Hook Your Wagon to the…uh…Pen.

What do a Freelance Writer and an Old West wagon train have in common?

It’s all grandiose plans, excitement and big dreams until the first time the wagon gets stuck in the mud and the wheel falls off. And then the doubts set in.

I think most writers and artists I have talked to (or read about) all agree that the start of a project is great, and the satisfaction of completing a project gives one a real thrill of accomplishment. The hard part is the middle, when the enthusiasm wanes and the ideas start to thin out. If a writing project or an artistic endeavor is ever going to fail, this is when it will happen. Obstacles that seemed like pebbles at the start will suddenly become rocky, impassable crags and peaks and the excuses, reasoning and bargaining begin, like fog rolling in off the water.

“Well, it was a stupid idea anyway.”

“I really don’t have time for this.”

“What was I thinking? This won’t pay the bills.”

“I have no idea what I am doing.”

I could keep going, but you get the idea. I am a master of excuses and tend to react to difficulty or conflict by going all “deer in the headlights,” before retreating to a safe, dark hollow under a rock somewhere.

Writing is hard.

Repeat after me: writing is hard. Any art form is difficult because ultimately it is a reflection of who the artist is, stripped bare and laid out on a sacrificial altar in the unflinching glare of public opinion. In order for a writer or an artist to access the wellspring of their talent, they have to be able to tap into aspects of their psyche that they may otherwise keep safely cloaked in obscurity.

Existential musings aside, it is just physically grueling to sit, hunched over a keyboard for hours at a time, putting those ideas into a readable form. Every writer – without exception – has sat staring at the keyboard, willing the ideas to materialize as a mournful wind howls through the empty desert that is the writer’s mind. Cue the tumbleweed.

When the tumbleweed appears, it’s time to take a break. Get a coffee, go for a walk or take a nap. It is called Writer’s Block and it will pass.

Every great idea, book or work of art that has every come into being did so because the creator, inventor, writer or artist found a way to work past the tumbleweed stage.

Even the artist Robert Bateman admitted once that with the creation of every one of his incredible paintings he would reach a point half way through where he didn’t want to work on that painting any more. Thankfully for the rest of the world, he always managed to work past the tumbleweed stage.

It kind of makes one wonder how many other incredible ideas or works of art never saw the light of day because the artist just got tired of the project and talked themselves out of it.

But this isn’t just about writing or painting, it’s about life. Every day choices are made as to what to do and when. What to start and what to work on. It is easy enough to choose to start a project, but a conscious decision must also be made to follow through and to finish the project. Every decision made about that project must work towards the idea that the project will ultimately be completed as well. That sounds simple enough, but how many times have you come up with a fantastic idea that you have launched into with great enthusiasm, only to grind to a halt as the thought of “where do I go from here?” rattles around in the back of your head? Well, that has happened to me more times than I care to admit.

So how does one guard against the tumbleweed stage? For starters, have a plan in place. Yes, we’re back to that Plan thing again. I am a huge fan of writing everything down on paper with a pencil or pen. I’m old-fashioned that way but for me, it seems to help solidify the ideas, items I need to remember or my plan of attack for future reference. I have a very visual memory, so when I write my thoughts out, I remember what it was that I wrote down.

Yes, my kids came by their ADD honestly.

Whether or not you are a fan of roadmaps or GPS devices (I actually have a paper map book in my truck), they are useful things. A map is simply an overview of where you are going and what is around you. Part of creating a plan for your project is to literally or figuratively sketch out a map or outline of where you are going with your project, what you want to accomplish and when. It can be as detailed or basic as you want, but mapping out your plan does help provide some direction and motivation and will help you navigate those dirt tracks when you hit the tumbleweed stage.

The only way to get anywhere or to accomplish anything is to move forward and to keep moving, even when you run into mud and your wheel falls off.

Obstacles are a part of everyday life. We need obstacles to learn objective thinking and problem-solving. We need to work towards goals and sometimes to fight to get there. We need to learn to move to Plan B if Plan A isn’t working (or sometimes Plan C, Plan D, etc.). This teaches us resilience and builds our mental and emotional muscles, as it were. If everything came easily, we would be shallow, lazy and lacking in empathy. That is just a fact of life. To quote the iconic Captain James T. Kirk (yes, I am a Trekkie – mea culpa), “I don’t want to remove my pain. I need my pain! My pain makes me strong.”

Making the choice to move forward, to work towards a goal and to complete a project applies to everything we do, whether it is working towards a degree, writing a book, renovating the bathroom or teaching a child to read. It takes a conscious decision to work through and finish a project in spite of difficulties, distractions, lack of motivation or ideas.

Sometimes you need to step back and think through what is holding you back. If you need ideas or direction on how to do something, ask someone. Search it on the internet. Almost anything you want to learn, you can find on the internet in the form of a tutorial or free on-line class. I took a free on-line tutorial on how to work with Twitter. You can take free classes from Harvard on-line, if you want. Many home renovation stores offer free workshops on how to do various tasks. If you want writing ideas, sit in a coffee shop with a latte and a notebook and listen to conversations around you. Sit in a park and listen to the wind in the trees.

The point is: if you are stuck, shake up your routine and change your environment or view. But KEEP GOING.

When it comes to writing, the very act of writing can clear out writer’s block, even if you are just writing:

“I have no idea what to write and this is driving me crazy so I am just going to write nonsense until I think of something…”

Try it. Seriously.

Once you have set a goal to accomplish something, hook your wagon to that star and keep going. Just remember to bring extra wagon wheels.

Westward Ho!