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🦊 Showing Up
#79 — When we’re standing still, a single step is a giant leap.
A year ago, I read a blog post by Seth Godin about a writing program called Akimbo Writing in Community, led by Kristin Hatcher. Seth had helped launch the program after seeing the success of another program he ran, altMBA. The idea behind Writing in Community was simple, but bold:
For six months, show up every day, and post a snippet of writing into the community forum. At the end of the program, publish your book on Kindle.
It seemed too good to be true, but the program’s website touted case after case of authors publishing their books. I was looking to take on a bigger creative project, but had always been intimidated by the idea of writing a book. This program seemed like it was designed specifically to disarm that fear. It did so by offering something unique: A chance to write a book alongside others, instead of alone.
My curiosity was piqued, but I was still hesitant. Then I came upon another blog post from Seth, in which he shared what is effectively the mantra for the program: Just show up.
“We’re not entitled to an audience, to applause or to make a living. The work we most want to do, the thing that pushes us to be show up — it might not resonate with the audience we bring it to.
There’s no guarantee, none at all.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t show up. The lack of a guarantee is precisely why the work is worth doing, because it’s the guarantee that we’ve been brainwashed to require, and without it, few people have the guts enough to show up anyway.
Show up anyway.
When we commit to a practice, we don’t have to wonder if we’re in the mood, if it’s the right moment, if we have a headache or momentum or the muse by our side. We already made those decisions.”
—The Promise of a Practice, Seth Godin
His words gave me the nudge I needed. In March of 2021, I signed up.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I published a video sharing lessons from a year of writing a book.
Seth was right. Showing up was the practice that brought my book to life, one day at a time.
Rather than publish to Kindle after six months, I decided to engage with an editor to revise my stories further. I returned to the program a second time to edit in community. I’m really glad I did. I’ve grown my skills as a storyteller through revisions with my editor, and I’ve gotten regular feedback on my fables from fellow writers. Some of my peers have been writing alongside me for the past year, and they’ve seen my stories evolve since their first drafts. It’s been wonderful to hear feedback on how the stories have evolved and gotten stronger.
As I was writing this newsletter, I looked at my Writing in Community profile stats:
452 days and 784 posts of showing up.
It wasn’t every single day, but that’s not important. What’s important is that I didn’t let a missed day stop me from coming back. Regardless of how this book turns out, I’ll always be proud of my commitment to the practice in showing up for myself and my fellow writers.
When I showed up, I didn’t have to make a big impact each time. I just had to show up. And that changed everything.
Over the past year, showing up for my book took many forms:
Writing a few paragraphs
Looking at the last words I wrote, and writing notes to myself of what might come next
Writing one paragraph
Editing stuff I wrote yesterday
Writing a few sentences
Taking a walk and dictating a few thoughts into my phone
Interacting with peers’ posts, feeding off their energy and then coming back to write
Writing nothing, but thinking deeply
If you’re tilting your head at that last example, then let me assure you: Yes, even sitting at your desk and thinking is showing up. Consider this exchange from acclaimed writer and director Taika Waititi, who reminds us that writing takes many forms.
Interviewer: “So, have you started writing (the next film)?”
Waititi: “Yeah…but what’s writing, you know?
What does writing actually mean?
Sometimes writing is opening up your laptop and looking at a blank page of a final draft for about eight hours and then feeling sad, and then closing it.
That’s still classified as writing.”
We often talk ourselves out of working on the things we want to create. We tell ourselves all the reasons why it’s difficult. We look up at the mountain in our minds and say, “That’s way too high. Don’t bother.”
But if we ask ourselves to take just one step, the mountain becomes manageable. When we’re standing still, a single step is a giant leap.
I write these words to you, but they’re aimed at myself, too. Lately, I’ve struggled to keep my regular cadence with this newsletter. It’s been difficult to juggle alongside everything else. There’s a lot going on. I’d delay and deflect, until my inspiration would deflate. With a larger gap between editions, I’d raise expectations even higher—a perfect recipe for inaction.
I’m reminding myself today: There will always be distractions. I will always want to do more. Show up anyway.
The reception of our work is out of our hands. The only thing we can control is whether or not we show up.
So here I am. And there you are.
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Power of Journaling
Journaling has been a crucial practice in my life for years. It helps me let go of my worries, builds self-awareness, and frees up space for new ideas.
In this video, I explore the benefits of journaling, the tools and process I use, as well as my three favorite journal prompts (gratitude, energy and self-awareness.)
A few pieces on art, content and commerce that got me thinking:
Art vs. Commerce by George Saunders — An excellent analysis of the struggles of writing for love, for a living, and everything in between.
Let’s not confuse “content” with “art” by Cole Schafer (h/t Nate Kadlac) — “Where I’ve gotten in trouble in the past is creating ‘art’ and measuring it the same way I would measure ‘content’; and creating ‘content’ and pretentiously calling it ‘art.’ They’re different and we must treat them as such.”
Subverting Shitty Norms by Rob Hardy — “If you, as a creator, are bold enough to call bullshit on things that rub you the wrong way, you can snap people out of a trance, earn true fans, and perhaps even change your corner of the internet for the better.”
I’m nearing the final stages of revisions for my book of fables (🎉). I’m looking forward to doing all the illustrations for the stories soon. In preparation, I’ve been doing sketches here and there, whenever I can, to keep my drawing muscles active.
I usually start with a few random scribbles, and then a character appears, and I try my best to bring it to life.
Every doodle is a reminder of how fruitful it can be to engage in aimless activities.
Quick Brown Fox by Salman Ansari is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.