For the past week I have made myself write for an hour a day, minimum. To achieve this, I have installed anti-distraction apps, I have felt absolutely horrible about the need to sit down and do it, and I have at times bullied myself into doing so. I can’t claim that my methods have been all that ideal. The no distractions apps are good, at least?
This probably seems pretty contrary. I love writing. There is probably nothing in the world I love doing more than writing. But getting myself to do it every day again has been really, really hard.
Well, part of it is that first drafts terrify me. Because for me, and for a lot of people, you basically just have to get the words down. It generally involves accepting that those words will be absolutely terrible. That you’re going to have to rewrite or remove them later on.
But to enable your second and third and fourth drafts, the ones where it becomes a real book that you really like…you’ve got to write a first draft.
The other half is that forcing yourself to do anything is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re forcing yourself to go and eat a chocolate cake. If you’re not in the habit of getting up and going to eat that cake, if that action is hard for you, it’s going to be hard regardless of how much you love chocolate cake.
…I want cake now.
So what happens when you manage to get going?
Most of the time, as soon as I’ve got myself distraction free and I’ve opened the document, I start writing and then don’t look up until half an hour has gone at least. I fall into my favourite feeling – that feeling of being lost in what I’m writing and not wanting to come up for air.
Sometimes this doesn’t happen and I struggle for the hour, but I still emerge from it feeling satisfied that I’ve done it. It helps that when I’m writing a first draft I jump back and forth a lot – I basically write hundreds of disparate scene pieces that I then go in and link up together. This is what works for me, and it means that on a day where I’m struggling, I can at worst put 200 words on 6-10 scenes rather than going for a single linear batch.
I work like this for a few reasons. Part of it is that it’s really handy to know what you’re building to ahead of time. A lot of it is just because I’m easily distracted. I refer you to the very necessary anti-distraction apps.
Why did you decide to start this up again now?
Well, let’s return to the one piece of writing advice that really is universally applicable: to be a writer, you have to write things.
Shocking, I know.
It’s a lot more than the desire to write more, though. To maintain my mental health, I have to force myself to be something I’m not – a creature of habit. I have to sit myself down each day and do the same set of things. And. genuinely, one of the things I have to do every day to maintain my health is write something. I’ve lost that a lot over the past few months, and getting that back is really important.
On top of that, I really want to get the bulk of this first draft of Bastion down before I go to university in September. I don’t know how much time I’m going to have to work on it whilst I’m there, and if I can have a first draft by then, I’ll feel a lot better about potentially putting it aside for a year. If I can write an hour every weekday between now and the beginning of September, I should manage that.
Is this sustainable when you’ve admitted you’re not using the best methods?
This is the big question. On the second day I did this write-for-an-hour-without-distraction habit, I felt so incredibly anxious until I’d started it. Honestly, I felt pretty anxious all the way through doing it.
I struggled a bit with focusing, but managed to write a thousand words in disparate pieces within the first half hour. The second half hour I spent writing for the blog instead, because I could tell I wasn’t going to manage to do more on Bastion, but I’m happy enough with this – it kept me in the habit.
The really hard point that day was the moment where I hadn’t done it, where it felt like there was a knot in my chest. In the end I had to point out to myself that it definitely wasn’t going to go anywhere if I did nothing, and that for once I ought to just do the thing I knew would fix it. I wasn’t very kind in my mental dialogue.
So as I go forward, what I really want to focus on is being more compassionate towards myself. It’s something my last therapist really wanted me to do, and something I’m still not amazing at. I second guess myself a lot, including when I’m trying to do what’s best for myself, which means I often don’t do the best thing at all.
It won’t always be easy, but it won’t always be hard either. And the more I do it, the easier it will become. Besides – it’s a good warm up for going to university!