Forget the big break, just be consistent
There is no destination, instead, arrival is simply the act of showing up itself
Cartoon by Léo Hamelin
At 8 AM each morning, I dial into a Zoom call and write for 50 minutes. Recently, I’ve started a new morning practise of attending Writers’ Hour, an online writing session hosted by the London Writers’ Salon. I wrote this newsletter you’re reading right now in one of the salons, with the tiled faces of 100 other writers working on their own words in their own homes.
There are mornings when I don’t want to do it. Maybe I’ve woken up late or I’m just not in the mood. But I’ve got a book to write and newsletters to send, so I’m trying to prioritise building a solid writing habit lately.
A few years ago, when I was trying to get into the habit of exercising, I read somewhere that if you don’t feel like working out, you should just put your gym kit on. Something about taking the first step will make you follow through. Turns out when you’re trying to write a book in 2020, that first step is firing up your Zoom.
The Writers Hour sessions follow the author Neil Gaiman’s rule for writing, “You can sit here and write or you can sit here and do nothing, but you can’t sit here and do anything else”. The hosts of Writers’ Hour repeat this rule at the start of every session. Every time I hear it, it’s like I’m granted the permission I need to let the writing process do what it needs to do. Some mornings I write solidly for the hour, others I scribble incoherent babble for ten minutes and then stare out of the window.
Sitting down to write and not writing is not the same thing as not sitting down to write. That’s what Gaiman is getting at with his rule – you need to consistently create space for the entire writing process to happen, including the parts when you don’t actually do any writing. It’s like any good yoga teacher will tell you, some days you can do the advanced poses and others you just need to stick to child’s pose. It’s ok to lie your yoga matt and do nothing, just as long as you’re on the matt.
No matter how much we rally against it, progress is not linear. Accepting that has helped dissolved my belief in big breaks. All I believe in now is consistency. If you keep doing something, you will get where you’re trying to go. This is true whether you’re a writer, photographer, teacher, partner or friend. I apply this rule of consistency across all aspects of my life, from writing for an hour each morning and regularly marketing my freelance business, to showing up for my friends. It’s made me realise there is no destination, instead, arrival is simply the act of showing up itself.
It makes me think about Albert Einstein’s infamously misattributed quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.” It might be insane to repeat something and expect different results, but it’s downright mad to not to repeat something and expect the same results.
This is the online version of The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter and community for anyone who wants to be happy and successful working for themselves. It's written by me, Anna Codrea-Rado, a journalist, podcaster and campaigner for freelance workers' rights. Illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. If you sign up with your email, you’ll receive weekly posts like these, PLUS work opportunities and curated links that will make your working life better