This past June I attended Don Miller’s Storyline Conference in Santa Barbara. I knew it was going to be inspiring. I didn’t know it was going to hurt.
I’ve done okay as an actor and writer: worked on some movies, wrote a book. I’m long overdue for getting another book out into the world; and I’ve had a few ideas. 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 it as a show while I was going through my middle-class white-girl’s dark night of the soul. That’s how I dealt with my grief—to talk about it. I noticed that others 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 deeper experience that would resonate with others.
I got an offer to publish Angry Conversations as a book, so I went for it. The book was well received, I got to tour, speak at conferences and colleges—all amazing experiences. Then I had to settle down and think of the next thing. My advisors wanted me to write a proposal for Book Two. My heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t in anything. I wanted to go back and mount that 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 pressed to do. Then I’d move on.
Three years later…
THREE YEARS LATER!
What was I doing for three years? Trying to make a living. Teaching at colleges on opposite sides of Los Angeles, writing a book proposal that didn’t sell. I did throw the script up for a quick workshop production. And then I had to go back to teaching. After all I needed to make a living. Blah blah blah. You know the self talk: “I’ll get to it when I can. I need to get it right before I take the Big Risk.”
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.”
That was a painful exercise to complete. I’d already lived through the one and three years of not changing anything. Now I had to write it down, one, three and five years further on of not changing anything. 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.
It’s a trajectory of perfectionistic procrastination. Or as my friend Rob Terrell calls it, “actively not doing it.” It never gets better, folks. If you’ve got something you need to accomplish or change, it doesn’t just go away. It just wears on you until it breaks your heart, or you numb yourself out with distractions and excuses, so you don’t have to feel it when your dream dies.
That was it. The day after I got back from the conference, 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, and exhilarating. What if I didn’t get the tone right and it ended up shallow and self-absorbed? What if nobody came? What if everyone came and hated it? It was exhausting. Aside from rehearsing twice a week, I had to be a producer and publicist to boot. Tech week came and I couldn’t eat or sleep.
Opening night came, and the show went incredibly well. We started off with a four-week run. It kept selling out, so 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. 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 audience laugh and cry. 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.
About that film I’m co-riting: SWEET AND AWFUL is a comedy about a bitterly divorced couple that road-trips to the funeral of the pastor who broke up their marriage and destroyed their faith. Think: Little Miss Sunshine meets Death at a Funeral. We’re raising $25K for pre-production money. We’ve got just 48 hours left to reach our Kickstarter goal. Please check out our page, find out more about the movie, and see the actors and celebrities we’ve got attached. And if you can contribute five, ten, thirty bucks, I’d be very grateful.
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?