Work Always Comes Before Willpower

Don’t wait for “the feeling” to set in. You’ll be waiting a very long time.

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In the health space, there’s often this assumption that not being able to meet or maintain a weight loss goal results from a lack of willpower. If you don’t have the willpower, you won’t lose or keep off the weight.

Something similar happens when we set and attempt to meet writing goals. We assume that if we wait long enough, we’ll somehow magically develop the “willpower” necessary to write a book or start a blog or any of the other things we want so desperately to accomplish.

To be clear, we don’t always do this on purpose. Imagine you’re sitting at your laptop checking your email. You know that on your to-do list is a goal to write 1,000 words before the day ends. But you’re “not quite ready” to start yet. So you tab over to Facebook. Which leads to a BuzzFeed post. Which begins a two-hour deep dive into the best tweets about cats that have ever been tweeted, and before you know it, the day is over and writing — once again — has not happened.

Did you lack the willpower to write? Not really. You never started writing, so you never got around to building any kind of foundation on which your willpower could stand.

In this case, it was because you got distracted. But I will personally admit there have been moments I’ve sat in front of my computer thinking, “Okay, there has to be something that’s going to make me ‘feel’ like writing. Right? If I just wait a little longer …”

In case you haven’t learned this lesson the hard way yet, this “method” doesn’t exactly … work.

And the worst part is, the longer you wait to do the thing you really don’t want to do, the harder it typically is to do it. I should have written this blog post two hours ago, for example. I would have had a lot more fun doing it then, but I put it off. Now I’m still having fun, except I’m getting a little sleepy and it’s taking twice as long to do as it would have before. Serves me right!

When you wait a day, somehow that day always turns into far too many days. And that’s not good.

You could spend your whole life “waiting” for the motivation to write. Unfortunately, the only thing that earns you is a faded idea, a blank document, and an office desk piled high with regrets.

You can do better.

It all starts with work, the same way every single book begins with a single word. And it’s the exact same concept at the root of my “500 words” theory — that it only takes 500 words to enter a flow state, at which point it becomes difficult to STOP writing.

Once you actually start the work, you figure out, oh, it’s not so bad. And then you really get going, and realize there was no way you could have gained the willpower to do that work without, you know … doing the work first.

Thinking about writing and actively writing are two completely different experiences. Many people fall into the trap of overthinking everything they’re going to have to do when they sit down to write before they even start writing anything. They get overwhelmed before they even give themselves a chance to try. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes, I have to force myself to start writing without even having a plan. Shocking, I know! But it gets the job done. It forces me to start the work. And most of the time, I just keep going.

In all honesty, there are going to be many days and nights and weekends you don’t really feel like writing. The only effective method I’ve found to combat this is to just start writing anyway. If starting is your hurdle, there’s no other way over that hurdle than to start doing the thing you keep convincing yourself you don’t “need” to start yet.

No one ever published a bestselling novel by sitting there thinking about it.

Well, I suppose that’s how it probably started. But at some point they stopped thinking and started writing, and that’s how they developed the drive, the motivation, the willpower, to keep writing until OOPS they’d written an entire book!

Willpower won’t come until you work.

Don’t search for the motivation to do something. It will show up when you do.

Happy writing!


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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