Little steps. Big steps. First steps.

Last week, I finished the first draft of my screenplay. It was a goal I’d set for myself so long ago – a goal which I had so often delayed – that part of me couldn’t believe that I had actually achieved it, and that I was really, truly, typing the words “Fade Out” on the bottom of page ninety-eight.

However, though I felt an initial surge of excitement upon reaching this milestone, my joy quickly turned to dread. I felt scared. Heavy. Worried.

The negative self-talk started screaming through my brain. “You finished it?” “So what?” “It’s not done. Not by a long shot.” “You’ll probably never finish it.” “And even if you do, who cares?” “Your story isn’t particularly interesting, Sarah. No one is going to want to see this movie.”

It took me three days after completing the first draft to force myself to sit down and read the whole thing from beginning to end, with an eye on what needed to be clarified, edited, and fixed. The process was horrible. As I read along, my self-judgment got worse and worse. Words like “stupid,” “cliché,” and “boring” sprang to mind. One particular scene made me laugh out loud as I covered my mouth in horror, thinking, “I can’t believe I wrote that.”

And on and on it went. My younger self would have been so discouraged at the end of it, I would have buried the entire document in a folder on my laptop and not looked at it again for months, until one night after I’d had too much wine and was feeling masochistic, I’d pick it up again and cry my way though it, bemoaning my poor talentless self and all the months I’d wasted on writing something that was never going to be any good and was never going to see the light of day.

But I am not my younger self. I am older now, and I – usually – know better. The older me took all of my harshest criticism and wrote it down, trying to make my notes as constructive as possible. The older me reminded myself that first drafts are almost always terrible, and I didn’t write this first draft to be brilliant, I wrote it to get to the end. The older me knows that this process is painful, but also knows that the only way to make the pain stop is to keep writing, keep pushing, keep showing up and doing the work. The older me knows that I can’t give up, because if I do, the unfinished work will turn into yet another unrealized dream that will haunt me. And I have too many of those already, thank you very much.

I am fortunate enough to have lots of amazing friends who are actors, writers, artists. And I believe that if we’re honest, we all grapple with the same fears, the same longing, the same self-doubt. We all worry that we’re not talented enough, not smart enough, not unique enough to add our voices to the crowded chorus of storytellers already out there in the world. But it’s not just the artists, is it? Don’t we all harbor a secret “Who do I think I am?” that holds us back from taking bold steps toward our biggest dreams?

After beating myself up for a good long time, I picked up my much-beloved copy of Steven Pressfield’s book “Do the Work.” (If you are trying to finish anything, get it, use it. I am not kidding – this book will change your life). I paged through it as I often do, to remind myself that nothing worth doing is ever easy. I laughed when I got to this part on page 46:

Sometimes on Wednesday I’ll read something that I wrote on Tuesday and I’ll think, ‘This is crap. I hate it and I hate myself.’ Then I’ll re-read the identical passage on Thursday. To my astonishment it has become brilliant overnight. Ignore false negatives. Ignore false positives. Both are Resistance.

And then, in big, bold letters, he writes:

Keep working.

In the end, I have no control over whether people love or hate my story. By extension, I have no control over whether people love or hate me. Making people love me is not my job. My job is to show up and do the work on a consistent basis, and to try every day to get a little bit better. The story that’s burning a hole inside of me deserves that. So every day, I try to remind myself that the process, not the end result, is what I have control over. The process, not the end result, is what demands my focus.

And I also try to remind myself that I have a community of friends and supporters – many of them right here on WordPress – with whom I can share my process, my fears, my journey. And this community reminds me that there’s nothing wrong with the struggle. The struggle is part of the story.

Lucky me.

Until next time, friends.

153 thoughts on “Little steps. Big steps. First steps.

  1. So true. Well written. i have 2 books started and well advanced but have not been worked on for months. I’ll bear your words in mind and restart the process. Thanks

  2. I will probably react just the same way (to the word!) when (yes I am convinced I will!) I finish my first draft – hoping for this to happen next week so check back in if you feel like reading the same thing – with a few changes 😀
    Congratulation though! You must be proud and however terrified, know that it only shows how much this means to you!
    Good luck with the editing.

  3. Very inspirational! I enjoyed your post. Thanks for reminding me that it is ok to feel doubt, but you got to keep moving to accomplish your goals. The pain in the process is well worth the rewards when you have accomplished a goal. Thanks again for reminding me it is ok to be human.

  4. So true, so beautifully written, your blog is great, and I’m sure your story too. You’re talented. You should be proud! ; ) (sorry if my comm is not perfectly written, I’m french and love reading english-written blogs but I’m not so good at writing as I should!)

  5. Love the passage about what you’ve written being brilliant one day and abysmal the next- its just so true! I’m constantly trying to write down and finish an idea I’ve had for ages, I guess its true: you’ve just got to keep working! 🙂

    • Wonderfully written, enjoyed reading that and
      Congratulations! Even I am writing my first book which is a complicated love story, which will be published early next year.

  6. The celebration for finishing your screenplay, rather a draft or ready to go, arrived on schedule. Celebrating the steps – at times – is what keeps us going. I make a toast to the completion of your draft and any completed artist endeavor for that matter. Thanks for sharing.

  7. An artist once said. A true artwork is never really finished, until somebody takes it off your hands. Then it’s finished 🙂 Maybe its the same as writing.

  8. Pingback: Little steps. Big steps. First steps. | Hyperspace, etc.

  9. Thanks for sharing such an inspirational piece. I usually have this nice idea of what I want to write but when I do, its never as fulfilling as when it was just a thought. Its nice to know people share these feelings too and hopefully your example will remind to never give in to my doubts.

  10. First Congratulations for living your dream! How great does that feel. Second that was your Ego stepping all over your screenplay, it could have been award-winning but Ego needs to take control, don’t let it! You might want to search on Youtube the Oprah Winfrey interview with Jill Bolte Taylor and watch it. Quite fascinating what the left brain will do to the right brain. Keep writing and tell your Ego to go sit in the corner!!! 🙂

  11. Thank you! I think people mis-understand writing and creating other art as ending at a clear point. As you say “Fade out” is not the end of the screenplay–it’s the end of the first draft.

    I’m always working on learning languages, for which there is no clear “end” point. I find myself frustrated sometimes with not having made more progress than I have. This is pointless–actually, worse than pointless. I lose momentum, confidence, and progress this way.

    My solution has been to look constantly at the progress I’ve made rather than the progress my insane thinking says I “should have” made. This helps me be realistic.

    Again, thank you for your realistic look at getting this thing done. Congratulations!

  12. That’s so inspiring! You’re amazing, and it makes me feel better about my work too. I always ask myself if other people think that way, and I’m so thankful for your post. Keep doing your thing! X

  13. This is very inspirational and true. Thank you for reminding that one cannot accomplish everything at one go, you have to strive harder an then only you will succeed and be satisfied. I love this post because i love people’s story. This is amazing .

  14. Sometimes it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Which inevitably results in stagnation. Never moving forward. Never going anywhere. It takes dedication and a lot of reminders to pull yourself together and proceed on. I applaud you for the completion of your piece. Well done!

  15. Pingback: Little steps. Big steps. First steps. | inhaling life, exhaling words

  16. The only way to stop the pain is to keep working on the same thing that made you fail. So true and loved that part.Beautifully written.

  17. You remind me of myself. I am like this when I write as well. I think sometimes, I need distance from my work so that I can look at it with a fresh perspective the next time around. Keep writing!

  18. People think that professional writes and famous authors have some sort of calling they’ve fulfilled, and while this may be true, they mistakenly think that it’s easy for them.

    Writing is sometimes the easiest thing in the world, and sometimes it’s something I think I could never do.

    The key to survival is have no pride. The key to success is to never give up.

    Every day you get better, even if you think you don’t.

    See you at the top.
    ——————-

    Stay sharp and take a writing challenge! Can you write a story in a sentence? See mine at http://www.summitabrams.wordpress.com

  19. Than you for the post. Seeing others struggle through the process of writing a manuscript and then the harder part of editing helps to remind myself that it is hard work and even when the draft is done there are at least three more to follow so if it sucks, it will get better so long as I, we, stay motivated and continue to nurture our darlings(at least the ones who remain.)

  20. I’ve just read your posts and It’s inspiring me. I am still an amateur on blogging so I wanna learn it by reading your post..:)

  21. Love, love, love: “The older me knows that this process is painful, but also knows that the only way to make the pain stop is to keep writing, keep pushing, keep showing up and doing the work.”

    Thank you for sharing!

  22. Well said Sarah! I am presently struggling on getting my first novel to completion. The only thing I guess I’m stuck up with is the fact that I still feel, some little thing is missing. I have finished the second revision of a 250 page book and buoy ! I still feel incomplete. Your thoughts are high on inspiration, thanks for sharing.

  23. Reading this, I felt like you could be describing what I have been going through for years. I want to write a novel, not a screenplay; but the pain is very much the same. Congratulations on your first draft! Personally, I’m still feeling pretty overwhelmed by the process. However, like you, I KEEP WORKING.

  24. “…The older me knows that this process is painful, but also knows that the only way to make the pain stop is to keep writing, keep pushing, keep showing up and doing the work. The older me knows that I can’t give up, because if I do, the unfinished work will turn into yet another unrealized dream that will haunt me.”

    most inspirational quote. worth reading.

  25. thanks so much for the motivation…av always been scared,i rely liked the,’ignore false negatives,ignore false positive.both are resistance.i decided to do me,my first brave step,starting a blog….plese check my blog

  26. Just stumbled upon this but found it most inspiring & something I can very much relate to. Writing my first novel at the moment & am halfway through the first draft. I pat myself on the back after every finished chapter. When I finish the draft I will celebrate in fine style as you should, too. Well done. x

  27. All us creatives get thoughts like that, talking about your negative thoughts has inspired me to beat mine. Thanks. Get up the great posts!

  28. This is such a great post, it makes me remember the pride I get when I finally finish a long running project. Your writing is incredible by the way! Great post

  29. Now I have to tell you I loved what you wrote its sooooo true…writing is specially challenging because you’re putting a part of you out there to be judge…I loved your post and I’m sure you’re one good writer hopefully you get some time to go and check my posts and feel free to be all critical lol I don’t mind 😉 GIGI

  30. Hi Beautiful, thanks for sharing your screenwriting experience!

    Hi! I am just waking up in this life! I want to connect with you! I want to learn about you! I want to create cool and exciting things with you! I want tons of money! I want to travel! I want lots of toys! I want to be a good and nice person! I want to be a good Buddhist and stop wanting to stop wanting things! I want to help the Earth be pure again! I want to live in excitement every single moment! I want the BOOM BOOM CLASH LIFE. I want to be a model! I want to be an actor! I want to have a million views on my wordpress site! I want to meet superheros! I want to ride a zipline from the top of Mt. Everest! Sooooo! Come say hi! Check out my site! YAAAAY:):):)

  31. This is an excellent reminder that our own self-talk, no matter what it is, can stop us in our tracks. I’m glad you persevered. Also, thanks for the book recommendation.

  32. It’s a terrible inner voice we all face from time to time. Even when we think we’ve done our best ever work, something tells that it’s still not enough. It can be difficult to keep moving forward, but it’s worth it. Even if nothing we ever create is read by anyone else, we have to get it out there. Keep going, you’d be doing yourself an injustice not to.

  33. Thank you everyone for all of the lovely comments and the reblogs. If talking about my struggle with my fears and doubts and inner critic is helpful, I am so grateful. Sitting down to write and pushing through that is the hardest thing, but if we show up every day we do keep getting better, even if we don’t realize it. Thank you. Keep writing!

  34. Reblogged this on makeyourvoicesmatter and commented:
    Wow…its like I am reading myself.Your story beautifully reflects a large part of my own journey as a writer.Thanks to you know I can actually avoid those bumps on the road and reach my destination safely.Thank you so much for sharing this incredible story.After all we have our own stories to write and tell…😊👍❤👓✴

  35. Wonderful Writing! and congratulations on your completed screenplay, what a huge accomplishment to achieve and I wish you the best with wherever your writing will take you!

  36. Amazing piece! I’m new on wordpress, and I hope that one day I’ll be a writer. I have only 3 followers right now and, even though I know it takes time for these things to work out, I’m terrified by rejection. Reading your post was refreshing, knowing that other talented people share my same fears, my same doubts made me feel less alone. It is true that we don’t have control over people’s appreciation to our work, but we always feel like we have to do something, like we have to be perfect. Our writings are part of us, and I really think we’re scared of rejection because. if someone doesn’t like what we write, it should mean they don’t like us. I’ll definitely get that book, it seams to be the right one for me. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  37. Pingback: Embeth’s World | Embeth Reid

  38. Pingback: Words: a Love Story. | Extra Dry Martini

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  40. Can I identify, or what? I have been struggling with three works in progress. I had great faith in two of them, but after the loss of my husband two years ago, I lost initiative, and faith in my work in aspirations. I am beginning to move forward now. Completion is in sight. And that is what I need for now.

  41. Hey Sarah, I am exactly in the same position and new to penning down my emotions in the form of written expression. Can totally relate to all the positive and negative thoughts pounding your brain about own work. But you have really nailed it, after all writing isn’t about being liked or admired; rather giving wings to your feelings. You have certainly motivated me to keep at it and with experience things will improve. Top work!!

  42. Pingback: Ten thousand. | Extra Dry Martini

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