thebonesofferalletters: Writing wise, what do you do to help you get in "the zone"?
Ramit Sethi, the author of the fantastically useful personal finance book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has this saying: "Would you rather be sexy, or rich?" What he means is, do you want to do all the flashy stuff so you can talk about investing and how your stock performs and things that will impress people at cocktail parties, or do you want the boring but effective stuff that helps you save money and make more money?
I kinda feel like that with a few of these questions. <_< The best way I have to get myself into the writing groove isn't particularly interesting or attractive. I would love to say that having a cup of my favorite tea and a handcrafted playlist for my project and a clean desk and sunlight pouring in the window helps me write, but while those things make me feel great, they don't actually have any correlation to how well I'm able to get myself writing. Instead, the method that most consistently gets me cranking out the words is this:
- Close everything on my computer except for iTunes or a (minimized) MyNoise generator, and
- Open up my story file.
And I'm not being flippant with #2. I often have a great resistance to starting, so if I sit down and a file isn't open, well, then, path of least resistance says "Meh, no writing today." But if I look at what I'm doing (or... not doing), and open up a file with intent, it's easier to get started.
What I'm doing is setting up micro-barriers to distraction (so, if I want to browse the internet, I have to go and open Firefox or whatever), and removing micro-barriers to writing (the page is right there, and I can't command-tab to any other open program). The effect is a bit like settling your wagon wheels into a well-worn groove in the path. It's easier to go forward than it is to change direction. I guess it's even easier just to sit there and do nothing, but doing nothing is awfully boring, so I usually end up writing instead.
The secret third thing I do to get myself into the writing flow – which I need to get back into the habit of doing – is: Write every day.
I was writing 800 words a day in October, planning to write 900 a day in November and 1,000 a day in December, but November knocked me out of it, so I'm thinking of starting back at 500 a day in January and increasing by 100 a day every month. And what happens when you write every day is that you learn to write every day. You sit down in front of the page and your brain starts going "Oh. Right, I know what to do, here." And so, while there are still easier days and harder days, the overall level of difficulty goes down over time.
But for the longest time before I was cranking out most of one K (and sometimes much more than that), I was doing... 20 words a day. That was the minimum, and once I hit that, I had a deal with myself that I would celebrate that achievement. I wasn't allowed to badmouth it. I couldn't say "Well, that was only 20 words, that was pathetic." And hose 20 words could be on anything – they didn't have to be on the project I was currently working on. They could be 20 words of stream-of-consciousness, or story seed, or anything. I just had to get 20 words out.
And it's hard to be intimidated by 20 words. (Like it's hard to be intimidated by one minute of meditation.) But those 20 words were the Trojan horse of a habit; once I got used to doing 20 words a day, I was used to sitting down and writing every day. And getting started is so often the hardest part, that that 20 word habit was a major victory.
It's a lot easier to grow a small habit than it is to institute a giant habit. That's why so many New Year's resolutions fail: people go "I'm going to get in shape this year so I'm going to go to the gym five times a week and run a mile every day before work!", and that's just too much if you're trying to go from a sedentary lifestyle to that. It's a shock to the system, and you get overwhelmed, and you drop the habit. (When I was walking a mile every day, I had grown that habit from a habit that just said: Go outside every day. Walk to the end of the block and back. And once I was in the habit of walking to the end of the block and back, around the block wasn't a big deal. Once I was walking around the block, around two blocks wasn't a big deal. And so it grew.)
So, that's my writing process secret! A bunch of really tiny and somewhat pedestrian things. But they work for me, so.