I always liken writing novels to marathon training and running with my friends- done right, both require phased approaches to preparation and eventual execution, and both endeavors boil down to being fairly solitary work that you push yourself through for days at a time until you’re done. The big difference, of course, is runners have a definite finish line in space and time to work towards, as a writer that finish line is really a matter of self-satisfaction.
At any rate, like a lot of athletes, I have my rituals and rhythms for “training” (which I’m getting started on now in a way as I begin the churn and burn of producing a rough draft of Unicorns & Satellites, which I’ll note has a fresh summary in my Novels section). Around those rhythms, I have certain motivational things I do to keep me moving and to get me in the chair every night. I may expand on these individually in a later post, but here’s a rundown of the different “trappings” I’ve created to get myself to sit at the desk every night.
- Calendar alerts – I schedule my writing time intentionally and force myself to acknowledge an alert on my phone every night. I don’t give myself the excuse of “losing track of time,” if I’m skipping a night of writing, I must do so intentionally after acknowledging the alert. I’m loathe to admit how many times that does get me off the couch and upstairs to my desk, but suffice to say that it does.
- Writing Beard – I can usually predict my rhythm and tempo for writing both through knowing my habits and pace and having a good sense of the story to be handled, so I’ll often use the relief of a clean shaven face as motivation to stay the course. I’m currently on week two of scratchy face, and already looking forward to getting to make an appointment at the Blind Barber for a close shave and haircut to reward myself.
- Treat Yo’self – Parks and Rec was right. Have little ways of treating yourself to close off a night of writing (glass of wine), finishing a chapter (dinner out), finishing the full manuscript (shave day).
- The Wall of No – This one comes after the draft is done, but when I finish a draft and I’m ready to start shopping around and querying, I print out every rejection I receive and tack them over my desk. When grinding through multiple rounds of edits and rewrites, the wall of no motivates me to keep moving forward because there are X number of people who my idea wasn’t yet up to par for.
- Edit for Friends – A lot of people are somewhat dubious about this when I tell them that editing/giving thoughts on their work helps me with my own, but it’s the truth. When actively writing and editing that’s the time I’m most eager and willing to read other people’s work. In articulating what’s working and struggling in their stories and work, I start to feel out moments in my own that may need work and adjustment.
The point in all this is, have your strategy that gets you into the seat at your desk regularly. From the daily/small to the intermittent, to the larger milestone markers. That’s the heart of this. People ask me how I write novels with a full time job, and I answer frankly: one page at a time. If you sit down 5 nights a week and write a page a night, you’ll have 260 pages of writing by the end of the year, and a page is no big challenge for anyone.
The challenge is to get yourself off the couch and into that seat. If you have to entice, trick, or shame yourself to do it, then do it. I guarantee you’ll feel better for having gotten the work done by whatever means necessary than to not get it done at all.