One of the components that most greatly affects how we get our work done is our inner state. All hours of the day are not equal – an hour in which we feel inspired and motivated tends to produce more quality work than an entire day in which we feel dull and burned out.
Similarly, we might actually have ideas about our work that are making it harder than it has to be. Do we imagine that the task set before us is difficult and gargantuan? Then it’s likely that it’ll show up that way for us. Do we imagine that the work ahead of us is easy, playful, fun, and something we may enjoy doing? If so, it’s likely it’ll show up that way for us as well – sometimes regardless of the actual difficulty of the task.
Take for example the job of writing a book. Writing a book is indeed a gargantuan task that often seems to intimidate even seasoned writers, and indeed it’s no small feat to organize and produce such a large volume of written content into a coherent and worthwhile narrative.
When I wrote my first book a decade ago, I expected it to be difficult, and it was. I wrote from a place of desperation – after my job as a professional dominatrix was decimated by the NYPD (and I ended up financially supporting my partner who had owned the company and needed to move in with me), I felt enormous pressure to write my way out of the traumatic circumstances I had found myself in and into another career and social circle. I used my nervous system dysregulation as a fire under me, pushing myself to write every day until it was finished, against the needs and comfort of my body.
Of course this wasn’t a sustainable process, and I didn’t write a book draft again for another ten years.
When I approached writing my second manuscript in summer of 2020, I knew I couldn’t do it in the same way.
I remembered a teacher of mine once remarking on my longform social media posts that she didn’t know how I could possibly write so much at once, sometimes multiple times a day. “It’s a compulsion,” I replied. “It actually feels worse if I don’t get it out.”
So I thought to myself… what if writing my book could feel the same as writing my social media posts? What if I could harness that same type of ease writing each part of a much more longform work?
I thought about the conditions I required to make writing easy: first, the subject had to be on my mind and feel relevant to my current experience. I had to have a good understanding of the main points that I needed to hit. And I needed to feel a sense of accomplishment and affirmation when it was done, preferably from sharing it with others. (The dopamine cravings are real!)
So I devised my writing plan to accommodate those conditions. First, I decided that I would write the book during the teaching of the 8-week workshop for The Re-Patterning Project, since it was based around that material, and that way the workshop would put the material at the front of my mind. Since I also needed to create the self-study version of the course, I decided that I would teach each lecture to my group on Sundays as usual, and then, since it was fresh in my mind, I’d deliver it solo to the camera for the self-study version the following day on each Monday of the week. And then since I’d be so immersed in the material from having just delivered each lecture twice in a row, I’d spend the following Tuesday – Saturday writing the corresponding sections of the book. Along the way I went back and read the manuscript and gave myself the satisfaction of imagining folks I admire reading and reacting to it, and I also secured a group of about 25 friends and colleagues who agreed to read the book when it was done so that I could experience an immediate feedback payoff instead of having to wait until an unknown publishing date.
This is how I taught an 8-week live course, recorded a 20+ hour self-study course, and wrote a 146K-word manuscript in the span of ten weeks. (I gave myself an extra week to write the foreword and appendices and another week to go back and edit.)
Now, writing a book doesn’t feel so difficult. While it took me ten years after my first one to write my second, I now feel like I could easily write another book at almost any time. All I’d have to do is set aside the requisite time for the actual writing process, give myself an adequate idea of the points I needed to cover, and then tap into the same zone of ease I feel when I write those same longform posts that came so naturally to me. In fact, I can now feel ease around the prospect of writing a book just by imagining this mindset.
The more I do this, the more I remember that this state is a remembrance of play, a throwback to our childhoods when we would immerse ourselves in creative activities while the hours flew by.
This year more than ever before I’ve been asked by colleagues in music to collaborate with them on songs, with my often being responsible for the vocal/lyric composition. At first I was intimidated at the prospect, and imagined a struggle to come up with something they’d find acceptable. And then I remembered that this was what I used to do all the time in my adolescence – come up with fun parts to sing. I had even created harmonic arrangements for my high school choir, which usually felt easy because I wasn’t worried about whether they were good enough. I remembered then that my best songwriting came out of figuring out what I actually wanted to sing, and making it fun. That remembrance opened me up to an entire new confidence and flow within my songwriting.
If you’re working on a project and you feel stuck or like it’s going slower than you’d like, try asking yourself how you can make it feel more like play, like something you could lose yourself in for hours. What would make it feel like fun?
(And if you’re stuck working on projects that are no fun at all, then it might be time to look at what field of work you’re choosing to do. That’s an arduous can of worms to open and I won’t sugarcoat the difficulty it often requires to be honest with ourselves and potentially start down a new path, but it’s my opinion that it’s better to start taking that look now than to log more years of our lives doing things we find no fun.)