Work With What You Have: On Bad Writing Days

On those nights that the insomnia hits, my mind buzzes with anxious thoughts, literally buzzes, and there’s so much energy that my head could power a studio apartment.

After reading a few pages of a book and mindful breathing, sometimes I go back to sleep, but sometimes I don’t. On the days that I don’t, the next morning is its own kind of hell. I feel as if someone is cutting open my skull with a razor blade.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned its that resistance is futile.

There is no fighting it. The razor blade feeling is going to be there no matter what, and no amount of fighting it is going to give me back those hours of sleep.

So on those days, my mantra is, This is the kind of day I’m having.

I accept what I have to work with. I accept that I’m exhausted. I accept that I’m not at my best. I accept that I feel as if my skull is splitting open. And I move forward anyway.

This doesn’t make me any less tired nor does it take away the skull splitting feeling. It definitely doesn’t give me back those hours of sleep. But when I accept that this is what I have to work with, the level of anxiety tones down, and I I can reasonably function as a human being.

I approach a shitty day with a positive attitude, because this mantra shows me how to work with what I have. I find that I have patience with myself and  the wherewithal to complete tasks. I have acceptance of the little things that don’t go well, because “this is the kind of day I’m having.”

When you have a bad day of writing, that is the kind of day you’re having. This is what you have to work with for today. You’re going to feel frustrated and uncomfortable. Your work is going to be a joyless slog through a Mad Max-like terrain of apocalyptic death. And this is what you have to work with for today.

Here is how you can have a positive attitude about your shitty day.

Writers are experts at doing more with less. When you’re a writer, you never have enough: never enough time, never the perfect space, and never the right inspiration. You learn to work with what you have. A bad writing day is no different.

But writers react strongly to bad days. They believe that having this kind of day means there’s something wrong with them. They see it as a symptom of a larger problem. When writers are already so vulnerable and their resources so few, they can’t imagine working with even less.

Do you really want to give yourself an excuse for feeling that way? Do you really want more of that? Don’t you have enough of those thoughts already? What if you could have a different mindset about it?

If you have a bad writing day (or period), that’s an opportunity to McGuyver the shit out of the resources you do have and see what you’re made of.

Some people get up at five in the morning to do their work. Or they stay up past midnight. In the podcast Big Magic, author Glennon Doyle Melton talks about how when she first started her blog, she wrote in her closet because that was the only way she could do her work. She didn’t piss and moan about what she didn’t have. She looked at what she did have, and she made it work.

When you let go of that resistance, you have an opportunity to become a stronger and more resourceful artist. Those days will add up, and you’ll get to see how capable you really are. Rather than allowing it to consume you, train yourself to move through it.

Time, Values, & Getting S**t Done

“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” – Stephen Covey from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (PG 70-71).

If you’ve spent any time reading The Oatmeal, chances are good that you’ve met The Blerch.

Instead of hitting “the wall”, The Oatmeal talks about this fat little cherub who follows him when he runs called The Blerch.

The Blerch does not want The Oatmeal to succeed. The Blerch wants The Oatmeal to get back on the couch and stuff his face with cake while watching a Robo Cop marathon.

In Buddhism we have Mara, a demon who took various forms (re: sexy ladies) to distract the Buddha from seeking enlightenment. Mara didn’t want the Buddha to succeed either.

Sometimes it feels like there are Blerches and Maras for creativity, creatures and demons that want to distract us from our work, because they don’t want us to succeed.

But these creatures and demons are mythical of course. The Blerch is a persona of The Oatmeal, a reminder of who he was before he started running. And in Buddhism (my humble interpretation of it anyway) “mara” is just another word for distracting thoughts that pop up during meditation…or, you know, sexy ladies or whatever you might be into.

Stephen Pressfield calls it Resistance. Other writers call it the Inner Critic. Whatever you choose to call it, its a part of you. The personas simply make it easier to separate yourself from them.

So if you’re going to identify with something different, then identify with the thing you value.

The Oatmeal keeps running, because his well-being is more important to him than cake and Robo Cop. The Buddha kept meditating because ultimately enlightenment was more important to him than sexy ladies. And while cake, Robo Cop, and sexy ladies (or whatever you’re into) are all tempting, some things are just more important than that. When you value something like running, enlightenment, or creativity, then the choice on how to spend your time becomes that much easier.

Making time is about the expression of that thing you value. When you spend time doing it, you’re telling the world that this is more important to me than That Other Thing.

But you have to make the choice. Even when its not easy, even when people tell you its wrong though you know its right, you have to make that choice.

A while back I wrote this blog post about making time versus finding time. There is a huge difference between the two. The writers who make time get shit done, and the writers that don’t are at the mercy of external circumstances.

And that right there is the difference between a productive writer and an unproductive one. A writer who gets shit done doesn’t wait for the right conditions to happen to them. They make the right conditions happen to them.

When you make the habit, your mindset starts to change. The habit gets you thinking, “How can I make this a part of my life?” When you have that shift in mindset, you think differently about your time and how your choices change. You begin to take control of how that time is spent.

The creative life will test you. There will plenty of days when its not easy to make this choice. You don’t get to breeze through the difficulty like one of those movie montages. You go through that crap in real time. For every choice you have to do creative work, you’ll have about ten choices to quit.The Blerch, Mara, or Resistance will open the Quit Door, enticing you over to the other side.

There’s nothing wrong with taking that door. Creative work is not for everybody, and those that know that about themselves will call it quits.

But if you’re truly serious about this practice, it will ask you to take ownership, to step up, and stretch yourself. Those that do that know the secret to getting shit done.

Morning Routines: Get Out Of Your Own Way & Start One

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” – Stephen Pressfield

The first two hours of my day are always blocked out the same way. I get up and make coffee. I meditate for about twenty minutes. I drink coffee and read a book for about twenty minutes, while I continue to wake up, usually a book on writing, Buddhism, or personal development. I do morning pages for about thirty minutes, and then I do my fiction writing for about an hour. The whole thing takes approximately two and a half hours.

Depending on how bad the insomnia is, I might make some adjustments, but this is the general idea.

When I got the idea for this post, I did a search for “morning routine” and of course there are 5,683,109,732 results, and none of them said what I wanted to say. They make it sound so easy. Too easy.

Here’s the not-so-easy part of morning routines.

You’re probably telling yourself, “I can’t get up that early” or “I don’t have time for that” or “I don’t meditate”.

I’m not going to go down that road with you. I’m not going to indulge in those excuses, because if you’re telling yourself, “I can’t…” that is probably resistance talking.

“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” – Stephen Pressfield

If you’re telling yourself, “I can’t…” that means that right now you’re faced with making a monumental shift in your life, and that shit is scary. These kinds of changes mean facing the parts of yourself that are easy to ignore on a daily basis. You go from saying, “I’m not going to deal with that today” to “There is no way around this; time to face it”.

And I get it. I’ve been there. Before I started meditating. I was terrified of sitting on the cushion, because I was afraid of what I would discover about myself. Before I started morning pages, I was terrified of what three pages of free-writing would unearth in that dusty little subconscious I carry around.

Here’s how I did it: I told myself that I just had to try it. Meditate for one ten minute period. Try morning pages for three days. Simply try it. And if I didn’t like it, then I didn’t have to do it anymore.

There was no FANTASTICALLY SPECTACULAR LIFE CHANGE!! (Shoots off fireworks.) There was simply the what-the-hell-try-it-and-see-what-happens effort.

You can see how that turned out.

And that terror has never really gone away. My mind is still troubled at times. Mice and cobwebs still rattle around in my subconscious. There are days when I’m terrified of sitting on the cushion or of free writing three pages, because I know something is bothering me and keeping me awake at night. I also know that I can’t make the progress I want to make without moving through it. “Not dealing with that today” no longer becomes an option.

And if that “I can’t…” voice is still speaks to you, then its time to reckon with that roadblock.

Which brings me to my next point: a morning routine puts you in control of your day. When you have a morning routine, you’re basically performing self care. You’re getting your body and mind prepared for the day. It puts you in a proactive state of mind rather than a reactive one.

When you jump out of bed at a different time every morning and you’re scrambling to get your things together and stuff some kind of sustenance down your gullet, you are not mentally prepared for what kind of crap the day is about to throw at you.

When you have time to prepare and focus, when you do it in such a way that its routine, then your mind and body has a process for pulling itself together. You have taken care of yourself and done the things that are as essential to you as breathing, so that when the day does throw crap at you (and it will), your head is clear, your stomach is fed, you’re caffeinated, and your body and mind are in a routine to go about the day.

To outsiders it may seem boring and a bit rigid that you’re structuring your life around this routine, but its not boring when every day I make a little more progress on my fiction or when my meditation practice grows a little stronger or when the dust in my head clears. Its not boring when I get a little bit closer to the person I’m meant to be.

There was a period in my life when none of that progress was being made, and I was no closer to becoming that person than I was the day before or the year before. For a while, it was more comfortable to stay in that place than it was to change. I drifted along until I reached a point where the discomfort of staying in that place is greater than the discomfort of making the transformation.

There is a better way to live. There is always a better way to live. Spend an hour or so with yourself every morning becoming more like the person you already are.

2016 Year In Books

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King

If you feel like this quote is overused, its because that every writer knows its true. Writers need to read. They need to read for the sake of their craft. They need to learn and study the craft so they can apply it to their own.

Do it enough, and you may even develop your very own writing muscle. If you have a strong writing muscle, then you will analyze everything you read as a writer. You will critique it based on craft, voice, consistency, character development, plot, etc.

The writing muscle will piss off everyone you know and love, because you will critique everything from beloved bestselling novels to episodes of The Walking Dead. You may hate things that other people love, because of their flaws. You will love things that other people hate, because you see hidden gems that they don’t.

Top 5

This year, I’m doing something a little different and simply listing the top 5 books I read this year with a few notes about what they taught me as a writer. In no particular order, here they are:

Planet of Exile. by Ursula K Le Guin Written, I believe, in the same universe as The Left Hand of Darkness. An earthling colony has been stranded on Werel for several Earth centuries, and the dwindling human settlement is beginning to thin out. Their leader attempts to form an alliance with the humanoid hilfs to protect both groups from a horde of barbarians before winter sets in.

I love this particular book in the series but love the world as a whole for the way it addresses themes of Otherness. With so many different forms of intelligent life converging, they become stronger when they learn to trust and accept one another in order to protect themselves from forces that pose legitimate threats. In a world where two different species perceive themselves as “real” people, it asks the question, “What is man?”

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.A. Carey A disturbing novel if nothing else. I don’t want to say much more than what the blurb insinuates, in case you haven’t read it. I learned so much from studying the five primary characters it follows in the book. On their own, they are infuriatingly flawed, but when they function as a group, each person serves a specific and vital role that brings the story to its conclusion. (If you’ve read this book and have any thoughts on that, please email me. I’d love to chat with you, jane[dot]endacott[at]gmail[dot]com).

Saga series, by Brian K. Vaughn. A graphic novel series set in a sci-fi fantasy world where two species are locked in a devastating and endless civil war with a Romeo and Juliet story as its focus, but instead of killing themselves like temperamental teenagers, Romeo and Juliet start a family. More themes of Otherness (the two sides have been fighting for so long, they don’t remember why they hate each other). The artwork is absolutely stunning. I could tell a lot about who Special Agent Gale simply by his facial expressions and demeanor.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood Like watching Ursula Le Guin speak, seeing Margaret Atwood at a Powell’s reading for this book was something akin to a religious experience.

Fun fact: she started writing this book as a serial novel, self-publishing chapters on Amazon. When her publisher found out about it, they were all like, “Nuh-nuh-nuh-no, you’re going to do this as a traditionally book,” and its TOTALLY OBVIOUS at what point in the story that it was published as a serial book and at what point it became a traditionally published book. The plot moves at breakneck speed up to a certain point, with so many twists and turns, that it had me think, WHAT NOW, MOTHER ATWOOD?, and then it kind of slows down. But I loved it nonetheless. Much, much more uplifting than the MaddAdam series.

The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero (on audiobook) I listened to this as an audiobook, which was brilliantly narrated by author Greg Sestero. If you don’t know the story of The Room, read the next section. If you do know the story of The Room, skip ahead. Meet you after the video clip.

Don’t Know the Story: The Room is – with no exaggeration, no hyperbole, and absolutely officially – the worst movie ever made. It has the critical distinction of being the worst movie ever made. From what I understand, film classes teach it as “Everything You Must Not Do”, and if you watch the film, it becomes painfully (in the literal sense) obvious.

It was written, directed, and financed by Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau plays the lead, and he’s kind of an unusual guy, and if you want to know just how unusual, here’s a clip.

Know the story? Okay, now you can join us: When most people watch The Room, they wonder, “Did the people who made this know how bad it was?” In The Disaster Artist, Sestero answers, yes, everyone knew how bad it was…everyone except Tommy Wiseau, a tortured man who poured his heart and soul into this film.

Greg Sestero , who plays Mark in the film, was a young, struggling actor and close friends with Wiseau, and he knew Wiseau intimately throughout the making of this film. Wiseau is an easy target, and it would be so easy to make fun of him or mock him. But Sestero saw a very human side to Wiseau, and he writes this book with real compassion for the man. If you’re a fan of The Room – in whatever fucked up iteration of the word that it entails – I PROMISE that you will be entertained by this book, even more so if you listen to the audiobook. Sestero’s impression of Wiseau is incredible.

If you’re not yet a fan of The Room, the only way to watch this movie is with a rowdy group of people, and don’t forget to follow this guide of heckling.

Diverse Books Reading Challenge

I made a commitment at the beginning of 2015 that half the books on my reading list for this year would be written by diverse authors. Update: I failed miserably.

Out of the 21 books I read this year a whopping 2 were written by diverse authors: Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi, and This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz.

I was keenly aware throughout the year that I was behind on this challenge. I had not forgotten about it at all, but the books that were calling to me this year were written by non-diverse authors. See my spiel above about developmental and self-help books. Books about topics that I needed help in weren’t written by diverse authors. I say this not as an excuse but to bring awareness about why I wasn’t successful at this challenge.

Still, this is an issue that is important to me. I believe that art is stronger when all voices are represented at the table (read more about my thoughts, here), and one thing I can change is what’s on my reading list. For 2017, I commit to reading a minimum of 5 books, which is still not enough, but I’d rather set myself up for success.

Walk of Shame: Books I Didn’t Finish This Year

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner: A dense, nonfiction book about how the once wild rivers of the western states have been tamed and reaped in water project after cumbersome and extravagant water project. It may sound like a dry topic (pun intended!), but anyone who lives in some of our arid western states understands how valuable a resource water can be. And don’t think that just because you live in a place like, say, Oregon that you can disregard it. Read the story about how the city of LA grew by taking water from communities hundreds of miles away and see how closely these issues can affect you. A fascinating history about water management in our country. I will definitely return to this one.

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Fire & Ice Book 5), by George R.R. Martin: Got about halfway through it (so 600 pages) before I decided that I wanted to feel good about life. Since it will likely be another five years before Martin finishes Book 6, I figure I have time to come back to this.

Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie: I tried. I really tried. But a new year means new chances and a clean slate. I figure now’s a good time to put this one down. 2017 is for a fresh start.

4 Productivity Tools to Reach Your 2017 Goals

As I set my goals for 2017 and think about what I want to accomplish this coming year, I considered the tools that have vastly improved my productivity in the last couple years.

Productivity tools aren’t just for driven entrepreneurs or techies who build apps. They’re for anyone who needs to manage themselves, and nobody I know needs to manage themselves more than creatives.

Whether you’re published or unpublished, you have to hold yourself accountable. It takes a more than simply having the right program, enough time, and a cozy space to work. No one is going to hold your hand. Not even the other writers in your community. (If they genuinely care about you, they’ll tell you to sit your ass down and get to work).

I spent years being unproductive. That changed when I realized that I did a terrible job of holding myself accountable and that I couldn’t do it on my own.

When I started using these productivity tools, it was the difference between night and day, the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, pre-Beatles and post-Beatles rock ’n roll. My habits, my drive, my output, and my confidence all changed.

If you want to feel like a true professional, try using these tools.

Time tracking. I originally started using this for freelance work, but I soon found it useful for tracking writing time as well.

I know some of you may be thinking that its hard enough even finding the time to write, much less tracking it. But the practice of tracking my time has helped me look at it a lot differently.

It showed me when I was being productive and when I wasn’t. It showed me that the time I spend in this endeavor is the equivalent of a part-time job. I began to perceive my writing and the time I spent doing it as my work. It made me take that time much more seriously.

What I use: Toggl. An app that can be used on all devices with a very simple timer and weekly reports. I’m a visual person, so I love that projects can be color coded. What I’m working on actually stands out. It comes on all devices. There’s a Chrome extension and integrations with Evernote, Google Drive, an offline mode for your computer, and more.

Others: Time Doctor, Hours.

Focus app. Over two years ago, I fell into a terrible habit that affected my productivity in the worst way. I was spending way too much time on Facebook and other websites, and it was sucking up all my time.

I noticed that I was particularly vulnerable to this time-suck in the morning, my magical creative time. I also noticed that I was more angry, afraid, and distracted by political issues and world events, and unless I was prepared to channel that energy into activism, I was only distracting myself.

I started using a focus app that allowed me to block these distracting sites while I was working, forcing me to stay focused. Often, I would set the timer at night before bed for ten or twelve hours so that when I got up in the morning the app was already protecting me from my terrible habits. I didn’t have it on my phone, but having it on my computer was enough.

What I use: Self Control. As always, very simple to use. Set the timer, and unless you’re some kind of hacker superstar, you cannot shut the stupid thing off until the timer runs out.

Other programs: Freedom is very popular because it can be used on multiple devices. AntiSocial is another alternative.

A Planner. Yes, I use a planner. The kind that is printed on paper. With dates in it. That I write in. With a pen.

For a long time I tried using Google Calendars, but I am the kind of person who needs to see things written down on pieces of paper.

Using a planner was another game changer for me. I work part time jobs on top of my freelance work and creative projects. Using a planner helped me get realistic about how much time I have in a day and how I should use it. After carving out time for my part time jobs and freelance gigs, I see (again, visual person here) what’s leftover.

In the past I drifted from one project to the next, unsure of whether I was spending my time the way I needed to. Now, I plan my day every night before bed, so that every morning I know what I’m working on and when I’m working on it.

What I use: Passion Planner, love it for the goal setting, journaling, and accountability features.

Other planners: Danielle LaPorte & Productive Flourishing has some good options.

Words Written Tracking Sheet. This one is pretty simple. I track the number of words I write for the day and do this throughout the year.

Basically it makes me stay accountable with the goal of writing (almost) every single day. When I start to see gaps, then I know I need to pick up the pace. When the spreadsheet is filled with three digit numbers, then I can reflect on my work and feel good about all that I’ve accomplished.

Here’s a link. Feel free to use this & adapt as you see fit. I’m always looking for ways to improve this method, so if you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear them. Email me at jane [dot] endacott [at] gmail.com

17 Gifts for Your Writer

’Tis the season, folks. If you have a writer in your life and you want to gift them something great, here are a few ideas for writerly gifts. Most of these are things I use myself or have come recommended.

1. Scrivener. The way that a lot of writers talk about Scrivener, you’d think that the program made them Pour Over coffee, walked their dog, and gave them a back rub. Scrivener functions like a digital notebook. Writers (including myself) love this program because of the way it organizes all their project notes and drafts. And its a tad pricey, so its hard for a writer to justify buying this for themselves.

2. Evernote Subscription. This program is mostly used for note-keeping, but many writers in my online communities use this as their primary word processing program. Functioning as a kind of shelf for multiple digital notebooks, its a great tool for organizing projects. A subscription allows use on multiple devices, additional memory, and more options for how things like PDF’s and scans are stored.

2. (Part Deux) Evernote Smart Notebook. If your writer is already an Evernote convert, then check out the Evernote Smart Notebook. With this notebook, writers can jot down notes and use the camera feature in Evernote to upload the notes. I’ve never had a need for this myself, but it sounds pretty cool.

3. Field Notes. Small notebooks that are easy to carry with you. They have the tried and true basic designs, reporter’s notebook, Limited Edition, and more durable notebooks for the writer/adventurer.

4. Decomposition Books. There’s still a few of us who prefer to hand write our drafts before putting them on a computer. This year, I’ve taken to using Decomposition Books, which are the perfect size for stashing in my purse, super durable, and they come with some cool designs.

5. A stack of their favorite pens. Stocking stuffers. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this.

6. Gummy worms or M&M’s or whatever treat they fancy. I guarantee you that your writer has a treat they like to munch on while they’re writing. More incredible stocking stuffers.

7. Stainless Steel French Press. My roommate recently got one of these for her birthday, and as a coffee snob, I have to say, I’m a touch jealous. You can find a make that is doubled-walled, meaning its uber insulated, keeping coffee warm for hours. Also, if you’re going to buy a French Press, buy one that’s made with stainless steel, because those glass carafes inevitably meet tragic ends in drying racks.

8. Klean Kanteen. Keeps hot liquids hot for up to 6 hours and cold liquids cold for 24 hours. I drink my coffee out of it every morning, while I spend about 1 1/2 -2 hours writing.

9. Loose Leaf Tea. Clearly, I’m biased towards coffee, but your writer may may prefer tea over coffee. Townsend’s has an amazing selection.

10. Epica Electric Kettle. Whether tea or coffee, this electric kettle is legit, good quality and efficient.

11. Pandora/Spotify subscription. I love, love, love my Pandora subscription. I listen to several stations, depending on what I’m working on, and paying $5 a month not to have some obnoxious mattress commercial jolt me out of my flow is worth every penny. I’m a Pandora person myself, but if your writer is more selective about their music, they may prefer Spotify. Whichever you choose, personally curated playlists with no commercials improves flow. Both can be used on mobile devices allowing you to use them on the go.

12. Wonderbook, by Jeff Vandermeer. Learning about story, character, world-building, and setting from one of the most gifted writers with an incredible imagination. Includes fantastic illustrations and interviews with renowned authors. A delightful read.

13. The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. The Holy Book of Creatives. Stephen Pressfield has managed to sum up in one word everything that keeps a writer or creative from doing their work: resistance. Required reading for anybody who wants to make things.

14. A magazine subscription. Input is just as valuable as output. This year, I’ve been addicted to fashion magazines like Vogue and W., because of the imaginative fashion, and Vanity Fair for reading about people and topics I know little about. I can’t stop thinking about this year’s article on Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes and the character flaws that motivated her decisions. Give your writer the gift of learning new subjects.

15. Yoga classes. Between my fiction writing and freelance writing, I spend A LOT of time hunched over a desk. Every so often my right arm becomes inflamed, and the Gollum posture feels a little too familiar. Within two days of my first classes, I noticed a difference, less inflammation and improved posture.

16. A massage. These are pretty great for the Gollum posture, too.

17. Something They Won’t Buy For Themselves. The Scrivener suggestion got me thinking about this. For a very long time, I wanted Scrivener but couldn’t justify the price. Finally, one year I bought it as a birthday present to myself, and its been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Not only did it give me an organizational system, but I’m happy with this system. A good system makes a writer look forward to their work. Writers are pretty thrifty and thoughtful about what they shell out money for. Your writer may have The Thing They Know They Need But Won’t Buy For Themselves. Maybe Santa Claus can get it for them.

The Moment You Want to Quit Is the Moment to Push Forward

There are moments I experience in running when there’s an urge to slow down. My mind is tired of doing the work, tired of propping myself up, tired of being strong to be “healthy” or “a better version of myself”.

The truth is, I’m not actually tired but I’ve hit resistance.

I know “tired”. Tired is at the end of a 12 or 16 or 20 mile run when my feet and calves are so worn out that they feel as if they’re going to fall right off me. Tired is the last four miles of a marathon that may as well be four hundred miles. This moment that I’ve hit isn’t “tired”. Its resistance.

In that moment I want to slow down, I have a choice. When the ball of my foot hits the pavement, I can choose to ease off and slow down or I can choose to push forward and preserve the momentum I’ve built.

In that moment I don’t think about the distance that I have in front of me or the miles I’ve already run. I think about this one choice that I can make in this single moment. Slowing down is easy, but pushing forward takes only a small amount of effort. With that, the harder choice doesn’t seem so hard at all.

A couple weeks ago, I did not want to sit down for my day’s writing session. I was stuck on something with my character and could not figure out what her next move was.

That was the moment when excuses could have prevailed. “I need more time to think about this” is an excuse I’ve used in the past to get me out of it.

Instead, I made a choice. My choice was to “tinker with it and see what happens.” If I didn’t figure something out, then at least I wrote for the day.

Turns out, I had a major breakthrough, which wouldn’t have happened had I eased up and given in to the resistance. Feeling “stuck” actually meant that I was bumping up against a major breakthrough. Pushing forward was absolutely the right choice to make.

My strength and conditioning coach, Leah Taylor, once shared this story about two explorers who trekked across Antarctica. They traveled on skis for a distance of God awful hundred miles, or something close to it in harsh conditions and surrounded by nothing but snow and ice and more snow and more ice. And one of the explorers endured with a simple practice.

He put one ski in front of the other. And then he put one ski in front of the other. And then another. For God awful hundred miles. He didn’t focus on anything other than putting one ski in front of the other. Over and over for days on end.

Coach Leah told this story to illustrate how people who succeed at reaching big goals break everything down into small steps. But that explorer also made the choice every moment to push forward rather than to lay down in the snow and ice and die.

It may not seem like our stakes are so high as that. Laying down in the snow and dying is a much different outcome than slowing down on a run or not sitting down to write.

But in each there is a death. In one there is the physical death of the explorer and what he set out to accomplish. In the other, there is the death of potential of what you could be if you kept on running or if you sat down to write.

Each of those choices to push forward adds up. They add up to crossing Antarctica. They add up to miles run and pages written. They are the choices that add up to resilience and grit and creative breakthroughs.