So I’m returning from completing my first draft of the Mars novel thing – now officially called Communion – and I want to get blogging regularly again. To that end, I thought I’d start kind of a blog series within a blog series: less musing on how the muse side of this works and more – sort of as a way to pump myself up, if nothing else – a collection of practical things I’ve learned, in about two and a half years, about the nuts and bolts of writing and being paid for it.
I’m still learning, so some of this is probably going to be wrong. I’m just me, so some of this will probably not apply outside that case. That said, as a social scientist I’m a great believer in taking what little we know and doing the best we reasonably can with it. So.
How The Hell To Do This, Part The First: Make It A Habit
More than once, I’ve seen writing characterized as something fickle that you have to be in the right state of mind for, with the right mood and the right setting and cups of tea and music and absolute solitude and magical things happening in your head, and that it should be easy and fun and flow out of you, and if you don’t have any of those Dumbo feathers or those vibey mood things going on, you shouldn’t try to force it when it gets hard.
And I think that’s kind of bullshit.
Because in my experience, creativity is a muscle. It can be fickle, sure. It can be easy one day and extraordinarily hard the next. But you can mitigate some of this – and save yourself a lot of frustration and anxiety – if you treat it like the muscle it is and get used to exercising it regularly.
Regularity is the key here, or at least it has been for me. You’re training this thing in you; you’re teaching it to come when you call, not the other way around. The only way I have ever found to do that is to just do it: pick a time, try to stick to that time on a daily basis – whenever it is – and get your ass in your seat and write. Set a daily minimum and stick to it, no matter how small, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if it sucks or if it’s no fun. Some days – even many days – both will be true, at least to start with. It doesn’t. Matter. Put aside whatever distractions you might be dealing with, sit down, shut up, and write.
Also? Once you hit your daily minimum? Stop. Even if you feel like you could keep going. I tend to deal with this by actually setting three minimums: one that I must meet even if I feel beyond horrible, one that I should be aiming for on an average day, and one that I can shoot for on really good days. But I try to not go over it by too much. Your mileage may vary, but I find that this helps with the regularizing aspect: you are training your brain to know what’s expected of it. Here, routine is important.
Which is not to say that all that other stuff – the music and solitude and coffee and pleasant lighting and soft colors and whatever – can’t help, because it can. Try to incorporate some of it into your routine, if you find it useful to do so. I have a particular fondness for writing very early in the morning after – or with – a cup of very hot coffee and with some ambient music playing. That’s my routine. It works well for me. Having the little extras also works well. But don’t let the absence of those extras be your excuse for not writing. Because your brain is as crafty as it is lazy, and if you give it half a chance it’ll come up with all kinds of reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t be expected to write today. Don’t stand for that. Take control of your brain. Make it turn that craftiness toward whatever you’re working on.
Writing at least semi-regularly is the key to finishing things. I just don’t know of any other way to do it. So if you want to be a writer in the sense that writing is something that you not only talk and think about but do… you’re probably going to have to at least make an effort to make it a habit.
And here’s the funny thing about habits: the more you do them, the less you have to think about them. The less effort it takes. With writing, it’ll probably always take some. Some days it might take a lot. But you can still help yourself. You can take a measure of control. Even if it’s just a little bit of one.