Every year, thousands of writers vow that from the 1st of January, they will be more disciplined and they will write every day. Or write 5000 words a week. Or finish that novel draft by 30 June. New Year’s resolutions for writers are no different than resolutions to get fit or lose weight or stop eating chocolate. You feel extremely motivated for a few days or a couple of weeks, and then something happens and you don’t write for a few days and immediately you label yourself Failure.
Motivation is easy when you’re feeling it. Incredibly hard when you’re hungover or sick or just plain tired. Boring as it may sound, routine is what will save you.
Twice in 2013, I was in a small group of writers who committed to writing at least 2 pages (or for 30 minutes) every day, and then checking in with the group to say “Done”.
You might think this is easy. 30 minutes is nothing.
It wasn’t easy at all. Well, some days it was. Some days the 30 minutes whizzed past and before I knew it, I had 4-5 pages. Some days, though, I kept watching the clock and forcing out some more words and wishing those minutes would magically speed up so it would be over.
I did this group check-in twice (each time we did 54 days) because it worked for me. The commitment to 30 minutes was only half of it. The check-in was just as important. It was like a constant nudge in my back that said, ‘Have you written yet?’ And the checking in meant we were all in it together, so every check-in said, “I showed up today.”
The accountability part of this makes you feel less alone, and also reminds you that other writers have the same problems and everyone is doing their best. The 30 minutes/2 pages is also designed to make writing a habit. The theory is that you do three lots of 28 days, and by the end of the third lot, you have a habit.
That has worked for me. Somewhat. There are still days when I don’t want to write. Not necessarily because of time or energy constraints. More often, it’s fear of the blank page. One thing this 28 day thing has shown me is that I am least inclined to write when I have no idea what comes next in my story. I’m not a writer (usually) who can sit down and spill whatever comes out of my head onto the page. I have no patience with a 300 page mess that I have no idea how to fix!
I can’t remember which writer said they always stop in the middle of a sentence so when they come back the next day, once they finish the sentence they’re off and running again. Sometimes I do that – I will stop in a scene, even though I could keep going, because the next day I will know what comes next. More importantly, because I am committed to writing every day, I spend much more time thinking about my novel, and about what comes next, so the story keeps flowing, inside my head and onto the page.
Both times I did this commitment with my group, I wrote around 50,000 words in 54 days. Some days I wrote 500 words, some days I wrote 1500 words. It didn’t matter as long as I did my allotted time. Even the quality didn’t matter – it was a first draft. Often what came out surprised me. Apparently my brain had been working quietly on its own and then giving me stuff – once I started writing.
If you want to write more in 2014, consider starting your own commitment group. Even one other person is enough. They don’t have to be writing. Their commitment could be a 20 minute walk, or 30 minutes of study. But you must check in every day to say “Done”. If you commit to 28 days at a time, it makes it less daunting. You can keep the 28s going as long as you want.
For 2014, I have already started a commitment and check in. Every 28 days, I can look back and know that some days it was dedication, some days it was inspiration, and some days it was simply to know that I had written, despite everything else.
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