It’s Never Too Late To Start
We all have that thing we should have done by now. The one you keep putting off. It usually appears when you’re at the edge of sleep and gnaws away at you until you promise to start it tomorrow.
But then you don’t. Not the next day, or even the day after that. Suddenly that tiny thing grows into such a mountain of a job that you want to forget about it forever.
For me, that thing is my book.
I wrote it quickly over the course of a few months. I was excited, passionate, pouring all of my energy and spare time into it. And then came the hard part, the bit I apparently don’t like. I edited it slowly, laboriously, suddenly finding so many faults that I questioned whether it was even salvageable.
Things got in the way. I kept telling myself I was too busy, and I was of course, but I still had time for other non-essential pursuits. When I wasn’t working I still had time to write short stories and blog posts, and I still found the time to Netflix-binge my favourite shows in-between it all. The truth, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, was that I simply didn’t want to climb the mountain my book had become. It stopped being fun and there was now too much guilt attached for me to pick it back up again.
The ‘Last opened’ date was so embarrassingly long that I could barely bring myself to look at it. And when I did open up those pages I would curse myself. Why had it taken me so long? How had I let months slip by without editing a single word? I felt so guilty and so frustrated with myself that pretending it didn’t exist became easier than actually facing the mess I’d made.
It’s been two years since I finally finished my book. I’ve made progress of course, littered with false starts and sudden bursts of enthusiasm, but did I think I’d still be sorting out whole plotlines and refusing to share my work with anyone this long afterwards? Of course not.
On my more forgiving days, I admit that I just didn’t realise how terribly difficult editing a novel is, so I should give myself a break. Of course it was going to take longer than expected. In my head it was just embellishing the best bits, tightening up a few chapters, nodding smugly at so many clever words. The reality is like sitting at the bottom of the well in the dark, knowing you can get out, but having no clue how to start climbing.
On the worst days, I chalk it up to my laziness. Like most people, I dislike things that don’t come easily to me. Wherever possible I pretty much avoid things I’m terrible at; maths, sports of any kind, singing in public. For the things I dislike but can’t fully opt out of – giving presentations, driving long distances, awkward social situations – I begrudgingly muddle through and try to keep them to a minimum. I tried to do that with my book and succeeded for a while, but the guilt caught up with me.
There eventually comes a point when you have to wipe the slate clean one way or another.
Beating myself up wasn’t helping. Avoiding the situation wasn’t helping. Wincing and trying to skim over it whenever anyone asked about the book sure as hell wasn’t helping. So I had a choice: give up or give myself a break.
As hard as it was, as much as I wanted to just delete it and start again; I couldn’t allow myself to give up on this book. I wanted, I want to try and make it work. And once I realised that, I knew what I had to do.
I sat there and admitted that I had let things get out of hand. I hadn’t made my book a priority like I should have. I had wasted so much time. It didn’t work out like I planned.
And then I told myself, sternly, that this was enough. From now on, I would only look forward. I would stop punishing myself for all the things I should have done. If I was going to edit my book, carrying around years of guilt wasn’t going to help.
So I created a new version of the file, popped it in a brand new folder, and started with the very first word. And then the next. I told myself that this was my chance to make real changes, to stop being scared of the task ahead. If I wanted to delete a whole character or make some dramatic change, so be it, I would simply work through it one chapter at a time.
Within that first hour I made more progress than in the past year. I felt lighter than I had in months. In a week I had edited a whole third of the story – fixing things that had previously seemed impossible.
I know the momentum won’t last, of course it won’t. Things will get in the way, the novelty will wear off and there will be times when it becomes too tough. But I hope that I’ve actually learned my lesson by now. Letting things get off track isn’t the terrible thing – that happens when we give up completely.
So for anyone else sitting at the bottom of that well, let me tell you: It’s never too late to start.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve put something off for days or weeks or even years, you still have time to make it happen.
Just let go of the guilt. And then get to work – one word, one step at a time.