This past June I attended Don’s Storyline Conference in Santa Barbara. I knew it was going to be inspiring. I didn’t think it was going to kick me in the posterior.
I’ve accomplished a few things in my life. I’ve acted in movies and TV. I’ve gotten one book published. I’m long overdue for getting another book out into the world. But something has stopped me from doing those other things.
Before Angry Conversations With God was a book, it was a solo show. In fact, I started workshopping the material while I was enduring my middle-class white-girl’s hell. That’s how I dealt with my grief—to talk about it. I noticed that people in the workshop, regardless of their faith or non-faith, resonated with the questions I was asking: Where is God? Did I ever hear him or did I make it all up? What do you do when your dreams evaporate? I knew that if I got the tone right, I could change my self-absorbed sob story into a larger experience that would resonate with others.
I ended up publishing it as a book, which reached a mostly-Christian audience. I toured, I spoke at conferences and colleges—all amazing experiences. I tried to focus my attention on the next thing, like a new book. But I knew I couldn’t do anything new, until I mounted that original solo show. I’d never seen it through to completion. I knew that I had to finish it. It was the one thing I felt God saying to do.
But life kept intervening: I was teaching at two universities, I was trying to make a living, I spent months on a book proposal that went nowhere, blah blah blah.. You know the self talk: I need to get it right before I take the risk.”
Three years later…
THREE YEARS LATER!
Then I went to Storyline. I’d read A Million Miles and loved it. As a screenwriting teacher, I related to the concept of Story. But there was something about attending the conference that rattled me out of my perfectionistic procrastination. After the evening session, Don instructed us to go back to our rooms and fill out exercises in the workbook. There it was: EXERCISE TWO: WHERE ARE YOU GOING? “Write a brief statement describing where you’ll be in one year, three years and five years if you don’t change anything.”
When I wrote down what my life would look like if I didn’t change anything, I was forced to see the trajectory of my perfectionistic procrastination. Or as my friend Rob Terrell calls it, “actively not doing it.”
I’d never finish the one thing in my heart I knew I had to do for myself, for my friends, for art, for God, for whatever. I’d never know if I had the acting chops to pull it off. I’d never know if it would generate more work. I’d never know if my non-Christian friends might see it and reconsider their view of God. I’d actively not do it the rest of my life, and I’d have one more regret to hang on my bitter tree.
That was it. I went home, I schlepped to Hollywood to check out all the craptastic theaters for rent. I found a nice, clean theater in Studio City, put down a $4,000 deposit, and dug in. I had three months until opening night. It was my money and art on the line. There was no more time to procrastinate.
It was terrifying, exhausting, exhilarating work. Then came opening night. It was incredible! We started out with a four-week run. It did so well we extended twice and ended up running for eight weeks.
We never got a review in a major paper. I barely made my money back. Steven Spielberg never called.
But I did it! I did the one thing in my heart that had log-jammed every other creative goal. I found out I was capable of doing it. And I got to see the faces of people after the show—how it moved them, how it made them rethink their view of God. I heard the laughs and the sniffles. I took them on the ride I’d been dreaming of for the past five years. I was playing the note I was meant to play.
I’m turning the solo show into a DVD and hopefully touring it to other theaters. And, I’m finally free to pursue the next project. I’m free to rework my next book proposal. I’m co-writing a film that will shoot next year, a story that flowed out after I broke that creative logjam. And all because I went to Storyline and did Exercise Two.
How About You?
What is the One Thing you’ve been thinking about doing? What’s pulling at your heart so much that you ache to feel it? Or, you’re numbing out with food or Facebook so you don’t have to feel it?
Is there anything you’re “actively not doing?”
Make a list of the reasons you haven’t done it.
Make a list of the activities you do to avoid it.
Estimate how much time you spend on your diversions.
What if you took the first step and did it?
Do you work better setting a deadline and working backward?
If you’ve got legitimate reasons you can’t do it now, what little steps can you do now to prepare for the time when you can finally push forward?
What if you fail at your first attempt?
What will you learn from the first attempt?
What makes you think you can’t redo something after you fail the first time?
Would it be any worse than never doing it at all?
Take some time to write down what that One Thing is, that’s stuck in your craw, that’s log jamming everything else.
And if you aren’t signed up for a Storyline conference, I implore you go to.
After all, where are you going to be in one year, three years, five years – if you don’t change anything?