Week Thirteen's update is posted!
Check it out here, on my website (below) or head over to YouTube (https://youtu.be/ecEp2FPh7Ow)
And, there's a transcription below for those who prefer to read, rather than watch.
Too Many Pieces, Too Little Time
The creative life can be mysterious.
There are weeks when nothing goes right. Distractions are unavoidable. Unexpected detours throw me off course. Nothing quite works out the way it was planned, and EVEN WORSE, sometimes things just fall apart.
And then there are weeks when things seem to come together in ways that were unanticipated, but in a good way. Things are humming along at a steady pace, and I get to the end of the week and think, "Wow. That was pretty good!"
Good weeks. Bad weeks. The ups and downs are to be expected. After twenty years of maintaining a creative life to one degree or another, I'm kind of accustomed to it.
But there is another kind of week that happens from time to time, and I still have difficulty dealing with it.
Those are the weeks where from the outside, everything looks great. But inside, despite everything going right, I find myself facing a crisis of faith in my creative vision.
I'll talk about that, and give you an update on my progress in this week's episode of The Million Words Project.
Welcome to the Million Words Project. I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt.
I've challenged myself to write one million new words in twelve months, and each week I post an update on my progress.
In each episode, I also share the ups and downs of my own creative life. Hopefully, you'll find something here to encourage you in your creative endeavors.
I've spent more than a dozen years helping writers, would-be writers, and other creatives pursue the Big Thing project they've always wanted to accomplish. One of the most important lessons I've learned as a teacher, creativity coach, and mentor is that when I share the things I've learned—and continue to learn—it reinforces those lessons in my own writing life.
And this week, I really needed to be reminded of some very important lessons.
Before we get to that, let's take a look at this week's progress.
Week thirteen was the single biggest week so far!
My weekly target for reaching one million words in twelve months is twenty-thousand words. As you can see, this week's total was 25,563.
Taking a look at the category breakdown, this was an unusual week. Journaling was down a little bit, after last week's high count, but this marks the sixth week in a row over five-thousand words in that category. If you missed it, I've spent the last three episodes talking about the importance of journaling in my creative and personal life. So check those out if you haven't already watched them. (And, you can watch them again. I don't mind.)
Non-fiction and fiction word counts were okay. Lower than ideal, but in the category between them, you can see why. I finally got the go-ahead to write the client project I've been waiting six weeks to start. I knocked out a little more than 9,000 words there. I have another little bit to do to finish that project next week.
Lastly, this was the lowest week for the word count in the Life Document category since I started the Million Words Project. I am still working to re-balance some of my creative energy, and we can see the cumulative distribution chart shows that the Life Document is now well below fifty percent, and the wedges of the word pie are continuing to get a bit more evenly distributed.
I continue to be well ahead of pace. By week thirteen, the minimum pace is 260,000 words, and my current total is right at 280,000.
Last but not least, you can see the ten-week rolling total compared to the baseline pace.
Across the board, the data shows that things are rolling along. Everything looks good.
So, why did this week feel so unsuccessful?
That's this week's topic.
Even though this week was a rip-roaring success in many ways, I experienced a crisis of faith in relation to my creative work.
The week was pretty well balanced. The client work is time-sensitive, so it was pushed to the top of the to-do list. But overall, I accomplished my writing goals, I got necessary things done in my personal life, and I had time to work on several other ongoing projects that aren't part of my weekly word count targets.
I had several big ideas that were either enhanced or clarified this week. There were a number of ah-ha moments and some encouraging progress.
But the nagging feeling of discontent started to rear its head.
Early in the week, I wrote the following in my journal:
"The whole thing feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with no edges or corners, and an indeterminant number of pieces, and no reference photo of what the final product should look like. I keep finding new pieces that fit the puzzle, and reveal some additional, exciting aspect of the big picture, but it just keeps getting bigger."
A giant jigsaw puzzle with unlimited pieces and no edges or corners. That's a pretty good metaphor for my creative life, these days. And, while my journal entry references "no reference photo to work from," I think a better analogy would be that the reference photo of what the end result should look like is blurry, even on the best days, and sometimes it seems to change altogether. Like, I thought I was putting together a five-hundred piece puzzle of puppy dogs, and it turned out to be a thousand piece puzzle of butterflies.
On my upbeat, optimistic days, I have an unshakable faith that whatever final picture is revealed in the puzzle I'm putting together, everything will work out in the long run. My job, right now, in this moment, is to find the pieces that fit together, and continue to complete the puzzle one piece at a time. Little by little, day by day, with each little victory, more of the picture is revealed.
I often say in these videos, the motto of the Million Words Project challenge is, "Small steps lead to big results." And most days, I believe that. Most days, I pursue the next step with enthusiasm and joy.
But, at the same time, I am often pursued by doubts. Most of my doubts are fleeting. If I have a bad writing session—and recently I abandoned a fiction writing session after an hour and a half in which I had written less than five hundred words—those days can make me question my ability and my artistic vision.
Usually, those brief battles with doubt dissipate with the next day's journaling session, or the next time I sit down and knock off two thousand words in a little over an hour. I overcome the setback, and my creative faith is restored.
But this week was different. When answers to creative questions I'd been struggling with revealed themselves, my enthusiasm waned. The more inspiration I found, the less energy I had.
Things I've been working on for months grew in complexity, and new layers of theme and meaning found their way into my work. I had an idea for yet ANOTHER book, and it began to break me, a little.
Later in the week, I wrote this in my journal:
"How will I ever accomplish all of this? Usually I look at all of these ideas and possible books and I'm excited. There are days, though, where I don't feel it, and I want to avoid the question of "how", as well as the answer."
This is where faith and doubt often live together, for me. On the one hand, I find great energy and a sense of purpose and meaning in pursuing my creative vision. On the other, if I stare too long at the mountain of ideas that I want to pursue, and books I want to write, and projects I want to take on, I doubt they could all be accomplished by me in two lifetimes, let alone that half lifetime I hope to still have remaining.
But, I also know that this fixation on not having time to get things done is a kind of deflection. The rational part of me knows that if I have twenty books I want to write, I will be more satisfied on my death bed if I've only written six of them, than if I never wrote any. Something is better than nothing. And I've been on a pace to do a lot more than just a little something. I addressed this in the next line of the journal:
"Things are going pretty well. Is that the problem? A bit of self-sabotage? Am I subconsciously limiting myself? And if so, why?"
In this moment, I was wrestling with competing realities. I was hitting my targets, and yet I had a nagging feeling that things were not right. Something subtle was out of alignment. I was at basecamp on Mt. Everest, and I was fixated on the difficulty of the final summit, rather than on the next step, and the next, and the one after.
That preoccupation with the seemingly-unachievable task before me, manifested last week in a lethargic attitude. I got a lot done, I checked off all the boxes of a "successful" week, but I also spent a lot of time doing...nothing. Scrolling Instagram and looking at my phone. Sitting around, wallowing in a lack of motivation. Dozing off while watching some video or another.
I know that doing this work is so much more satisfying than not doing it. And yet, I sometimes still get suckered into allowing myself to be distracted, or lazy.
I could have done MORE, and that was one level of disappointment in myself. A more consequential problem was this: In the throes of my lethargy, I began a campaign to convince myself that it really didn't matter if I did any of the things I dream of doing. Stagnation lead to existential doubt.
My journal continued:
"Do I fear increased efficiency and actually getting things done? Or am I just lazy and want to say, 'You don't have to do all of that, because none of it actually matters, anyway.' I don't FEEL Better, physically, for having a lazy day. I don't think I was mentally drained before I spent a good part of the day half-sleeping and staring at my phone, and looking for something to do even though I HAVE next steps clearly laid out..."
By the end of the week, though—in a moment of synchronicity or fate or the hand of God turning my head to notice something that had been there for two and a half years—I opened a book called Getting Things Done.
I won't get into all the details, but the key take away was that I was reminded that I needed to be focused on next steps. Having long-term, big picture plans is great, but most of my time needs to be focused on what needs to happen next. If too much of my time is spent focused on the mountain of work ahead of me, and on new items I continue to add to the list, then I can become overwhelmed, and my body and mind will rebel.
I closed out last week with a renewed perspective, and a plan. Which I'll tell you more about, next week.
There's an old Chinese proverb, which you've probably heard or read at some point.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
This is, of course, what I mean when I say small steps lead to big results.
And, the reason I repeat that so often in these videos is, I need to be reminded of it on a regular basis.
Part of the reason I need to be reminded so often is that my personality tends toward dreaming and planning, and has trouble with the "doing." I have a perfectionist streak that wants to know every answer to every possible question and have a contingency for any possible problem or issue that might conceivably arise before I start the journey.
But life doesn't work that way. I have to remind myself that the key to getting done, is to get started. And sometimes, you have to start the trip before you know where it is you are going or the exact path you'll take to get there.
The obvious takeaway this week is simple: If you find yourself overwhelmed by the size and scope of a project that you know—deep down—you want to tackle, it is wise to take a step back and focus on short-term, achievable steps toward your desired goal.
A secondary takeaway is this: Often, when I find myself in the middle of what I call the creative crisis of faith, it can be easy to want to just give up and let the lack of motivation and laziness conquer me. What is more valuable—to me, to those around me, and (I would argue) to the world at large—is to see that fear and dread and bubbling hopelessness as an opportunity to take stock of where I am, where I am going, and how I'm going to get there.
These feelings of being down and not knowing why were the catalyst for me to dig a little deeper, and to uncover some truths that had been buried for a while. And once I did that, I was able to correct my course, and reinvigorate my creative life.
Points to Ponder
As you finish this video and head back into your own pursuits, I'd like you to ponder your own balance between big picture thinking and a more-narrow focus on the next steps you need to take.
If you've have a similar crisis of creative faith, did you find it valuable or debilitating? Did you find your way through it? Did you find new and interesting tools to utilize in your daily life?
If so, I'd love to hear from you. You can leave a comment with this video, or there are ways to connect with me listed in the show notes.
Week thirteen is all wrapped up. Thank you for joining me. If you made it this far, why not hit the like button, or leave a comment. It would be encouraging to know others are out there.
A big thank you to my childhood friend Sarah, who utilized the "Buy me a coffee" link to let me know she was watching and appreciates seeing the videos. Thanks Sarah.
As always, check out the show notes for additional information. And send a link to this video series if there is someone in your life you think might be interested.
Remember, your words matter. Make them count.
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