Today has not been a good writing day for me.
It’s almost 3pm, and I’m just sitting down to do the one thing that’s most important to me, the one thing I promised myself I’d do daily: write.
I’ve been home all day, but I’ve somehow managed to continually dodge writing for almost an entire workday (8+ hours) so far!
In fact, I’ve done everything but write so far today. My day’s looked something like this:
Spend hours working through the latest writing course I’m taking. Walk around the house. Make some toast. Read the local newspaper. Read articles on Medium. Check my stats on writing platforms multiple times. Run a list of non-important errands that end up taking way too long. Look out the window. Walk around the house again. Look out a different window. Respond to work emails. Check my bank account. Then check it again later. Clean off the cars and shovel snow.
Yes, you read that right. I did say shovel snow.
When I’d rather shovel snow than write, I know it’s really bad!
But I also know that none of these actions get me closer to my writing goals. For that, I must actually write.
There are so many traps that writers can fall into if they’re not careful. There are so many distractions and time-wasters that can eat away at our days, and stop us from getting words down on the page. I just listed quite a few above.
But I think one of the worst ones of all is the trap of looking for reassurance.
Humans are constantly looking for signs that we’re doing something well, or doing it “right.” We want to know that we’re on the right track, and that we’re making progress. We want others to agree with us, and to validate us and our work.
“Reassurance is the human act of telling someone else that everything is going to turn out fine. Exactly as they hoped. That your friend’s efforts will pay off and their dreams will be realized.” — Seth Godin
We often look to others for reassurance about our decisions, thoughts, and actions. We’ve learned that getting confirmation from outside sources (or the people in our lives) feels good, like a warm, fuzzy blanket over our cold feet.
When it comes to writing (especially on Medium), that looks like getting curated, having your articles accepted into prominent publications, getting engagement on your stories in the form of claps, comments, highlights, and shares, and seeing your stats skyrocket. Better yet is when publications and editors come to you and invite you to submit your work.
We see all of these things as a form of proof that we’re okay. We’re doing it right. In fact, we might even be getting good at it!
Finally, everything is going to be okay. We expect that it’ll be a linear journey to success from here. Onward and upward!
But what happens if that’s not the case?
And, more importantly, is our need for reassurance actually hurting us?
Seth Godin published an article recently about reassurance being futile.
The reason it’s futile is that the more you receive, the more you feel you need. It’s a never-ending cycle of seeking and getting.
You come to depend on the reassurance in order to keep performing. After all, if you’re not getting any positive feedback, why keep going? What’s the point of expending effort that seemingly gets you nowhere?
What happens is that you start to spend more time searching for signs that it’s working than you do practicing and creating and making something of value.
Instead of focusing on your work and remembering why you started writing in the first place, you spend that same time and energy looking for reassurance.
Basically, you get sidetracked.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
As Seth Godin says:
“The alternative is to embrace that feeling of uncertainty and to refuse to get hooked on reassurance. The future is on its way, our work will ship, and then we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, we’ll keep doing the best work we know how to do.”
We can decide to spend more time creating than comparing. We can decide to embrace the unknown instead of trying to control it.
Rather than check our stats obsessively, or wait with bated breath for publications to accept or reject our recent submission or for curators to decide whether to distribute our story or not, we can just decide to continue doing the work, regardless of the outcome.
That’s the only way to truly do your best work.