There was a time when I wrote a thousand words a night, every single night. I’m not sure I can ever get back to that. I didn’t have other commitments back then, and I did far less revising and editing than I do now. Much of that effort is still sitting in my Inactive folder, in the form of stories that were just never done enough or good enough to send out.
I have yet to meet a writer who is naturally inclined toward self-discipline. It seems that discipline is a learned skill for most of us, which is funny because it’s also one of our early excuses, isn’t it. “I just don’t have the discipline!” the new writer will say, as if the rest of us do have it and this all just comes effortlessly to us. I know I said it (to nobody in particular) and assumed that you successful writers out there were simply blessed with a personality trait that I wasn’t.
Wrong. I had to learn it back then, and I have to re-learn it now.
I tossed my self-discipline out the window a few months ago when life did that thing it does and completely changed again. Since March I’ve been poking half-heartedly at my stories and just not getting very far. Now I’ve got this novel to write, and I’m going to need discipline to do it. So I’ve started myself on a little writing regimen, just something to decalcify my brain and get back into the rhythm of producing. It consists of a few warm-up exercises, and I’m writing them all by hand–that’s what it takes to keep me off the internet these days!
What I’m doing is a) a copy exercise, where I’m literally just copying an existing story (from a 1930’s book of fairy tales.) This is serving two functions: warms up the hand, and gives me a chance to really think about what I’m writing down, analyze the structure, notice the little gems, etc. It also puts me in a fairy tale frame of mind, which tends to be my favorite frame of mind in which to write. (And will be relevant to this project.)
Exercise b) is working my way through an old edition of a writing book called What If? that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. This is forcing me to do stuff I don’t want to do. I really don’t want to write pairs of first sentences about birth and death, I don’t want to write off a prompt, I DON’T WANNA. (I was terrible at school because of this very trait.) This is making me think in ways I don’t usually think, making me limber up mentally a little bit, and is a simple exercise in discipline. Don’t wanna? Do it anyway.
The two together only take me 15-30 minutes, but it puts me in the right mindset to take on the next thing, which right now is character development. I’m currently doing a character sketch of my protagonist. I’ve never done anything that formal. It’s surprisingly slow going, but I think it’s going to help a lot. I’m getting to know her, and she’s already starting to surprise me.
So that’s now an Every Day thing. I’m looking forward to the day that I can follow it up by just writing full-steam ahead. Right now I’m just trying to make sure I’m ready for it when the day comes, not too far from now. My collaborator has a bunch of other deadlines to defeat over the next few weeks, so I have time.
None of this replaces work on the current short story, which I’m finally making some progress on, and of course there’s still slush to read and various little tasks that come up. Oh, and fiction to narrate! I’m excited about that, and am very glad there isn’t a deadline for it.
But I think these mental calisthenics are important. When the time comes to power out some awesome fiction and write a book people want to read, I will be ready!