The gift of enough

Or: how to write without a deadline

Hello! I took a few weeks off from the newsletter to finish a challenging first draft of a feature story, and then to…not write for a weekend or two. Sometimes not writing is as important as writing! I used to not be able to know this, because I spent all my time looking for ways not to write. I told myself it was because I needed breaks, and that wasn’t wrong, but what I needed a break from wasn’t writing, because I wasn’t really doing that. I needed constant breaks from the anxiety spiral writing provoked. It took a lot of work and care and attention, but I have mostly separated those two things. I can sit with the discomfort of starting to write and not blow it up into something bigger and more meaningful than it is. I can keep going until it gets fun, or at least engrossing. I can keep coming back, day after day. And I can trust the feeling of needing a break, because I know it doesn’t mean I’ll never want to write again.

A lot of things helped with this shift, not least of which is over a year at home with very few external demands on my time and energy. But if there’s any trick I can recommend, it’s this: give yourself a place to stop. Or, as I remember Jocelyn K. Glei saying in this episode of her podcast Hurry Slowly, decide in advance what is enough. This is why deadlines exist, to create that stopping point for you; we all know the feeling of submitting or publishing something not because it’s ready but because it’s time. Still, sometimes the deadline is so far away, and the project is so big, that the deadline can’t realistically provide daily motivation. (Ahem, 18 months to write a book.) Or maybe there will never be deadline, or an ending of any kind, like in a writing or music practice.

That’s when you need to give yourself the gift of a stopping point, each and every time you write (or do another kind of art). Maybe it’s 1000 words, like in Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer challenge (on again now!). Maybe it’s 500 words. Maybe it’s 30 minutes, 90 minutes, two hours. Maybe it’s one good-enough newsletter. It doesn’t really matter. It just has to be something you’re confident you can do and keep doing, something that won’t leave you totally depleted. An achievable goal!

The point isn’t how much you do in a given day. The point is being able to see the end before you even start, so you know you can get there. When you reach it, you’ll feel accomplished and satisfied. You’ll know you did enough. You’ll be able to walk away and enjoy the rest of your day, and you’ll be able to come back tomorrow and start again.

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