2020 Writing Mantra
Most people would agree that their creative output falls far short of their ambitions. I would put myself in that box. I know I lack the discipline to stick with a certain process on a long term basis. I haven't mastered a writing routine. Even after purposefully taking a year-long sabbatical to complete my manuscript, my routine is still painfully hit-or-miss. It's easy for me to speculate on the reasons for my poor discipline, but less so in understanding what the difference is to convert me from a tire kicker to a buyer, to use a product purchase analogy. That is, from an occasional or hobby writer to a seriously committed career author. I was a master at describing what I wanted my ideal writing life to look like, but I failed at predicting the reality of it.
I, perhaps naiively, thought not having a full-time job outside the home would relieve me of meeting deadlines, difficult co-workers, troublesome technology, etc. Not true. I did not have enough deep understanding of the overall physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional benefits of a disciplined routine versus the trade-offs I'd be willing to make. I hadn't thought through what experience I wanted for myself for the long term. All I thought about was the one big obstacle to writing — my day job — and removing it. It's more than that though and what I also came to realize is that it the experience I want to create is tied to goals.
According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review article regarding the jobs-to-be-done framework in the workplace, we zero in on, "...knowing our customer's circumstances and what 'job' they seek to accomplish in a given circumstance with our product. These circumstances are more important than customer characteristics, product attributes, new technologies, or trends. Good innovations solve problems that formerly had only inadequate solutions — or no solution."
Understanding when customers first identify the problem/ need/ job to be done and the type of solution to fulfill the need are also important. Jobs are never simply about function — they have powerful social and emotional dimensions.
So if I look at myself as a customer of my product (work), what is the job I want to solve for myself? What are the social and emotional aspects of the work?
As a consumer of historical fiction and mysteries, I am always on the lookout for those novels involving Italians. I'll buy them without knowing much about the author or their work, current or otherwise. I'm interested in reading stories with fully realized characters that don't rely on tropes and that's how I emotionally connect to them. I have to assume my readers expect the same for me so the job-to-be-done is to create stories that my readers connect with on a deep emotional level.
As a writer, I am driven to tell stories about Italians not yet told that occur in the past; not to rewrite the past, but to show there's more than one way Italians were then. But that's not a problem to solve or is it? Every time I sit down to write, should I think of that showing, that teaching, as a job? Well, yes, if I want to be in business as an author for the long term and if I want my readers to invest in my work. Their investment in me is a sacred contract that I take seriously because I want my work to impact them in some way, even a small one, and even if I never learn about it.
Sister O'Halloran. 6th grade. I asked a question. She said it was a very good one. I don't remember it, but even after all these years, whenever I feel like I'm about to ask a stupid question, this memory comes floating to the top. Surprises me every time and reminds me that one never knows how a few words or a kind gesture can impact someone's life far beyond that present moment.
Thanks to Marie Forelo, an inspiring business leader and coach, I am learning to push myself past my moods and my fears to focus on my commitments, and remember that everything is figureoutable. My discipline, my routine, for a successful career as an author depends on me believing that everything is figureoutable. It's also a great mantra and I'm a big fan of mantras.
Speaking of which, I just watched Episode 5 of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials last night. Lyra, the young plucky protagonist, was going into a place that was cold, dark, and really scary. Her daemon, Pan, told her not to go inside. She went anyway, repeating to herself, "When I am frightened, I shall master my fear." I love that affirmation.
In 2019, I co-opted a David Bowie lyric as my writing mantra. For 2020, I'm co-opting two sources and meshing them together for something that works for me. Here it is:
I shall get the job done and I shall master my fear.
Writer friends: what is your writing mantra for 2020? If not a specific mantra, what words, phrases, affirmations, or prayers motivate you to keep on keeping on?