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Lowering the Stakes

All too often, when we think of writing a project, we think of writing the whole project, and we find ourselves daunted. “I’d like to write a novel,” we think, “but it’s so much work, and what if it doesn’t sell?” Thinking this way, we talk ourselves out of our creativity. We have set the stakes too high. How much better when we lower the stakes, when we say “I’d love to write a novel, and I’ll bet I can, one page at a time.”
Lowering the stakes is one of my favored creative tricks. People often say to me, “Julia, you’re so productive,” and I think to myself, “Anyone can be productive if the stakes are low enough.” Writing the current book I aim at a modest goal of two pages daily. I find this amount “perfect”— and encouraging. Writing two pages a day, I write sixty pages a month. If a modest book is two hundred forty pages, that means I will complete a rough draft in four months. Giving myself two more months for polishes, I will have completed a book in half a year. By almost anyone’s standards, this is speedy. And the trick to such velocity is lowering the stakes. “Easy does it” is my motto— meaning, “easy accomplishes it.”

6 Comments on "Lowering the Stakes"

  1. Thank you for this. Such a simple and clear but powerful tip. I am regularly setting high stakes and then manufacturing the idea of failure when I don’t live up to my own expectations. Lower stakes for all!

  2. To deal with a productivity issue, two years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to do a painting a week. But because a year is sooooooooooooo loooooong I knew I probably couldn’t do it. So I decided to do a painting a week for justa quarter, 12 weeks. Heck, I can do ANYTHING for 12 crummy weeks. This past weekend I finished weekly painting number 105.

  3. Profile photo of Kim Huitt


    Powerful perspective. Applies to all areas of life – like housekeeping, cooking, schooling, reading, and just about everything else I pour myself into. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ton Hettema says:

    Sound advice. Today I started doing morning pages(again, after several years). A historic event I tell myself. The first day of the future manifesting. Slowly and at ease. Your book Artists Way at Work as a guide. Thank you for the advice. Very rich and inspiring. When will you come to Holland? Or have you already been here? Anyway..

  5. Flo Lumcang Cadacio says:

    Great read & point of view. I could feel its potency in my daily endeavors. Undemanding yet forceful. I am grateful

  6. Stanley Boston says:

    I am in the process of starting my morning pages and this post is exactly how I feel about it. Is it absolutely “imperative” that I do three pages? I start to feel much better about my morning pages and less daunted when I have the thought or two Page’s, or one page. As I am 33 years of age right now and feel like “The Artist’s Way” is the book I wish someone would’ve gave when I was maybe 15/18 so I take my time with this book very seriously or “playfully” you could say. I am a fan of the philosophy’s of Bruce Lee and like to apply in my studies his saying of… “There is no one true way that is the gospel, absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what what is essentially Your Own”. What do you think Julia?

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