The request came late November. A children’s book packager reached out asking if I had to time outline, right, and research 6 nonfiction books. Oh, and by the by, could I get those done in 6 weeks?
It was grueling work. I rose around 5am every morning. I worked until my various day jobs required me to leave the house. I returned in the early evenings to eat a quick dinner, wash dishes, and then settle back at my desk to resume the project until midnight or 1am. I gathered research facts on index cards which I could easily shuffle into outlined chapters. I drafted crappy paragraphs. I revised them into mildly improved paragraphs.
I repeated the process day after day.
I am no soldier. I moaned and griped when glopping out of bed or trudging back to the desk with the same relative energy and personality of ear wax. I couldn’t do this! I was spent. I’d already had a long day. My brain was shot! I should just forget about it and go back to bed.
That negative, sinister, doom-and-gloom voice every person hears whispering from time to time…. It has successfully talked me out of many accomplishments, big and small, over my lifespan.
But I knew every hour I put off was an hour I could not afford inside this contractual deadline.
As the weeks passed and raw fatigue slobber-gnawed on my spirit, I delighted one evening when a different voice whispered out of the mental ether.
This one had a defiant, dauntless, take-charge edge. It was as warm and steady and confident as the light from an oil lamp. Best of all, I recognized it as the same voice that arose when I started learning how to run longer distances.
I am not a natural or gifted runner. Even so, I enjoy it immensely. I get hours of meditative time out on high desert and alpine trails. Time spent in the precious present moment. No past regrets to haunt me. No future events to boogey-man me. Just the sprawling, limitless now.
Joys aside, I struggled with form and pacing when I needed to attain half marathon distances. Miles short of my daily or weekly training goals, I would often putter out and walk the remainders. Then, one day, when my goal was only 1.5 miles away and my feet were aching and my leg muscles were screaming louder than Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solos and I was on the verge of tears thinking I’d have to yet again quit and fail to reach a set goal…the lamplight voice emerged.
You can do this, the voice said as a matter of fact. You can keep running to that tree. It’s only a few feet away. Try it.
Its tone was so declarative. It neither mandated nor manipulated me with guilt. I couldn’t help but follow its suggestion. Just before I reached the target tree, the lamplight voice indicated another tree further ahead. You can make it to that one. And so I did.
Tree by tree, I hit my goal that day. On future runs, that inner coach always emerged. It was there on race days, guiding me to the finish line.
And here it was again, when all I wanted to do was cry and punish myself for taking on a ridiculous project with a ridiculous deadline.
You can do this. You can do anything for about 30 minutes, it coached me.
Yes, I thought. Yes I could.
30 minutes passed and I had more words on the page. I was also warmed up and on a roll. Now the ideas were flowing fast.
You can do 30 more minutes, the lamplight voice indicated without pomp or demand.
I sure can, I thought.
And by midnight or so, I had a yet another chapter drafted. And at last, the entire project was done. On time.
I enjoyed a brief break for the winter holidays. And then, the book packager reached out again. They had 10 books authored by others in need of a dynamic voice with supercharged language–my specialty. Could I…?
Yes, I replied. Yes I could.
Oh, and could I take on writing and researching 4 other books due in 4 weeks?
Yes, I replied. I absolutely could.
I am not advocating for extreme assignments with catastrophic deadlines. I am, however, here to say that we all have little voices in our heads. Each one tells us a particular story about what is and is not possible. Luckily, we get to choose which voice we listen to.