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Samantha Bennett is the creator of The Organized Artist Company dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck from whatever way they’re stuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals.
Based in Los Angeles, Samantha offers her revolutionary “Get It Done” and “Get Your Work Out There” Workshops, teleclasses and private consulting to overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.
Lisa: Why is it so important to be organized as a writer?
Sam: Because if you don’t have a system you’ll never sit down to write.
Lisa: So, one thing you help people do is come up with systems–how did you end up doing what you do? Are you super organized as well as creative? Or is organization something you learned and wanted to share?
Sam: It’s not so much that I’m so super-duper organized, but I’ve always been good at systems. And I love helping people find out what their natural systems are and then helping them create a plan that matches their existing talents. Even when they have a jillion talents and 37 projects and can’t decide between them.
Because you know us creative types – we’re just born this way. We grow up making up stories, loving arts and crafts, putting on plays and having fun with imaginary friends. We’re the weird kids. (Weird kids unite! We’ll meet in the corner of the gym while the popular kids are slow-dancing 🙂
As I grew up and worked as an actor and writer, it seemed pretty obvious to me that conventional wisdom wasn’t going to work for my weirdo, unconventional life. I started to look at how I managed to stay productive when my income was erratic, my schedule was bananas and my life was so…unpredictable.
I started putting together powerful questions and exercises to help artists (and when I say “artists” I’m referring to all disciplines – writers, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, jewelry designers, clog dancers, vegan chefs…whatever) find solutions for their specific, hands-on, day-to-day challenges.
I’m not so interested in organization as in “make-everything-perfecty-schmerfecty and color-coded.” I’m much more interested in clearing the mental clutter that keeps you from doing the work you love.
So it’s not like I have some great system and everyone should do things my way; it’s that I’ve got some great devices to help you figure out what YOUR great system is so you can do things your way.
Because there’s no right way. There’s just your way.
Lisa: In your book, 365 Reasons to Write, you mention that the hardest thing for most writers is sitting down to write. What’s the first thing you suggest to a writer who’s having trouble sitting down to write?
Sam: First: quit beating yourself up about it.
Reluctance to sit down and write is not a sign that you’re lazy or a failure or a procrastinator or a bad writer or any of the other horrible thing you might say to yourself.
Reluctance to write is an inevitable and perfectly natural part of the creative process.
And every writer on earth – EVERYONE – suffers in exactly this same way.
So, you know, put down the whip.
Lisa: What do you suggest writers do to get organized?
Sam: The first thing you need to “organize” is your writing plan or system. I often recommend writing for 15 minutes first thing every morning, but figure out what works for you and your life. Some people write during lunch hour at work, some write late at night, some go to the coffee shop, some use a writer’s group to keep them motivated and on track.
Whatever you choose, make it a habit.
When you make writing a habit you end the debate with yourself (“Should I write today? I wrote yesterday…but I probably won’t have time tomorrow…I should be further along…I’m a joke…”) and you just do it automatically.
This is true of anything that’s important to you, by the way – make an automatic system – a ritual, even – out of whatever it is you want to be doing (saving money, exercise, eating more fiber, prayer/meditation…) and watch your natural resistance give way to delicious progress.
Lisa: Interesting you bring up ritual. I’m really taken with that idea as well. And I have a class where I have people apply the steps of ritual to their writing. I find it takes them deeper and often cuts out the “noise.”
What blocks do you tend to see most often in writers and how do you help them get past that?
Sam: I see a lot of writers blocked because they get waaaaaaaay ahead of themselves. They start jumping to conclusions about whether or not their work will be successful – before they’ve even written it.
I had one client who couldn’t get started writing because she was convinced that no one would ever want to read the sort of sweet, cozy, mystery novel she had in mind because the marketplace would think it too gentle and then, on the same day, another client who was sure that her dark, sexual, violent story would never find an audience because it was just too extreme. The, “oh, this will never work because it’s too XYZ” thought keeps far too many great ideas from being born.
Your first job as a writer is to write. Don’t try to edit, market and sell your work before you’ve even gotten started. Get going on it and then see what happens. Amazing things can happen once you let your work out of the house.
Lisa: What keeps people from finishing a project and what’s your cure?
Sam: Lots of reasons keep people from finishing, but here are three I see a lot:
1) Boredom – it’s already finished inside of our minds and it feels tedious to do that last little bit. We’re already on to the next idea and the old idea feels…old. This is especially true of revisions and rewrites.
2) Fear – and of course you’re scared! This is terrifying. And our survival mechanism tells us that things that are frightening should be avoided.
3) Lack of faith – we don’t really believe that finishing our work and getting it out into the world will actually make a difference for anybody. I sat and stared at my nearly-blank blog for about two years because I wasn’t convinced that anyone would ever read it or care. Once I got some evidence that there were actual readers out there I became quite enthusiastic about the darn thing.
Also, sometimes I think “finishing” is kind of overrated.
After all, some projects don’t need finishing – they were valuable as a process, but there doesn’t need to be a result. Like journals. The process of keeping a journal can be great, but if you’re done, then you’re done and there’s no reason to “finish” it. (Heck, you don’t even have to keep your old journals. You have my permission to say a little prayer of thanks and get rid of them.)
Or maybe you experimented with writing a screenplay and it was a bust. There’s no need to finish it – the act of creation was an important step of your self-education, but you are allowed to be done with it.
But for the things that you truly do want to finish – the projects you know will make a difference in your world – then you need to be very brave and use every trick in your trunk to battle your fears and resistance.
Here’s my number one strategy: other people.
Get a buddy. Get a group. Hire an editor. Hire a coach. Take a class. Whatever. Feeling accountable to others is a great way to skip over your own anxieties and get your work out there. Plus, once something is done or almost done, you’re going to need some other perspectives on it. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that you are not a very good judge of your work’s worth.
Remember, too, about the beauty and magic of deadlines. A good deadline can be your project’s best friend.
Finally, don’t wait to be inspired. Don’t wait to believe in your idea. Don’t wait to feel ready. Don’t wait to feel confident. Just get it out there. Think of it as an experiment. I often release things in “beta” – I put it out there, see if there’s an audience and if there is, great! And then I can faff around with it and make it more perfect. But there’s no sense burning a lot of time perfecting and polishing something if no one wants it to begin with.
Lisa: …And not in the exact way you say it…