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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Seriously, You Need to Uncommit


The stress of being overcommitted destroys creativity

Sometimes we truly have so much to do, we don’t know which end is up. But sometimes the frenzy is self-induced.

Feeling overwhelmed is sometimes a matter of perception – if you think you have too much to do, your limbic system takes over and you can’t think creatively about alternatives.

Overscheduling is a common form of resistance because it seems so virtuous. “I want to write, I really do, but I can’t because I have all these other (less satisfying and less scary) things to do.” Overcommitting yourself is one way to keep yourself safe from the risk of noticing how you feel and what you think and trying to write about that.

I am the last person to seriously suggest you don’t honor your commitments. Honoring your commitments to Process, Self-care and Product Time are the foundation of a satisfying and effective writing habit and the focus of my coaching and classes. And I don’t advocate lying to get out of something. But there are honorable ways to end a commitment.

When you’re overcommitted, you can’t possibly deliver on all the promises you’ve made. You’re going to have to bail out of or fail at some commitments, so why not bail or fail at the ones that you got talked or guilted into or that don’t truly reflect your priorities?

You have the right and the responsibility to commit to the people, things and actions that reflect your best self, your values and your sense of purpose. This is your life; you only get so many days. Why would you spend any of them doing something that is not important to you or being less than the best you can be?

You get to say “No thanks” to other people’s priorities

You have a purpose in life. You can’t fulfill that purpose if you’re farting around doing stuff other people want you to do, especially people you’re not in significant relationships with.

The world will be a far better place because you honored your commitment to writing than if you postpone writing to manage the bake sale for a softball league you didn’t really want to join anyway.

Be deliberate about where and how you commit yourself in the future. Ask yourself “Is this really is something that:

  • I want to commit to
  • Matches my passion and life purpose
  • I think needs to happen and can’t be done just as well or better by someone else
  • I really have the time and resources to honor without violating another commitment (like a commitment to my family or my writing)”?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all these questions, decline the request. If the person “inviting” you into a faux commitment refuses to take “No thanks” for an answer, run! Run as if you’re running for your life – you are!

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