Although I’ve been writing since I was seven – I was the kid who was writing while most others were drawing – fifty-two weeks ago I took my passion for writing to the next level by embarking on a book project.
During the eight-thousand seven-hundred and sixty-six hours that have gone by since that day, aside from completing a manuscript, I learned many lessons which stand to benefit aspiring authors and anyone else who has been dreaming about taking on a major project in their life.
Sharing those lessons with you is my own private celebration. Welcome!
The right time is when you decide the time is right. There never really is a right time to start a major project. Particularly one in which a. the end is not clearly in sight and b. the return on investment is uncertain. To make it happen, you must carve out a time for yourself. No one else will if you don’t.
Prioritize. I’ve heard from so many people who I tell that I’ve written a book things like: “I also want to write a book…but I’ve so many other things going on.” Stop, I say. Ask yourself: “How important are all those ‘other’ things in comparison to writing a book – or completing a major project?” If you had six months to live would you regret not being able to complete your book or major project? Or would you regret not completing all those ‘other’ things? To find out, right now, take time to figure out what is most important for you. I guarantee that when you know the answer to: “what will lead me to a meaningful life?” it will become quite difficult to focus on things which do not lead to that, and ignore those that do.
It’s an investment in you. Completing a major project is certainly an investment in you. Even when the return is not in sight, investing in you will pay back one way or another – even if your bank account does not show it right after your project is complete. It could be that an opportunity will arise because of a skill you acquired, or a connection you made along the way. It’s key to stay open to possibilities.
Only listen to those who support you. Block out all others who don’t. Imagine that you decide to run a marathon. For most of us, that’s a gigantic undertaking – I should know, I ran the Disney World Marathon in 1998. Now imagine it’s race day and that you’re running alongside your best friend. All along the way, your friend is saying something along the lines of: “You won’t make it. What where you thinking when you signed up for this? You’ll never make it since you’ve never run a major race before and your parents never ran a marathon. You just don’t have what it takes. Even if you make it to the finish line – which I doubt that you will – you won’t amount to much.” (Take a few deep breaths)
Now imagine that you’re running and instead your best friend is saying something along the lines of: “I know you can do this. Even if you haven’t before, there’s always a first time for everything. Even Olympic athletes have their first event. Trust me, deciding to sign up was the hardest part. All you need to do now is place one foot in front of the other. You’ll make it a step at a time. Guaranteed. Besides, you have all the time in the world. I’m right here besides you if you need me. I’m so proud of you.”
The former is how my accountant sounded when I called to ask him on day four of my writing career how I should track my expenses. My book would not be complete had I paid attention to his words of warning. The latter is how my husband, family and close friends sounded. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I made it to the finish line in large part because of your support. Namaste.
Start with the end in mind. For those of you who have participated in a race, be it a 5k, a 10k or a marathon, you know how it’s possible to visualize the finish line. It’ll take more creativity when you’re engaging in a project. Even so, it’s vital that you take time to visualize your completed project, that’s your finish line. When you do, aim to include as much of your senses to your visualization exercise. If you can, draw a picture of your end result. Then keep your drawing near your work station. I guarantee that’s what will keep you going – even when times get tough.
Be methodical. It’s likely that there will be uncertainty while you’re undertaking a major project. For that reason, it’s vital that you have a degree of control over the process. To achieve that I suggest that you approach your project methodically. Doing so will help you stay on track and be productive.
During the year that I spent writing, I followed a ritual. My main aim was to give my book the best version of me every day. Just like an athlete aims to be in the best shape possible for a major event, I treated every day of this past year as a major event. First, to make sure that I was alert and energetic every day, I did not drink alcohol during the week and went to sleep between 10pm and 10:30pm every night. Without fail I woke up at 5:10am every weekday to meditate for 20 minutes. Then I read for 30, and had a 60-minute work out. Every day I made sure I ate a balanced breakfast and that I was writing by 8:30am. Finally, I closed every day with what I call a ‘wrap up and psych up’ session. I took five to ten minutes to evaluate what I had accomplished, and to develop a to-do list for the next day. Every Thursday morning I would take twenty minutes to evaluate my progress for the week and to set goals for the coming week. Each time I completed a task, I would cross it off my to-do list. Task by task, my book came to be.
Manage your expectations. Even that I was committed to following a process – and those who know me, know I’m quite disciplined – there were times when my creativity was not there. At the beginning, when I experienced this, I would get anxious. With time I learned that letting go, and not resisting my feelings, helped get me back on track much faster than those times when I insisted on fighting the feeling. Some times it helped when I got up from my chair and did a 20 to 30 minute meditation. Believe me, for an ambitious, methodical, control-freak like me, initially lying down in the middle of the day to ‘do nothing’ was not easy. But I found that doing so helped me get back on track. I learned to see those 20 to 30 minutes as an investment. If I stopped for 30 minutes, in return I would receive hours of productivity. If I insisted on squeezing material out of my tired mind, I would at most get frustrated.
Be thankful. Every single day I took time to acknowledge how lucky I am for having the opportunity to focus on one of my dreams. To remind myself to say ‘thanks’ I carried a gratitude rock in my pocket and one in my bag. Seeing it made me stop to say: ”thanks for this opportunity”. This exercise kept me focused, and reminded me to not take a single day for granted – that means I gave my writing the best of me every single day.
Right now ask yourself what can you do to get closer to your goals. Drop what you’re doing and go do that one thing right now.