- Always commit absolutely
- Always reserve the right to change your mind, at any time, for any reason, with no judgment
- Always keep everything you write
I said when I started this blog that I didn’t want it to be an advice blog – well, that’s only mostly true. There are three pieces of advice I will always give, always stress the invaluable importance of, because they’re the kind of advice that I need, and I know a lot of other people do as well. And I definitely need them right now.
I have not been following rules 1 and 2 for a very long time, and when I do that, I find that I very naturally fall into the “hypothetical writing” trap, where all my writing is “what if this happened” or “you know, I could do this“. And I even found a counter to it: turn it into a conversation instead of just a huge rant – but I haven’t been doing that, either. I’ve just let myself keep writing in the hypothetical, not committed, not torn myself away from my myriad distractions so that I can actually write effectively, and it’s taken its toll. I need to stop.
I wrote nothing (nothing that counted) yesterday and it didn’t feel good, but mind you not much of anything yesterday felt good, it was just kind of a shitty flat day where I wrote a bunch of crap that didn’t count because it was all hypothetical writing and let’s just say that this is why I am Starting Today. I am pulling out that old cliche because right now – starting today, in fact – it’s exactly what I need to get back on track.
So Starting Today, it’s all for real. No hypotheticals. Aaalll the stress of “getting it right” the first time, so that I have the perfect excuse to get back to actually following my own cardinal rules of writing. I tend to not write because of my stupid perfectionist streak that ruins everything in my life. One of the reasons I keep coming back to those three rules – and in particular the first two; the third one is easy enough to follow, though no less important – is because it seems to be a brain-hack of sorts, a way to trick my inner perfectionist into thinking it’s getting what it wants – which is to criticise, not to make things better – while at the same time completely undermining its efforts. Rule 1 – to commit absolutely – means that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m doing. I am writing that shit, I am sticking to the plan, I am doing it the way I said I would do it, even if it doesn’t work.
And this is vitally important, because Rule 2 – to reserve the right to change your mind at any time for any reason – means that when it doesn’t work, you can immediately fix it. Immediately. None of this “wait for revision” shit; you just get in there and make it work right now. Do these two things seem completely at odds with each other? Yes, they do. But it’s much less about taking those rules literally, as instructions, than it is about taking them on as mindsets. As attitudes. Doing most things in life is about your attitude when you attempt them. Thinking “I can’t do this because I’m not good enough for X and Y reasons” will get you nowhere in a hurry. Thinking “this is the plan and I’m sticking to the plan no matter what because it’s the plan” will give you drive, determination, a sense of purpose to your endeavour; and thinking “this is shit I can do better than this and I’m going to do it now” will give you a sense of mastery, of flair, of showing off how brilliant you are and basking in the afterglory. We human beings are complex, and we are capable of thinking and believing seemingly contradictory things simultaneously.
Might as well use it to our advantage.
Part of the commitment I’ve been feeling the lack of ties back to these two principles. I have been permitting myself to just take it easy, and I did need that. I’m going to keep needing that every now and again, because everyone needs a break, and in one form or another we take that break, whether it’s by doing sloppy work because you resent still having to do it, procrastinating until the last minute because you’re so used to working non-stop that you don’t know how to regulate your time in a healthy way, or having a nervous breakdown because you’ve pushed yourself too hard for too long, refusing to look at the reasons why you thought you had to prove that you could.
I might be projecting slightly here.
And that’s an area where my three rules don’t help me out, or not in an obvious way at least. I guess a fourth rule, which was birthed when I let – and made – myself watch Stranger Things last year because I realised I was distracting myself when I literally had nothing to distract myself from, and not even enjoying it. That rule doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s also about being conscientious – just not about work and work alone. I guess it’s Rule 1, just applied to recreation – if you’re not working, then you’re not fucking working. Enjoy it, because now that’s the plan. You aren’t allowed to work when you’re Not Working, so don’t even think about it.
And, of course, Rule 2 still applies, or so I would think – it didn’t have to apply when I was watching Stranger Things, though, because I really enjoyed that show and am very glad, even grateful, that I made myself take the time to indulge myself in watching it.
So I guess maybe I’ve been a bit better about following these rules than I thought – just not with writing. I applied Rule 1 very hard to reading The Dresden Files this year, for instance, and other assorted Urban Fantasy pastries (I’m up to book 5 in the Kate Daniels series and have finally made myself begin the Anita Blake series), and did not let guilt stop me from said indulgence, and I genuinely feel that I’ve become a slightly better human being for it. So that’s good.
But I need to re-apply it to writing. And, I think, take something else away from this: when it’s not being applied to work, Rule 1 will very easily overrule Rule 2 if you let it, because if you’re doing shit you enjoy, you’re not going to want to change very much.
Or maybe I just need a Rule 4: take reasonable time off and have some fucking fun, dumbass. That seems much easier.
But I need the rules, whatever the number, because I actually am starting to miss writing. Yes, I did say recently that I hated writing, but sometimes you just need to say something, get it off your chest, and once you do it loses its power, because it’s no longer relevant. I said back when I discovered I was Not A Writer Anymore that I still wanted to act like I was a Writer, because it worked for getting writing done, and writing – rather than Writing – was something that I still wanted to do with my life. It still is. And I see now that one of the reasons it hasn’t been working so well for me is this lack of commitment, and lack of conscientiousness around my writing habits. I have some good ones. I committed to those good habits while I was working on Tallulah the first time, and again when I was working on the revision. It fought off the “hypothetical writing” trap. I haven’t been able to make myself do it for anything less “serious” than Tallulah yet, but I want to work out the trick to it. I think it’s just commitment.
So, coming back to Nanowrimo commitments – they’re still on. It just might not be 50k words by the end of the month, but it’ll be something. And more importantly, it will be something every day. Because what I’m starting to realise is that I’m actually much more disciplined than I think I am – not because my habits reflect it, but because what I miss right now is the discipline. Because that’s what commitment is: the foundation upon which discipline is based. Discipline, when I think of the word, is just what happens when you turn your commitment into a habit.
Which – I can hardly believe I’m saying this – I think I’ve actually done. Because I feel a distinct urge to get back to it. I’ve re-wired myself to want discipline – not so that I never fall off the wagon, but so that I notice when I do.
I want to keep doing it. If that’s not a sign, I’m not a writer.
Which I guess I am.
But not because I have nothing else going on. Not anymore.
Speaking of which look forward to a totally off-topic Justice League rant coming up next time because sometimes when you get something off your chest you realise how much more you had left to say and boy do I have some Things To Say about this movie …