One of the things you learn pretty quickly when you’re trying to write a novel in a month is how to keep plugging along whether you feel like it or not.
Another thing you learn is how surprisingly hard this is, even when you’re working on something you love.
The irony is that I’m a pro at plugging along when it comes to my job. I never “feel” like going in every morning (of course I don’t), or staying there for 8 hours, or doing any of the individual things I’m required to do while I’m there. But I’ve learned to keep going, day after day, in spite of that. Why I can’t do the same thing for my writing—something I truly love and daydream about while I’m stuck at work—is a mystery to me.
The one and only explanation I can find for the difference between my self-discipline towards work vs. writing is that with my job, I don’t have the option not to do it. This is because I like to eat and be clothed, and as long as I want to continue doing both of those things, showing up at work is non-negotiable. Whether I feel like going or not is irrelevant.
My writing, on the other hand, is the opposite of necessary, strictly speaking. No one is demanding it. My general physical wellbeing isn’t dependent on it. The only reason I have for doing it is that I really, really love doing it. And apparently that’s not enough motivation when I have the option of watching The Big Bang Theory in my PJs instead.
Forcing Yourself to Do the Things You Love
The trouble is that after using up most of my energy doing the things I don’t want to do, I rarely feel like I have enough left at the end of the day to give to the things I do want to do. I feel spent. I feel like I deserve a break. And as fantastic as writing is once I actually sit down and start doing it, it’s still work. And I am lazy. I didn’t fully appreciate how much before now, but since taking on NaNoWriMo, it has become abundantly clear. I am oh so very lazy.
But my dreams deserve better than that. Since work is non-negotiable, using it as an excuse for why I’m not pursuing my dreams is a copout. My tiredness after work isn’t what’s keeping me from accomplishing the things I want to accomplish; it’s me. I haven’t valued them enough to put in the work for them. Or I haven’t ridden myself hard enough to live up to them. Probably both. Either way, I’m just beginning to realize how much I’ve been missing out on as a result.
I might have to force myself to sit down and start, but once I do, I realize Oh, hey! I really like this! That’s right, I remember now! It’s sad and strange that this is how I operate, but that’s what I have to work with, so I’m working with it. No one is going to hold me accountable for my dreams except me, so I’d better start being a better taskmaster.
But You Like Writing, Remember?…
I’m not above tricking or bribing myself. It isn’t admirable, but the inertia I’ve built up over years of letting myself off the hook isn’t going to melt away overnight—and in the meantime, I have a novel to write. So, I set myself goals and rewards: Just write 2 pages, and you can have a yummy treat. (If I’m lucky, I’ll get so involved in what I’m writing that I’ll turn out 3 or 4 pages before I even remember the treat.) Or: Tonight, just write a paragraph of character background. You don’t even have to tackle the story. (If I’m lucky, the character sketch will lead to some brilliant plot point, and I’ll be so excited I’ll spit out several pages on it.) It’s like getting a 2-year-old to eat his brussel sprouts. Only the brussel sprouts are actually M&Ms, and he loves M&Ms. But he forgets this, so every night at dinner you have to coax him into trying one before he remembers he loves them, and then he devours the whole plate. So I guess my self-discipline is like a 2-year-old with Alzheimer’s. Yep, that sounds about right.
(Don’t ask me why you’d want to coax a kid to eat M&Ms every night for dinner. The metaphor is a bit sketchy, but so is my writing process. So I suppose it’s rightly fitting.)
Analyze Me! (Seriously, Because I Totally Don’t Get It)
What do you think? Have you ever had trouble getting yourself to do the work for something you actually really enjoy? Do I just not want it enough to make myself put forth the effort, or is it far too easy to let your dreams slide in the day to day grind? I’d be curious to see how other people weigh in on this!
Image: Clay Bitner
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