We are going to tackle a kind of sticky topic today: commitment. It’s sticky because to digging into this topic means really looking at what you are currently doing and what goals you have set for yourself, and noticing whether or not they are in alignment. And if they’re not, then, that’s where we have to talk about commitment.
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Commitment is a funny word to me because even though I hear it and use it in other contexts regularly, it always makes me think first about relationships. Commitment to a relationship of any kind means that you choose, in advance, to work on strengthening and growing the relationship, to be faithful to it, and to find the good in it whether you’re in an easy phase or a challenging one. When I got married, that’s what I promised to do. And now that I’ve been married for coming up on 20 years, it’s what I have to remind myself pretty regularly that I promised to do. But the thing is that commitment changes over time. What we commit to in the beginning is the idea of the thing. Over time and with experience, we choose to commit to what is actually in front of us.
I like to think of my relationship with writing, particularly writing a book, as similar to a relationship with a person. When I first get the idea of a story, I envision what it will be in the future, not the work it will take to get there. I think that’s just human nature. But then, once I get into the work, I have to commit again and again to doing what is right in front of me: putting of words onto the page.
I don’t enjoy writing first drafts. I love revising, because to me it feels like doing a puzzle. But the first draft is almost painful at times. And so, every day that I sit down to do it, I have to recommit. I have to imagine that end result. I have to remind myself why I want to write this story, why this story matters to me, and why I need to write it now.
For you it might be different. What is the hard part for you? Is it the revision? Is it the drafting? Or is it simply sitting down and opening your laptop to get started in the first place?
I find that many of the questions I get about writing in general and writing a book in particular come down to the fact that the writer is questioning his or her commitment, although they may not know it. So this week, I’d like you to explore your own commitment to your writing in general and to your current work in progress. Before I share the questions I’d like you to answer, I want to ease any concern by telling you three things.
First, commitment isn’t static. It will ebb and flow.
Second, it is not something that gets turned on or off. It is a sliding scale, a continuum of motivation that your mindset can shift in one direction or another with very little effort. In other words, commitment is in your control; it’s not something that happens outside of you.
Finally, there is no wrong or bad level of commitment. What is there is what it is. I’m not assigning any judgement, and I don’t want you to either.
So here are some questions you can ask yourself this week about your level of commitment to your writing. In answering them, I hope you will be completely honest with yourself.
Why do I want to write?
If I were to never write creatively again, how would I feel?
Why do I want to write this?
If I don’t write this, how will I feel?
If I do write this, how will I feel?
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Writers, the thing is that writing is hard work, and it’s solitary work, and unless you already have a book deal you probably aren’t getting paid for it. Therefore, if you aren’t committed to it, it won’t get done. But commitment isn’t a black or white, on or off, you-either-are-or-you-aren’t situation. Commitment is a continuum, one that shifts within different phases of your life. What matters is that you are willing to take the time to explore your own commitment and, when necessary, dig into it a little deeper to get through the parts of the writing that are long and difficult. It’s worth doing, because your story matters.