1. Start noticing the times when you stop working. Is it when you get stuck on something? When the writing starts to feel “too hard”? Is it when you get thrown off your routine because something unexpected came up? Is it when you’re on the verge of taking your story to a deeper level? Keep track of your sticking points. You might even want to take a few notes about your stopping patterns.
2. Use the information you’ve collected against yourself. If you’re a writer who stops when the writing gets tough, keep a timer by your desk and set it for five minutes when you feel like stopping. Tell yourself you only need to write for the five extra minutes (but of course, here’s to hoping you keep going past that). If the unexpected throws you off, keep a notebook in your purse or backpack, tell yourself you need to find five minutes in your day to write—whether it’s waiting at the DMV or at your kid’s soccer practice (I’ve written in the Costco parking lot with a baby asleep beside me. I’ve also not written when I’ve had all the time and quiet needed). I know you’re thinking five minutes? What on earth can you write in five minutes? You might be surprised. You can write a few sentences, maybe a paragraph and it might be just the paragraph you’ve been waiting for.
3. Read Virginia Valian’s essay “Learning to Work”: http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/psych/faculty/valian/docs/1977workingItOut.pdf
4. Commit to writing fifteen minutes a day for the next two weeks. Keep a log. The log can be as simple as a check mark to a few notes about how the writing went. When I did this, I kept a log (I’m not much of a “keeping track” sort of person) only because I told my students that I would be keeping the log. Most days I wrote something terse like “did it” but some days I did take notes and I was stunned to see how many reasons I had for not writing. I love writing, I love having written, I have written a book, I have published writing, I make a living as a writer and a writing teacher. All this would indicate to me that I would not resist writing for 15 paltry minutes, but there it was chronicled in grisly detail “too tired,” “don’t want to!” “tired” “too much to do.” Do I spend fifteen minutes every day checking email? Yes, do I ever say I’m too tired or don’t have time? No. But checking email is a passive activity. I do nothing but click and see what others have sent me, how others want me to use my time, my energy, my life. Writing is active. Writing is me forging my own meaning.
Now why am I avoiding that again?
5. Do what Johnathan Franzen does. Disable your Internet capabilities on your writing computer. Or write on an old laptop with no wireless. Or do what I do most of the time: Hand write. There’s nowhere to click on my yellow legal pad to get to Facebook. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve also clicked the Unlock button on my car keys when approaching the front door of my house. I’ve also clapped my hands when my kids were doing something I didn’t like, which was once a signal to our long passed away dog to go to her bed and lie down.
Hey, Theo, great post. For me #5 is by far and away the most necessary step. Unfortunately, I don’t do it nearly enough (and wouldn’t, of course, be here if I were doing it. 🙂
Yes, it’s the old tree falls in the forest, isn’t it. Glad you were here to hear it fall. Now, git, git, git back to work. : )
Readers: Tracy has a very funny blog. You can find a link to it on my blog roll.