Freak Week

My friend Angie has an email newsletter called Kick Monday’s Ass. This week the subject line was ‘eating an elephant’.

But because I am a child, my brain scrambled it on the way through, so I thought the subject line was ‘eating an elephant’s ass’, and I nearly died laughing.

Eventually I realised that this was not in fact the subject of the email, which was fortunate, because I really needed the actual content.

It was about how to tackle big things without getting completely overwhelmed.

There’s always this moment when I start working on the draft of a client’s book where the interviews are done, the raw material is in order in a document, and the next thing is to smooth it all into something legible, logical and engaging enough that the reader will stick with it.

And on every project, I stall here for several days. I call this fun tradition Freak Week.

Even though I’m usually 6 or 8 weeks away from the deadline for the draft, the freak-out is very consistent.

What if I miss the deadline? What if I have to pull all-nighters for a month? What if I don’t have enough time and I screw it up and everyone finds out and I’m ruined forever??

In nearly 10 years of writing for clients, this has never once happenedI’m just wired for anxiety. As Angie reminded me this week, the solution is always to start small.

This project’s Freak Week is finally winding to an end. I have been doing just an hour each day on the draft for the last few days.

Progress is slow at this rate, but it’s progress instead of paralysis.

Today I finished the introduction, and by this time next week I should have another two chapters done — well on track to hit the deadline.

Sometimes writing isn’t the beautiful breeze we want it to be. Sometimes it’s infuriating, stressful, tedious work.

But then you pass a word count, or figure out how to make an intractable phrase make sense, or have an inspired moment that ties everything together, and it suddenly it’s all worth it again.

It’s the same push-pull of everything worth doing in life.

Some days you will bend over backwards to avoid doing what needs to be done, and other days you’ll be so desperate to get into that you’re writing before you’ve even got your pants on.

Do everything you can on those good days. Squeeze them until they squeal.

And on the days that squeeze you, do what you can. It might be an hour. A page. Five minutes. Any progress is better than total paralysis.

Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s a wonder. Sometimes it’s both at the same time.

Accepting that contradiction, allowing both things to be true, and carrying on no matter which is true right now — that’s the job. That’s writing. And that’s life, isn’t it?