Push Yourself

I have a little confession to make.

This past weekend, out in the gorgeous Portuguese countryside, I spent several hours on our last night away watching The Amazing Race Australia instead of soaking up the stars.

(If you’ve never watched The Amazing Race, it’s basically a multi-week puzzle-meets-obstacle-course in which the winning pair bags $250,000. It’s great.)

What stood out to me — apart from the gorgeous scenery and truly disgusting food challenges — was the grit of each of the finalist teams.

They pushed and pushed and pushed themselves and their partners. They didn’t think about anything except the task at hand. They didn’t let fear or their own neuroses sidetrack them.

A race like that is the perfect metaphor for life, for writing, for anything you want to achieve.

It’s going to be hard some days. It’s going to get messy. You’re going to have to face some stuff that scares the hell out of you. But if you can push through it, you’ll discover what you’re truly capable of. You’ll be rewarded for taking the risks.

I was thinking about this today while working on my book. It’s been hard lately, with lots of tweaking in order to make it as strong as possible.

Making thematic changes when I’m already knee-deep in the material has always been a weakness — sunk-cost fallacy I suppose, not wanting to lose the progress I’ve made.

But my agent has pushed me, like all those racing partners pushed each other, to keep going. I have, and while the finish line is still a way off, I’m going to finish this leg in good shape.

Restspace and restorative creativity are crucial. But it’s also crucial to push sometimes.

It’s important not to get so comfortable in your writing practice that you don’t take risks and ask more from yourself, to extract the very best of what you can create.

So if you’re feeling like you’ve had the go-slows recently, or you’re not convinced you’re doing your best work, look at where you could push yourself more.

Which pieces need a bit more elbow grease to really shine? Where do you notice (and then ignore) points that could be better, or deeper?

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you’re doing. If it’s professional, focus on clarity and original language — no cliches or idioms or fluffy, meaningless bits.

If it’s private (like journalling), focus on depth and honesty — dig up anything you’ve been hiding or ignoring and write it out in its entirety.

Whatever you do, make some time to push yourself this week. It’s a risk, but it comes with a whole lot of reward.