Sharks and Fish
The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.
To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.
Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.
Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:
To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they add a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged.
My personal belief is that writers should be in a constant state of fear when writing. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries. I’ve already discussed tackling that seemingly unconquerable writing task, that ambitious bit of scribbling that you either feel you lack the confidence, skill or proper desire to finish, in an earlier post (see: It Ain’t Impossible Once Somebody Gets It Done).
If it isn’t already, writing needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt narrative feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger themes and alien points of view. To shake hands with new intimidating characters. To paint the world in unique hues of poetry. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to yourself as a writer.
But it isn’t as simple as all that, is it? I mean, we’re not talking about the same brand of fear that adrenaline junkies face when they undertake risky physical activities. A writer’s fear is an abject terror laced with insecurity, inadequacy, doubt, the sinking feeling that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and the risk of exposing too much of our core selves.
These are also the things that fuel our excuses.
To be clear, challenging yourself in writing is more than simply writing everyday, especially if you aren’t inspired by what you’re writing, as the end result could wind up being flavorless, tired and dull. Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class in each write and rewrite, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just written something better than you believed yourself capable of.
What’s your shark? Only you can answer that. The one thing I do know is a writer’s fear is the only cycle of fear that is absotively posolutely worth repeating.
Writing for a living – no matter what you write – is a struggle. Whether you’re a freelance copywriter, a contracted novelist, or a self-publishing author, there’s countless distractions between you and your deadlines and professional goals. In order to stay on track to develop your skills, grow your business, and meet your deadlines, you need to challenge yourself to making the most of your time writing.
Challenge yourself to set a timer
The late copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz worked within the confines of a timer set to 33 minutes and 33 seconds. In that time, he would concentrate fully on his writing, giving himself over to the project at hand with a few exceptions detailed in this great Copyblogger article.
- He could drink coffee
- He could stare out the window, or at the wall
- He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33.33 minutes
- He could write the ad
- He could not leave the chair for any reason
- He could not do anything else
At the end of time, he’d take a break and let his creative juices recharge. The practice not only gave him structure for producing great content, it pushed him to complete projects faster. As your timer ticks down, you ignite a competitive spirit within yourself to finish what you’re doing before the timer goes off.
This is, of course, not necessarily the most novel idea in writing. Sprints and timers have long been the go-to solution for increased productivity. However, settling into a routine and resolving to work this hard every day is difficult for us – especially in the time of constant connectivity and social media. Which brings me to my next point…
Challenge yourself to a routine that you actually stick to
When your impending deadline is your only structure, you’ll find that your routine often flounders until you find yourself furiously working to hit your word count in the days (or hours) before your project is due. If you’re anything like me, you tell yourself during each of these mad-dash midnight struggles, “It’ll be different next time. I’ll use my time more wisely.” And then I don’t. It’s the weight loss New Year’s Resolution of the writing world… and it’s just as impossible to stick to.
But, if you’re going to thrive as a writer, you need to establish a solid routine for your work week. Sit down with the calendar of your choice and realistically address your schedule and routine. Set office hours and put them in your calendar. Take these hours into consideration when you’re making appointments and planning lunch dates. Then, start each week and each day by taking a look at what your goals and deadlines are and assessing how to make them fit within your established routine.
The first few weeks are hard, but – once you’ve settled in – you’ll find that you’re meeting your deadlines with less stress.
Challenge yourself to take time off
When you’re freelancing, it’s easy to never take a day off. Even on your weekends (even if your “weekend” isn’t Saturday and Sunday), you’ll check email or try to get a little writing in, but you need to stop that. Time off is essential to sustain creative output. Setting aside time for your family, yourself, and your friends is an investment in your career as a writer.
Find activities that replenish you and do them. Whether it’s a bottle of wine and a good book, time at the gym, dinner with your family, or a massage, putting value on self-care means that you’ll be ready for the challenges of being a writer.
Sally forth fearfully and be writeful.