The older I get the more I see that story is the driving force for our lives. The simple progression from beginning, through a middle, to an eventual end is primal to our natures. If we fail to understand that then we end up living useless, unsatisfying, unhelpful lives. I imagine we waste a lot of time watching TV as well.
Looking back over my last year, my story had many fine points. God provided several opportunities for me and my family, I have steady employment for the time being, and my wife still thinks I’m hot. I really can’t complain about my provision.
It Wasn’t Perfect
However, if I look at my actions, as a protagonist in my story, then the narrative takes a different turn. You can see this most clearly in my job as a writer. At the beginning of last year I set out to write more frequently. Specifically I wanted to write a thousand words a day and publish a book every month, thereby making a more professional go of this budding career I’m carving out for myself. I fell drastically short of this mark.
By stalling and procrastinating, I’m merely delaying the story. The story’s natural movement is forward and our lives are no different. There is no going back.
But we can go sideways, get sidetracked, and move away from our purpose. There are four ways we become stalled and stop moving our life story forward:
1 — Our Story Stalls When We Delay
Simple delay is always a killer. Nothing will derail your story faster than choosing to take it easy or watch a little TV (again) instead of moving forward in your life. You can’t let the idol of relaxation take control of your life’s story. If you do, then nothing will come of it, and that is the problem.
For me, I know that when I stop praying and reading God’s Word, I tend to do less of everything else I should be doing. It’s incredible that once you begin to do the right things, that other good habits simply fall into place.
2 — Our Story Stalls When The Critics Win
Right now I have some tens of thousands of non-fiction humor writing that has laid fallow and generally untouched for years. The reason is because I let a trusted friend read the manuscripts before the words were really a story. He made some critical remarks, valid when I thought about them, but they completely derailed my thought process and made me pause and reconsider. That killed my momentum and I really haven’t worked on the stories since.
There will be detractors and critics on your journey, and they can serve a valuable purpose, but you cannot let them make you stray from your purpose. In this case, my critic led me astray and I followed, which halted my writing and meant I produced far less books than I set out to produce this year.
(For creatives this is a crucial point, do not let others read your work before it’s at least in a completed draft form. Otherwise you murder your story before it starts.)
3 — Our Story Stalls When You Wait for Inspiration
This one is more of a cop out than anything else but it can be a powerful narrative you tell yourself in order to procrastinate. For creatives this is called waiting for inspiration, for others it looks like doing the same thing you’re doing until a better idea comes along. Either way, the result is stagnation, stalling, and generally living a boring story.
4 — Our Story Stalls When We Question The Mission
The hero of a great story gets distracted only momentarily before setting off again to achieve his quest. He never questions his mission or thinks to himself that maybe he’s on the right path. He moves in the direction of the hard danger and continues fighting.
Questioning your mission and attempting to find the perfect quest is simply another delay tactic. For example, at the beginning of the year I chose to ramp up my writing efforts but other “big ideas” got in the way. From political consultancies, to publishing companies, to marketing ideas, and even new jobs, I was constantly asking myself, “Should I pursue this thing instead? Is my ‘something’ not right?” all the while moving forward on none of it through indecision. The irony is that if I would have stuck to my original plan, my 12 new books may have provided a way for me to tackle those new “somethings” down the road.
A story is a character who wants something and overcomes an obstacle to get it. If you constantly change the “something” or delay tackling the obstacle in some way, your story cannot move forward.
Moving Story Forward
Great stories move their protagonist along at a blistering pace toward the goal. There’s no time for distractions or detours and no time for the hero to seriously question the “something” he wants. But these are carefully crafted beats by the writer of the story and you don’t necessarily have the same luxury in your own life.
One thing you can do is try to manipulate your circumstances mercilessly. Whether it’s getting up at 4am every morning so you have time to write or making a public declaration of intention to family and friends on the Facebooks to shame you into acting, manipulate your circumstances to give your story a chance of moving forward.
Once you begin moving and recognizing the places that stop you up, your life story should be moving along to its breathtaking climax and happily ever after ending in no time.