Today we’re gonna chat about building the writing habit. Which is an apt moment in time. The struggles that come with writing every day. How do we get through them? How do we write when we really don’t want to?
Well, you don’t. You try. You do your very best. But at the end of the day, our brains are what we need for writing and there are times when we simply can’t get our brains in the game. Those are moments when the best may not be writing. It could just mean trying to write, but then admitting it’s okay if you’re gonna need a break.
I still try. But currently my older brother is in the hospital. He’s in ICU until the doctors are sure he won’t suffer a heart attack. As much as I’m trying to focus on my work, I admit it’s difficult. I’m writing this post today (on the Tuesday when it should’ve been done) as I haven’t been “in it” for editing and writing. It’s not that I’m so concerned over my brother I can’t work. I know he’s in the best place and they’re doing what they can so there isn’t much else to be done. But the brain wants to wander. It could be the holidays mixing in there too.
So how do I handle this?
Every day, I still sit down to write. Even if I end up texting him back and forth during that time, I still try to write. I read the story and let my hands go to work. Then during editing, I open the file (as I’ll do shortly) and I still go through it, even if it takes me a few tries to get the brain to focus. It’s not about pushing myself. It’s trying. Were I so concerned about my brother that I couldn’t focus, then I’d give myself a break. But since that would currently equate to me sitting around and not doing much, the work for me is better to at least try and do.
But there do come those times where you don’t have anything in you. This is what I told a friend recently,
Give yourself time and patience. Forgive any lapses. That’ll help your brain come back to it. Just don’t pressure yourself.
At that point, let go. Less stress, less pressure. We don’t want to demand our muses to work under duress. To tell them that I want you to work this INSTANT. Because I said so. Well. Then your muse will just leave you hanging. And probably pout too. They do that.
Now, let’s mention that this isn’t about being lazy.
There are times that yes, you will have to kick that muse in the butt and force yourself to focus. You’re not forcing the muse. What you’re doing is getting up and sitting down in front of that computer. You’re showing your muse (creative brain, whatevs you want to call it) that you’re serious. Even if day in and day out, there isn’t inspiraiton? You’re still showing up to the game. You’re showing yourself that you’re “in this together.” Like a team.
As a Nanny, I took care of a boy. He was about ten or so at the time. He’d injured his ankle. I asked him if he’d still like to go to his normal Football practice. He was of course, not really in it. But I explained that I thought it would be nice because even if injured, he was still part of the team. It would be nice to show the rest of them that even if his ankle was hurt and he couldn’t participate, he still supported them. He was still part of the team. (And before I get hate mail, he wasn’t so bad off that he couldn’t go.)
In the end it was his decision–and technically his mom’s because we were attempting to teach him a lesson about sportsmanship–and he showed for the others. I handed him off to the coach and told him that the boy wanted to be there for his team. It made everyone happy, the coach, the boy, obviously the mom and I since he learned a valuable lesson.
That’s what you need to teach your muse. Every day excuses won’t prevent you from still doing everything in your power to “show up,” and that is part of what builds the writing habit. I think that’s also one of the hardest parts. Simply showing up. How many of your friends hear that you’re a writer, and then go on to say they’d like to write a book, but. Oh I’m sure you’ve heard it. “But I can’t find time.” “But I’m not inspired.” But, But, a big ol’ BUT.
Taking from my example above, I could’ve caved under that little boy’s comments about not really wanting to go. I could’ve been like, “Oh of course, I’ll let you stay here and pout.”
These are what Steven Pressfield likes to call, “Resistance.” It is basically the act of every ounce of will that will prevent you from doing what you want to do. Take losing weight. When you want to lose weight, what happens?
Your best friend/coworker/boss/sister/evildoer cooks your favorite cake that same day, or the next.
Resistance is testing you.
How bad are you really going to work at this diet?
I call it simply: life.
Will you stick with the diet? Will you sit down every day, and attempt to write? Or cave under all the many excuses you know you can come up with?
That separates the writers from the nonwriters. Us writers?
Make that statement a full on headline statement.
How do we figure out what works for us?
Meaning, writing in the morning, evening, whathaveyou.
Easy. Just do it. Tomorrow when you get up and go through your day. I don’t care when it happens. The very moment you have a lull, grab pen and paper, tablet, computer, laptop, whatever writing instrument you can. Write. Try to stretch that time out to five minutes. Ten is better. More is better. But sit and do it wherever you can. No excuses. Five minutes of writing is writing that you couldn’t accomplish yesterday, and five minutes a day is five minutes sooner to finishing that novel. Try to go for the same time the next day.
The best I’ve found for me is an hour in the morning. I sit at the same place, the same time, the same ritual right before I write. Then I write, get up at 11am, put the dogs out, and move on. Doing a steady schedule I think is the best thing in the world for us. It’s getting our minds set to work at that time and I’ve read plenty of studies that say creative people who do that (you’re looking at one) tend to become even more creative and inspired. Truth! I am inundated by stuff I don’t even have time for. To write. Yeah, you’re smart enough to have gotten that.
The most common times I hear about are: in the morning before everyone wakes (moi is testimony to that), after everyone goes to bed at night, when the kids are napping, right before work, right after work.
Pick a time that really works well for you, and then every day do a tiny ritual, even if it’s just to plug in the computer and get comfortable on a seat. You’ll find that in the beginning you may have to tap about while you write, but keep showing up, and you’ll soon find yourself typing THE END in your novel, short story, etc.
And that is the best to start with. Start small, build up. I started with poetry, then short stories, then decided I was going to finally finish a novel, and now I have maybe 30 and counting that I’ve written (not all published, but getting there and finishing more every few months). It just starts with one word. Then type another word. And yet another. Then look up and see . . . a story.
NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC:
WE’LL DISCUSS PERFECTION
AND WHY YOU SHOULDN’T TRY TO ACHIEVE IT
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In the comments below, tell me what time do you think works best for you? Either because of this post, or if you’re a current writer.
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