Lower Your Standards and Keep Going

by Dori Ostermiller

It’s amazing, the myriad ways we avoid creative work…  Yesterday, during the hours I’d put aside for writing, I scoured my stove, gave myself a Tarot reading, took my dog to the ‘puppy store’ for treats, did fifteen sun salutations.  When I finally got myself to the computer, there were five or ten ‘urgent’ emails, which led to an hour of work on my winter workshop schedule. And then I had to take fifteen minutes, of course, to check out the best VRBO deals in Crete, though I have no time or money to travel in the foreseeable future.

If you’re a writer, this probably sounds familiar. Resistance takes many forms, including sudden compulsive cleanliness, physical ailments, extreme wanderlust or vacation envy, uncontrollable bouts of email-writing or personal hygiene or internet shopping…  I hear from so many of my workshop students the same lament: “I can’t get myself to buckle down!”  They complain about their lack of discipline; but in my experience, lack of discipline is usually a cover for something deeper–something called fear.  Something called internal judgment.

There is always a direct relationship between procrastination and unreasonable expectations.  If you’re suffering from a case of never getting to your workthe root cause is most likely too much self-criticism, which causes fear, and leads to creative shut down.  William Stafford’s advice to his own students in these circumstances was to “lower your standards, and keep going.”

It takes a lot of courage to face down the blank page or screen, to take that deep dive into the unknown, with no guarantees that the effort will yield anything. It takes lots of nerve to let your shitty first drafts be just that.  In these moments of resistance, I try to offer myself some compassion, and to remember why I write. The greatest reward of writing, by far, is the creative immersion, the sense of discovery and self-exploration that writing brings. And you can’t have that without risking failure, each time you sit down.

Today, try writing the worst possible drivel in the world, and lots of it.  You can worry about making it perfect another day.

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