Starting Small

About a year ago, I was catching up with my friend Timothy Sanders. He writes short stories and had just been featured in VICE, so I wanted to congratulate him. His book is brilliant and his tweets are hilarious. I’m all-adverbs-out proud to know him.

I told Tim how excited I was. He thanked me and asked, “Have you started your book?”

“No,” I laughed. I was a few months into a new job and full of excuses. I didn’t mention them, but they had me surrounded.

I told Tim: “I have a few ideas, but the voice in my head keeps saying, ‘Who fucking cares?’”

He shot back, “I care! Also, I think I learned from you that all writing is a failure… like no matter how ‘good’ it is you could always make it better.” I used to be his editor. I don’t remember saying that, but it’s true.

Tim had found a way to get started and to finish. His book was resting on my shelf. I was wasting time asking myself, “What have I done that’s worthwhile?” But despite what I thought, Tim was grateful for my help. That shook me up in a good way.

On January 17 of this year, I wrote an outline. It took me 20 minutes to write. It took me 29 years to be able to write it.

Between the bones of that basic skeleton is the meat of my life. Notes. Questions. Journal entries. Arguments with myself. Conversations with friends. Things I learned while working with Tim. Things I’m still confused about. Years of practicing patience. So many fights and so many feelings.

I cleaned up the outline and decided to get my act together. I shared it with a few friends. I’m still working on it. All the while, I keep asking myself, “What am I doing? What do I have to say to anyone about anything?”

That voice — that ridiculous, antagonistic voice — is the same voice I help clients and colleagues through each day. We all have that nagging, second-guessing, self-editing, joy-stopping, sad-hearted weasel squirming around inside. Fuck that voice.

There are so many days when “the work” is remembering you can do the work. You have to start small. It’s okay, just get the facts down. Say what you know, one word at a time. Take a walk when your chest gets too tight. Be around people who make you happy to be alive. And when you sit down to work and that voice starts shrieking, give it a moment to wear itself out — and then do the work anyway.

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