In my other blog, THE SOUL OF SELLING, I often write about the Selling Discomfort Dilemma—but it occurs to me that the Discomfort Dilemma shows up in almost every aspect of life, and especially for writers. I have suffered its effects, and here offer some solutions that have worked for me.
WHAT IS THE DISCOMFORT DILEMMA?
The Discomfort Dilemma is that perilous moment when you stand poised between moving forward and doing whatever is the next step—or doing something to avoid it. That next step might be:
- Starting a new piece of writing
- Beginning the next draft or edit
- Finishing what you are working on
- Sending it out to an editor, agent, or publisher
- Just sitting down at your desk
- Anything that involves discomfort, the possibility of failure, or any potential for rejection—or that you just plain don’t wanna do!
When we’re on the horns of the Discomfort Dilemma, the next step always seems agonizing or impossible. We want to dive under the bed and mainline chocolate. We will do almost anything to avoid the imagined discomfort of that next step—even when we know from bitter experience that trying to avoid it only makes us more uncomfortable.
The problem is, that next step is still before us when we ﬁnish mainlining the chocolate. Only now it seems even bigger. It’s later in the game. We feel even more behind the Eight Ball, and we’re not sure we can trust ourselves now. It’s easy to feel as if, in order to make up for having gotten off track, we have to produce more results, better results, and we have to produce them more quickly. Misery!
GIMME A BREAK!
In the midst of the Discomfort Dilemma, almost anywhere seems better than where we are. And there are so many more comfortable things to do! We could call a friend. We need to keep up these relationships, after all. We could play with the kitty. The poor thing needs exercise. We could even pay bills. Righteous activities!
Hey, we could shampoo the rug! Sure, it’s “writing time,” but just last week we read an article on how crucial it is to shampoo rugs on a regular basis to keep them mold-free and extend their life! Come to think of it, we might have read that article during “writing time!” Which only shows how important it is to be ﬂexible about what we do during “writing time!”
Bills need to be paid. Rugs need to be shampooed. But not during the time when we said that we would write. During that time, cleaning the bird cage or ﬁsh tank are going to seem like good ideas—to say nothing of kicking back with a cup of coffee to chat with a friend. Knowing that the Discomfort Dilemma will never go away, and understanding how it works, gives us a leg up.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
The Discomfort Dilemma pops up whenever we start moving forward, or doing anything new. These things represent change—however small, and however good. When change of any kind is in the air, mental chatter gets startled and wakes up—on the wrong side of the bed. It scowls and stamps. It pouts, and begins its siren songs:
- I’m only thinking of you. You need a rest. Take a load off. Relax! You’ll do better in the long run.
- It’ll sharpen your wits to play computer games. You need that.
- C’mon, don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud! You’re human. Life’s too short to work that hard. Give yourself a break. Here, try this tiny piece of chocolate…
And before we know it, we’re mainlining.
When mental chatter starts cajoling and nattering, we need to remember that it does not always have our best interests at heart. We can postpone or delay whatever is next, but ultimately we have to do it. The longer we put it off, the longer we prolong the agony and the more uncomfortable it becomes.
I struggled with the Discomfort Dilemma for years, and became a champion computer game player in the process. I also became quite anxious. The stress of backing away from uncomfortable “next steps,” and then running back to ﬁx everything at the last minute, double speed, started to take its toll. Cortisol and other stress hormones surged into my system until, ﬁnally, I reached my pain threshold.
I experimented with the Nike Solution: Just do it! In fact, I did the most difficult things on my to do list first! It sounds hard core, but in fact, it made life easier. A lot easier. By noon, I had often written the “hard” material I was going to tackle that day—and had the whole afternoon to knock off “easier” to do list items like research, returning emails, and handling “businessy” things.
About that same time, I came across Annie Lamott’s dictum to “write shitty first drafts.” I embraced this advice, held it to me as I wrote and wrote through my “writing time.” Some of what I wrote was good, some bad, and some mediocre—but I always had something to work on the next day.
The three main benefits were huge:
- I was a lot more relaxed and enjoyed life more.
- My self esteem skyrocketed.
- I became a far more productive writer.
“Just do it” isn’t the best advice in every area of life, but I believe it almost always works to our advantage as writers. It makes me feel good about myself and about my life as a writer. That can’t hurt my work, and it just might help it.