Let me tell you about a dirty little habit that millions indulge but nobody talks about:
It’s epidemic among writers! We look up other writers’ birthdays and compare them to the copyright date of their first book and add or subtract the number of years from our own age and proceed to drive ourselves crazy. In the weeks after Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature almost every writer I know would excitedly spout: “Did you know she didn’t publish her first collection of stories until the age of 38?”
And I would say, “Yes, I did.” Because I had already googled it.
Why does it take another writer’s age to validate our own stage in the process?
Well, I’ve got more news:
Impatience gives you a headache, distracts you from what you’re supposed to be doing, and worst of all, it triggers nagging messages that eventually cause you to fall out of love with writing.
Patience, on the other hand, increases focus and promotes the kind of growth and confidence that inevitably helps you accomplish your goals. This became obvious to me through a strange coincidence. The other night Mauricio (my husband) was watching soccer and in the midst of a flurry of spitfire Spanish, the sports caster paused and said something extraordinarily profound:
“Where there is patience there is opportunity.”
I looked up and sure enough the players had triangulated around the goal post and there was an air of confidence, because they could strike from several different angles if they waited for the right moment. Suddenly, it occurred to me that even in a game that’s all about speed and the element of surprise, the key to successful execution is patience, not haste.
Thus I’ve come up with 4 ways to shift from impatience back to patience:
- Make yourself a Mantra.
The first step to overcoming age comparison is simply to shift your attention. Whenever you start to find yourself complaining, “This is taking too long” or “I’m never going to get there” you’ve got to tape over it. Usually we don’t even realize we’ve got these negative thoughts on repeat. That’s why it’s good to have a mantra on automatic pilot in order to flip that script. Might I suggest “This is right where I’m supposed to be” or “I’m on my way a few hours a day.” I think the rhyming helps.
- Define your Terms.
Specificity is the cure for any type of negative comparison. Whenever you define your terms you bring the focus back to your own work and stop getting neurotic about other people’s paths. The good news is, nobody else is going to write your book, so you don’t really need to worry when or what those other people are writing. Instead look at your message and realize that you have to take your own specific path to get there.
- Stop worrying about the years and focus on the hours.
If the good news is, nobody else is going to write your book, that bad news is, nobody else is going to write your book. Your life isn’t made up of years, as much as hours and minutes and milliseconds, so if you don’t utilize those, the project will never get written. Don’t focus on the year, focus on your daily habits, because that’s what gets the work done.
- Celebrate the scenic route.
When life is rich with projects, work and family, don’t mentally penalize yourself for it. The richer the life, the richer the writing. The key however is consistency. As long as you work consistently on the book you want to write, the actual amount of time you put into each session is not as important. Don’t miss out on the things you love, just schedule consistent times to write so that you always go back to it. This is how the single working mothers, like Toni Morrison wrote their books.
On deeper reflection, I realized perhaps the reason behind this epidemic of “Age Goolging” is actually permission. Perhaps another person’s age gives us permission to be patient with ourselves. Well, consider that permission granted. Mental Floss put out the conventional list of “11 Who Started Late” which is only the chip of the ice burg of successful writers who started late. I just went to my bookshelf and grabbed some popular examples of my own. There are all sorts of people who experienced the variety of life’s little adventures before they sat down to write.
The fact is that you can write during any decade of your life. Really the only thing that holds us back is the courage to be patient. Impatience is based in fear, the fear that the desired outcome will never happen, and if that fear gets its way, the desired outcome never will. However the moment you have the courage to be patient, the work goes faster, inspiration comes more easily, and the desired outcome rushes to meet you, right where your are.