The No-Na-No diary: This Moment is All We Have

I’m not sure if this is part of my No-Na-No diary, or just some random thoughts –  but here goes.

I am so, so pleased to have taken the pressure of myself and decided not to force words that don’t need to come. The last two days I have carried on working on the novel I began for NaNoWriMo, at a slower pace. I am so much happier with the writing that is emerging. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t change it at a later date, or even that it is full of scintillating words. It might be, or it might not. All it means is that I am enjoying the writing.

That’s all.

That’s – ALL? Hey, that’s enormous. Why else do we write? This moment, the one in which I am writing this post, the one in which I am looking at the screen and noticing the sun reflecting on the top of it, creating a rainbow effect, is the only moment I have right now. This moment, the one in which I am noticing the sounds of cars and builders in the distance, and hearing the closer sound of the wind blowing trees back and forth, is the only moment I have right now.  I can imagine other moments and might think I have to get to them, but they are all imagined. I can never actually reach them. Oh, yes, time goes on, and I will have some sort of future, but even with all my careful planning, it might be totally different to the one I am imagining right now.

We spend so much time and energy trying to make things work out right in the future, that we forget to pay attention to right now. We drive ourselves with fear, and we fool ourselves so much we don’t even notice this – until we do. If I never write another word, and go off to work in a supermarket instead, does that make me a failure? No. But it’s how so many writers or artist in general think (yes I’ve been there.) We try to motivate ourselves with mind movies of dire consequences of what will happen if we don’t.

Don’t believe me on this, just take some moments over the next few days to notice how you get yourself to do anything – it doesn’t need to be writing. I can almost guarantee you will be surprised. (If you feel resistant to doing this, that is almost certainly a clear indication of fear – most of us see fear as weakness and want to be above all that. That’s just fear of fear!)

Or notice how you stop yourself doing things. Earlier on today I felt a desire to play solitaire instead of to go over a short story that I’m rewriting. I noticed that my mind mustered up a ton of dire consequences if I played the game: the story would lie still unresolved, the phone call I needed to make to the Inland Revenue would get put off again (and my husband would nag me about that.) When I noticed all that, and noticed that I was trying to use fear to stop myself, I played solitaire anyway, just as an experiment. Strangely enough, the game went very smoothly and was over quickly. Then I dealt with the Inland Revenue. I’ve also now got a new beginning for the story – which was the part I felt stuck on. And I’ve written this post.

Using fear to stop ourselves doesn’t actually work – for a long time I’ve been telling myself it was wasting time to play solitaire, and it didn’t stop me. (It just meant it wasn’t very enjoyable.) It’s not surprising that we try to motivate ourselves this way: parents to do, teachers do it, bosses do it, governments do it. There’s a warning on cigarette packets that says: Smoking Kills. Yet people still smoke. We’re told over and over that eating fatty foods and not eating fruit and vegetables will make us unhealthy and even sick. Yet, in most western countries, the vast majority of people still eat surplus fatty food and way way fewer than the recommended fruit and veg. I read recently that the average British male eats the recommended 5 a day – but in a week!

So how, as a writer, do you let go of this old habit, and motivate yourself with compassion and love? That, I suspect, is slightly different for each individual, but the first thing is to be aware of when you do it. What we’re not aware of, we can’t change. Then, instead of berating yourself for it, recognise the good intentions behind it, and give yourself some approval. (That’s one reason why we do it after all.) Trying to force change is just another way of motivating with fear, and gets us right back where we started!

We use fear to motivate because we distrust ourselves or others. The parent who tells a child they will fail at life if they don’t do their homework has forgotten that the child has an innate desire for fulfilment. The writer who uses fear to motivate herself has forgotten that creative pleasure and fulfilment are enough motivation in themselves. Otherwise we really would go work in a supermarket instead wouldn’t we?

There’s a common belief that for writing to be any good it has to be hard work. We need to sweat blood, we need to worry, feel deep angst. Some people even believe that being happy will make their writing lack depth. I think it’s worth the risk to allow happiness anyway and then find out!


  1. Well said… living in the moment. It’s kind of like the motto I have recently adopted, rather than letting life happen to me, I want to happen to life!

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