Tuesday, January 25, 2011

writing habits

I've had unusually prolonged success implementing a new writing habit these past couple weeks. The rule started out like this: no internet until I have written at least 250 words.

I've tried daily writing quotas before. I've also tried systems of deprivation and reward. Most things seem to work for me temporarily, and then something always goes wrong. I get frustrated, or I skip a day, or I make an excuse do go ahead and do something I said I wouldn't do until later. So far - and I should probably knock on wood - that hasn't happened with this routine.

Why does this one work when others have failed? I have theories.
  1. 250 words is not a lot. Sure, some days when I'm just not feeling a flow, it can seem like endless agony to get them down on paper. But really, it's a very small amount, and if I am having a good day, I can bust it out in less than 20 minutes. (Okay, make that a really good day, but still.) Attainable goals are awesome. They make you feel good about yourself. When you achieve them once, you become confident that you can achieve them again. If they seem easy, you start wondering how much more you can do.
  2. Rewards are great, especially when you actually get them. See above about 250 words not being much.
  3. Deprivation methods start to fail when you get carried away with them. It becomes easy to make excuses to take shortcuts when it seems like you'll just never get there by the long road. I could wake up in the morning and remember that I'm waiting for a really important email, and think to myself, "Oh, it couldn't hurt just to check quickly, even though I haven't done my writing yet." I could do that, and probably justify it, if I had a really huge initial writing goal to meet. But... 250 words? How am I going to justify skipping such a tiny writing stint? (For your reference, this post is already 349 words long at this point.)
So, these theories all seem to come back to the fact that I'm meeting a small goal. The downside of this, of course... is that it's a small goal. I am being successful at getting a small amount of writing done.

But I don't think that diminishes the success. For one thing, 250 is not a daily goal. It's a kickstart to my writing for the day, after which I can take a break to do some other things, knowing that I've at least accomplished something. (Achievement Unlocked: Internet Access!) Sometimes the day goes on and I don't have the time or energy to write more. That's fine; at least I'm writing every day. Other days I get some real momentum going and write quite a bit more. For the past few days, in particular, I've been coming out between 600 and 1200 words at the end of the day. That's not too bad.

Another important point is that this morning goal is not actually just about writing. It's about stopping myself from feeling like I'm wasting time. Before I started this, I realized that many mornings I went straight to the internet and spent a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing before getting around to whatever I really wanted to do that day. If I let myself, I am perfectly capable of wasting hours on my computer in the morning before doing anything of consequence. Not anymore, though. Now the very first thing I do most mornings is grab my computer and start writing until I've hit 270 words or more. (I've been gradually increasing the goal as it gets easier to handle.) Once I've done that, I feel free to check my email and catch up on what the internet has been doing without me all night. And then, because I've gained some momentum of mental activity, I don't have as much trouble getting up and getting on with the rest of my day. It's quite nice, really.

...I actually intended to write a post about the scene I wrote today and how I had to fix it, which was going to lead into some things I've learned about writing lately. I wonder how I ended up on this subject instead. Oh well, maybe next time. :)

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