Wednesday, January 4, 2017

High Resolutions

I resolve to ... write more ... eat less junk food ... run a marathon (if you add up all my Fitbit miles from the writing chair to the bathroom / fridge).

y'all gotta be HIGH to believe in resolutions.

We like quick fixes and easy solutions because they are easy and quick. Or let's face it, we like buying things. It's much easier to buy a diet book or a gym membership, or a book of writing advice, than it is to actually do it. It's a lot easier to buy a book than to read it, which is why I have unread books I bought 20 years ago. (I just cracked open Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road, which I'm pretty sure I bought in 1996).

But writing is not easy and quick. And most advice is the Same Old Stuff repackaged with new slang and really only "works" if you see it as a daily affirmation. What gets things done is doing them. And that is both harder and easier than it sounds. It's very easy to turn simple advice like "set aside time each day to write or plot or edit" into a stressful anticipation of dread.

What am I gonna write about when 7:35pm comes along?!!!

Mindfulness and writing go hand in hand. Let your subconscious do the worrying for you, because it most certainly will. This is why everyone from Lawrence Block to Ernest Hemingway says to "leave gas in the tank" or "sleep on it" when you get into trouble. Because all that "stare at the page until you bleed" crap is just artist drama, we don't have to suffer to make great art. At least not while creating it. It's another argument that past suffering inspires great stories, because we like reading about people overcoming obstacles. For example, if you fell down a jagged mountain and crawled to safety, harried by land crabs and angry seagulls, it might make a good story. That's the kind of suffering that makes great art, not stressing yourself out every day over your wordcount and beating yourself over the head when you miss it.

Jeff Cohen over at Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room! wrote a fine article about how he writes multiple series per year. He is a talented and skilled writer, but the lesson is that he puts in the time; he writes a thousand words, and uses the rest of the day to do the business of writing, edit, outline, and so on. It takes a lot of discipline, I am sure. So scale it down to your own desired progress. A thousand words a day is 365,000 words. He is not the first person to discover this mathematical anomaly. Don Winslow says he's happy with a page, or 250 words. He wrote The Cartel, which is an enormous epic, at that pace.

Just find a way to chip away every day at it, and you'll get it done. There are great books out there that I mention constantly, (Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, Break Writer's Block Now!, Write for Your Life, etc) that will tell you the same thing, that writing is one word after another. So if you aren't writing as much as you'd like to, the best resolution isn't "I will write a book this year!" but "I will put aside a set time for writing every day (or every other day, etc) and attempt to write X words, edit X chapters, outline, or work out a plot problem." My least favorite writing aphorism is that "writing is writing. Thinking about writing isn't writing." Yes, that works for people who never write, those "aspiring writers" out there who only have time to say that they wish they had time to write. (I hate the term "aspiring." You aspire to run a marathon, but if you run a mile a day you're a runner. Same with writing. You write stories that are unpublished? You're a writer. You can be an aspiring novelist and still be a writer who only writes flash, and still be a writer. Once you finish a story, you're a writer. Then, you can aspire to be a published writer. The fun part!)

If you feel like you need writing advice, throw LB some money and get the mp3s of his "Daily Affirmations for Writers." I use it in the car now and then to get mindful about writing, and de-stress about it. And you'll get to hear Larry Block tell you "you are a wonderful writer." Which is worth the price.

But do I have any resolutions? Of course I do, and they are as stupid as everyone else's.

I resolved to fight-train once a week again, and do more high intensity interval training on gym days.
I resolved to listen to my friend the personal trainer and use his "Healthy 21" diet plan that seems way too easy but works for people and I still get to drink beer, because I've had an upward creep for the past year.
I resolved to spend evenings at home reading and writing, with occasional breaks to watch TV or a movie after I've accomplished something (a few pages written, a chapter or two edited, an outline, etc).

That's it. It doesn't require upheaval, it just requires showing up. Which as they say, is 99% of life.
I wish you the best with your resolutions.


Art Taylor said...

Great post here. Much appreciate! (I'm actually big on New Year's Resolutions.... and the key to keeping them is forming a habit and showing up, so all this is right on target for me.)

Holly West said...

I call New Year's Resolutions "goals." And usually, these "goals" are defined, honed, and started throughout the year--the list is in constant flux, which allows the fluff to fall away and the stuff that's really important to me stays. Progress on these items is slow, but consistent.

When the New Year comes around I use it as just another way to motivate myself to do better. I might add a goal or two that didn't exist before, but usually I'm working on accomplishing and strengthening existing habits that I've been working on for weeks, months, years.

That said, this post was useful to me because it reminded me once again that there is no magic formula to getting the writing done. I need to hear that every so often.

Thomas Pluck said...

We all need to hear it sometime! This was me telling myself.