Developing Writing Practice #1: Write or Not

Day Twenty Four: 42,563 of 50,000 words

You’ve got to be willing to waste any time you want to spend being creative.

At least at first.

It’s because we suck at actually valuing the time spent being creative as a society overall. We love the idea of perfect writing, but the time spent on writing it? Who has that? Don’t you need to do laundry? Don’t you need to work out? How about finding a new job!

So creative time is essentially selfish. It’s “wasted”. We’re not making our houses cleaner, our credentials better, our wallets thicker, our loved ones more appreciated. And until that manuscript is off to the editor and we have an advance in our pockets, it’s never going to be easy to explain to our parents why we’re working so hard on “nothing.”

So I say again: in order to be able to find time to write, we must be willing to find time to waste. Otherwise, the more immediately gratifying aspects of the real-world will seduce us away, even if it’s just leveling up in the latest facebook game.

But wasted time can be wasted however you choose without guilt. It was going to be wasted anyway, right? Might as well try writing that book.

Over time, I’ve developed what I call Write-or-Not time. It came from years of writing practice I learned from Writing Down the Bones, and an idea from the book Willpower. In it, they cite a successful author (I’ll check the name) who would sit down for a set amount of time every day, and for that time he could do two things: write, or not write. Nothing else.

I like this idea.

I started using it, and it works. I have kept a steady writing practice for the last six months.

I go to one of several coffee shops in the evening, sometimes on my way home from work. I get a drink and maybe some food, and I can either write or not. It’s how I’ve developed the mental muscle power to do what I’m doing, and it’ll keep me meeting my goals.

If you’re stuck, floundering, wondering why you can’t find time to write? It might be worth a try for you. At the least, it might lead you to your own way of doing things.

My first writing tool to give you is this.

Value your writing time by “wasting” it.

Start practicing write-or-not time. Get everyone used to the fact you’re doing it, too – turn off your phone.

Step one: Get out of the house.

Lots of people work fine at home, but when you’re already reluctant and feeling blocked, just making coffee could lead to cleaning the kitchen and making dinner, and before you know it it’s bedtime and writing didn’t happen today. Oops.

So get out of the house.

Go to a coffee shop or tea parlor or bar. Order a drink. To stay.

Now, you’re stuck there. You must stay at least as long as it takes to finish your drink. If you’re somewhere with free refills, you’re there longer. You’ve also invested money in your writing time now, so you’re going to be more inclined to make it count.

(If you’re really stuck and there’s a piece of cheesecake calling your name from the bake case, you can get it. Even if you’re on a diet. AFTER you’ve written for an hour – this isn’t a time to be above bribery.)

Now, at this point you’re going to get out your writing tools. If you’re extra resistant or out of shape, I recommend a notebook and pen. The internet is everywhere, and Facebook? Twitter? Too tempting. You need basics.

(It’s also worth noting that rockstar writer Neil Gaiman writes all his first drafts by hand. How can he be wrong?)

Get out your notebook and pen. (I like fountain pens with colorful ink because it satisfies my inner child. I write just to make pretty colors happen.)

Set a timer. I recommend an hour, but anything over 20 minutes is acceptable. Less than 20 and you’re being too easy on yourself. And you DID buy a drink right? That should take more than 20 minutes to finish.

(And don’t you want that cheesecake?)

Now, until that timer goes off, you can write, or you can sit there.*

Your choice. If you’re like me and allergic to boredom, you’ll start writing within fifteen minutes.

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first step to valuing your writing time.

If you’ve done nothing by the end of the hour, that’s ok. You’ve still sent a powerful message to yourself – it’s okay to use up time to pursue your dreams.

Your writing time is important. Important enough that you can waste it.

Besides, you’ll be back tomorrow.

*It helps to set aside any lofty writing goals just now; simply be willing to put down whatever words come to mind. Once you’ve developed you writing muscles, you can pick that Great American Novel up again.

9 thoughts on “Developing Writing Practice #1: Write or Not

  1. You nailed it! It is SO easy to get sucked into other stuff. Sometimes my daughter and I–supporting each other in our writing–go together to the library and work. On alternate Mondays I have an open house for writers to come and just work side by side with other writers, so it is companionable, but everyone is making progress toward her own goal. I usually have a pot of soup of chili so folks can come straight from work. Of course, I have to clean and cook that day, but I keep it quick and easy. Great post!

  2. If there’s a will there’s a way, right? If I WANT to write that badly (and I don’t know, I guess I”ll find out along the way…) then I can make real life and writing (I still see those two separately for now…) work together. *determined face*

    1. Yes, if you want it badly enough, then you do make life and writing work. The big trick is to get past the stuck places everyone else is mired in and spend your effort doing instead of trying.

      Sorry for sounding like Yoda, but there is a bog difference between the two, one you learn by feeling the difference between doing and trying over and over.

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