Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Self-Discipline OR Getting My Butt Into The Saddle

Well here I am, back in the saddle (we live in the Prairies, right? thus I reserve the option of breaking into western-themed cliches at the drop of a Stetson). The last three weeks have been a blur of travel/year-end overtime at the day job and volunteer/family commitments that have combined to give me another excuse to avoid getting down to the business of writing.

Another excuse? "Yes, " she said, head lowered to hide the wince. We've talked about this in our group so I take comfort knowing I'm not alone: when I'm struggling with a character (and I'm certainly doing that just now), or when I realize I'm going nowhere with a premise, or when I can plainly see that what I've written has to be undone, completely, the first thing I'm likely to do is get up from my chair. The second is to avoid getting back into it at all for days/weeks/(wince again) months at a time. Deadly in terms of output (marvelous, of course, for clean laundry, shining sinks, dust bunny removal, short grass, and so on).

So.... given that this is something I want to do for myself, and that I can happily spend hours at without so much as a nibble of chocolate when the words are flowing, what keeps me from making time for it on a regular basis come whatever? And frankly, not to mention more importantly, how can I change that?

I know full well that those last few words above are key--I have to change it; no one can do it for me. I've done the positive thinking thing, the affirmations, the visioning, and to an extent they work. One of the most productive writing exercises I've done involved envisioning my book on the stands, complete with back cover blurb, and lo--my 'write' brain came through with exactly what I needed to move forward with the story. I've had positive and encouraging feedback on my writing from my writing colleagues as well as two editors, mostly positive critiques (honesty compels me to add that in one case I was advised to join a writing group, and it was long after I had), and a rejection that included an invitation to send in the next manuscript. So now I have to get to it and write.

I've tried the scheduled time approach: every Monday is mine, I said. Seems everyone listened but me and the dust bunnies--amazing how unremarkable they are until Monday. I've also tried the "whenever the muse speaks approach", with paper and pen to the ready wherever I am--strangely, most of the paper is still blank, other than the assorted "to do" and grocery lists scattered about. Thus I conclude that everything is in place that needs to be with the exception of self-discipline. I have not, however, hung up my spurs.

I have promised myself that every Monday I will do one writing exercise not related to my current work, just to keep the brain muscle limber, and one hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday entirely devoted to my current work. Baby steps, and I know I'll have to ramp it up to meet my public commitment to finish the first draft of my current work in progress by the end of September, of this year. But that commitment is my next strategy in sabotaging my habit of sabotaging myself. If anyone has any other suggestions that have worked for them I'll happily add them to my collection (along with the dust bunnies that should--no, make that will start multiplying again undisturbed).


Janet C. said...

First, let me welcome officially to the Chicks' line-up, Molli. I'm looking forward to your Tuesday blogshares.

Second, western cliches? OK, I can't think of any to finish this paragraph - I haven't had enough coffee yet. I'll just mosey on over to the coffee pot and try again later :)

Third, time to write. I understand your issues totally (maybe not the compulsion to clean when the muse is off doing whatever she does when she's not cooperating). And all the affirmations and goal setting in the world will not work if I'm not willing to sit in that chair and write. So I have no words of wisdom except maybe "Buck up, Cowgirl".


Captain Hook said...

Molli, I sure don't have any sound advice for you. I too struggle daily to make myself sit and write (yesterday was my first writing in over a month).

If you get any answers, please share!

Karen said...

Good morning, Molli.
Wonderful to have you blogging with us!

One thing that has helped me to be more productive is this blog. Like you, my writing days were sporadic at best, and often non-existent for months at a time. But having to produce a blog a week ensures I write every week. I have been more productive since Christmas then I was in the last two years. I think its because I'm in that writing groove so I don't have to find it when I do sit down to write. (It makes sense in my head.) So I think you're on the right track by using this blog as a tool.

Anyway, good luck rustling yourself up some writin' time.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Molli, I can definitely relate to your struggle to find time and not let yourself get distracted. With other responsibilities on one's plate, it gets so easy to put things off and say "Well, I'm stuck anyway, so I'll work on this instead and wait for things to click", and of course, they don't.

For myself, I find I have to get angry. If I waste time, it doesn't help to encourage myself or try some sort of positive affirmation. I have to get angry with this woman that keeps making excuses and wasting time, tell her to cut the crap, and make her realize I see through her! Then she gets cracking. Plus, if I don't do it, my husband will call me on it soon enough, and I'd rather catch it before he knows I'm wasting time.

Silver James said...

Head 'em up, move 'em out. Rawhide! Don't even get me started. I grew up on Louis L'Armour and the great old Westerns on TV.

The first rule of Write Club is "BUTT IN CHAIR, FINGERS ON KEYBOARD." Unfortunately, that's easier typed than put into action. If I'm blocked, ie. the words just don't come, then I'll do at least something that progresses the story. I'll research the setting. Find a visual for my H/H. Find the house or apartment where they live. Then I'll take a moment to describe what I've found. In words. By typing on the keyboard. And I save it in my research file/notes. A lot of times, my Muse, curious and capricious creature she is, will come peer over my shoulder and then decides to play. If she remains obstinate, then I've at least done something creative for the WIP.

Good luck with it. It's a "demon" all writers have to exorcise.

ban said...

'write club' funny silver ! i can second most of what you said - when i get stuck i try to work on something else that is related to my wip. i go in and revise or tighten up my outline, doodle images of characters, maps or items or, as tara said in her entry - i start thinking about story b or c or ...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Welcome to a new Prairie Chick. You've written a great post to start your journey with us.

I like Janet's answer. No matter how much I many not want to write, I still won't want to clean. Housekeeping is a group effort with the kids on the weekend so I can't use that excuse.

Actually, Janet's comment, Buck up, Cowgirl is exactly right. It's like trying to quit smoking or some other evil habit (I know, I've been there).

If you really want to write, the only thing to do is use will power and write. It's like trying to get my kids to learn a musical instrument. Hubby and I can provide the instrument, the teacher, the books and the drive there. We can give them time to practice by taking away the TV, computer or other fav electronic device, but even if they learn, they won't stick with it if they're not interested.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that you have to decide whether you want to write and then just do it.

And I'll add this, if you've decided to write and then get distracted or feel compelled to look for dust bunnies, let the rest of us Chicks know either my email or live MSN. One of us will probably be online and can help you through it.

(I just glanced at my MSN live messenger and both Jana and Janet are on with me at this time.) :)

Janet C. said...

Hey, it's me again. I have to say "Hiho, Silver" - sorry :)

I wanted to say "Yes!" to Anita's suggestion. I never think, when I'm staring at the screen and wondering what to write/where to go/am I the worst writer on the face of the planet, to chat with a writing friend for a minute or two. I already know that my writing friends are hugely inspirational and my excitement for writing always escalates after a meeting, or after activity over on the SRW blog. So why wouldn't I use those same people to help me get back on track. It doesn't have to be a long chat, but it would be motivational.

Thanks, Anita (you may regret this comment post when the little orange light starts blinking indicating Janet 'chatting' with you :)

Sara B said...

It's the hardest part, there's just no doubt about it. It's something that I struggle with constantly. When I'm avoiding sitting down at the computer because I'm sure that I just don't have it in me that day to write something good, I tell myself, just go and write something bad then. I can always do that. And something bad can always be fixed.

I wish I had a better tip to share, but I don't.

I'm going to keep checking back here though to see if someone emerges with the secret.

Helena said...

Welcome, Molli. I'm happy to be blogsharing Tuesdays with you.

I can't/won't tell you how many "schedules" I've drafted for myself to get writing into my daily routine. Doesn't work.

To bust out of this corral of procrastination, I have to drop a lifelong habit I seem to have that compels me to get mundane tasks out of the way before I give in to things I really want to do -- which nowadays is writing. (Dust bunnies are mundane, but I am immune to them. For me it's more likely to be catching up on e-mail, laundry, drafting minutes from a committee meeting, etc.)

I'm with Karen on the value of this blog. Since I got involved with the Chicks and the activity on the SRW private blog, I have been thinking more about my characters, plot, new story ideas. It's all on the front burner now. The mental energy always simmers for a while before my fingers hit the keyboard, anyway.

Thanks for the prod to the butt, Molli.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet - uh - you mean more than it does now? LOL

I actually relish the chats with other writers. It's a confirmation that I'm not alone. Yes, I have to write the actual words by myself, but I don't have to come up with the all the ideas or even the characters by myself. For example, Camy Tang's recent blog requests help for her new hero's occupation. She can pick one of the suggestions or it could spark a different one for her. But, the comments are helping her get over this bump in her writing.

Technology has changed our world. Writing may be a lonely profession but in this modern age, it's only as lonely as you allow it to be.

And if you're not sure if you can do MSN, email Janet and she'll straighten you out. :)

Erika said...

I am so glad it's not just me. *whew*

I have no suggestions and am always open to some to learn how to put pen to paper. I have learned though that I can't write at my computer. I have to be sitting at a table somewhere with a pad of paper and a pen/pencil. I write everything out and then when I get it to a point where I think I'm done messing with it (for now) I put it into Word. I've tried typing first, but it just doesn't work for me.

If you find something that works for you please share. I'm always open to new ideas, although, cleaning isn't one of them....

Jana Richards said...

Hey Molli,
Welcome to our little corner of the prairies. So great to have you as a fellow Chick.

I sooo know where you're coming from. I once found myself cleaning the oven instead of writing when I got stuck. And I hate cleaning the oven. Like Helena, I used to think I had to get all my other work done before I allowed myself to write. Not anymore. My house looks like hell, but that's another story.

The advice you got here was sound. Bounce ideas off a writing friend or share frustrations. Do something that moves the story forward like research or character sketches. Or write something, anything. Writing something everyday really does put you in the groove, like Karen and Helena said. It's like exercise. If you don't do it on a regular basis, it's really going to hurt when you take it up again.

Then there's good old fashioned determination. How much do you want this? Hang in there, Cowgirl.


Molli said...

Sorry to take a while to get back to the post -- blame it on the day job. It's always comforting to remember what good company I have in this "corral", Helena, and it's great to read everyone's comments everyone.

You've jogged a memory from the Margot Dalton workshop: she said she always had several books on the go in different stages and if she was hung up on one she'd switch to another. I've always been a linear thinker and that has translated to my writing--start at the beginning and go to the end, one book at a time--so I haven't tried that approach, but what the hay, maybe I'll give it a whirl with the Three Sisters stories.

Two other ideas I haven't heard before (thank you Silver and Sara B) are writing about my research, and giving myself permission to just write something bad. I like it!

I'm off for supper, but will check back later. Thanks much, folks.