coach I used to talk to people about their goals and tease out of them the big hairy, scary goal; something that seemed way beyond the realms of possibility but was what their soul really wanted to do. When we looked at the goal in terms of what the initial teeny-tiny steps could be and how to start chipping away at potential obstacles, the goal wasn’t as crazy and unrealistic as it first seemed.
Accepting your limits
Acceptance of where you are at, and who you are, can be profoundly freeing. You don’t have to write or paint at the speed of the person next to you. You are expressing your creative reality, not theirs.
You will get there eventually. Sometimes trying to go harder and faster isn’t realistic and it just sets you up for failure. It is better to work on your creative project for thirty minutes a day, every day, than do three hours the first day, two hours on the next then never pick it up again because you are too exhausted from lack of sleep.
A creative life is a marathon not a sprint. The Aesop’s fable about the hare and the tortoise springs to mind. Although the hare gets off to a fast start he loses his attention for the race while the slow, plodding tortoise who focusses only on the next step eventually wins.
When it comes to creativity, I am definitely the tortoise. I tend to work at what I call “plod pace” which fits in with my day job, looking after my parents and allows me time to rest. But sometimes I wonder whether I should push myself to produce more. Are the limits I see around my work genuine or self-imposed?
Sometimes I look at my favourite writers and how much they blog, or how quickly they produce books and I question whether I should be doing the same. This came to a head a few months ago when I wanted to write the first draft of the sequel to my novel. I started in May, averaging my usual 500 words a day, and calculated that it would take until November to complete the draft.
However, my first book was due to be returned by the editor in mid-July and I knew that I would have to resume work on this manuscript and process the suggested edits. Could it be possible for me, the gentle plodder, to significantly up my pace and complete the first draft of the sequel in a mere six weeks?
I thought of the NaNoWriMo competition which takes place in November. This stands for National Novel Writing Month and would-be novelists are encouraged to write 50,000 words in one month to “win” the competition. This works out to 1667 words a day, every day.
Lots of people achieve this feat so I wondered if I could too. I decided to aim for 1500 words a day and to see what happened. Normally I don’t write or do any form of work on a Saturday. I like to give my brain a rest and not force my body to sit at a computer for one day a week. But to pull off this feat I would have to work on a Saturday. 1st June fell on a Saturday so I went straight into it.
The first three days I managed 1500 words either in two sittings of 700-800 words or three of 500 words. On the second day I could feel fatigue knocking at the door but I pushed through and did it anyway.
After a few days I realised that I could not keep up this pace and so dropped down to 1000 words a day. It was still double my usual output so would advance my project quicker than usual.
As the days went by I knew I was falling behind on the 50,000 words target. However I also became more trusting of the pace I was going. Yes, it would have been nice to complete the draft before the first book was returned but I started to trust that wherever I reached in my endeavour would be a good break point, to leave the new manuscript, return to the first book, and come back later.
In the middle of June disaster struck – I got RSI. This was aggravated by an office move in my day job where the ergonomics of my new work station took time to settle and also, maybe, because I was writing twice as much. Not to be defeated I decided to try dictation software and invested in the Dragon voice recognition program.
Once I got used to Dragon it helped me to up my output. I went from 6,000 words a week to 10,000 but I still experienced mental fatigue if I pushed myself too much.
I did achieve my goal. I cranked out in total 53,000 words in six weeks. Added to what I had done prior to starting my experiment gave me a complete first draft.
It felt amazing to achieve this goal and see myself as a “quick writer” like some of my writing heroes. It was a relief to get the initial draft down on paper and be able to park the contents of the manuscript from my brain. Along the way I also learned how to embrace dictation software.
It wasn’t all positive though. Twice during that period I went down with fatigue-like illness. It was hard to fit the writing around my personal life and this caused tensions in my marriage.
I think you can push past your limitations, but you need a plan in place to take care of yourself when exceeding your boundaries. You also need to be self-aware to recognise when something isn’t working for you.
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