Writers Talk About Writing
How to Stop Yourself from Being a Quitter
My husband considers me to be an awfulizer. By this he means a person who expects the worst to happen.
For example, if I'm planning a party, I'll imagine that no one shows up. Or, conversely, that absolutely everyone will bring extra friends and we'll have 200% more guests than expected and not nearly enough food or drink. If I've assigned a story to a writer, I imagine that he or she is going to fail to meet the deadline. And if I've sent dining room chairs to a shop for repairs, I imagine the shop will be more than six weeks late in fixing them. (Note: This last thing is happening to us right now.)
Also, I think regularly about earthquakes and if I'm in a building that particularly concerns me (old cinder block construction, lacking rebar is bad), I'll glance around the room and plan where to put myself if the shaking starts. But, to be fair, I live in Vancouver, where research shows that there's a 1 in 4 chance we'll have another major earthquake within the next 50 years. (Perhaps it's a sign of my awfulizing that I even know a fact like that off the top of my head!)
By and large, however, I'm not a person who's long-faced or down in the dumps about life. I'm generally cheerful and I pursue my somewhat neurotic planning quietly and in good humor. In fact, having plans for emergencies helps me to relax. Nowhere is this more important to me than with respect to my own writing.
When I meet with other writers to discuss their plans for their own work, I always encourage them to stop visualizing their bestseller and start think about what to do if they're unable to meet their goals.
Here's why this step is so important: if you plan to write 250 words every day (or 125 or 500 or 750), and fail, you're going to feel bad about yourself the next day, and you may not succeed then, either. This negative energy feeds on itself and grows larger and larger and before you know it you're not writing at all.
Here's how to prevent that problem.
1. Expect a natural decline in motivation. When goals are new and shiny, for example on January 1, it seems impossible to believe that you will ever feel like not doing them. In reality however, only eight percent of people maintain their New Year's resolutions. It's natural and expected for motivation to decline. Thinking you can avoid this fate is similar to thinking you can escape the pull of gravity. Instead, plan what to do when the inevitable occurs. You might write out a statement about why your writing project is important to you. When I wrote my last book, I kept reminding myself it was for my kids, not necessarily for publication. I found this reminder enormously helpful whenever my motivation declined. Another thing you can do is assemble a collection of motivational quotes, stories and videos that you can watch or read whenever you feel discouraged.
2. Plan for chaos. Things won't always go wildly wrong, of course, but sometimes they will. For example, you may have a sick child or a sick parent who requires a lot of your time. (And if you don't have children or parents who are still alive, you may have a boss who suddenly throws a large and demanding project on you.) In my Get It Done writing accountability group, I've been astonished by the number of people who've had to face especially challenging or otherwise chaotic occurrences. If this happens to you, it's important to acknowledge that maintaining the writing habit is more important than your actual output. By this I mean, you may have to drop your idea of writing 750 words a day. But don't drop the idea of writing! Even the president of any large multinational corporation could squeeze five minutes into any day to do something that was really important. If you're too busy to do your regular writing, plan on allowing five minutes for it. Don't tell me you can't find five minutes!
3. Get help from friends and colleagues. There's an excellent reason that people who exercise or people fighting addictions are told to get a buddy. That other person provides you with encouragement, accountability and a reason to care. Human beings are social animals and when we struggle we do better with help from other people. Writing seems like a supremely solitary act, but you needn't approach it as if you were the last person on the face of the earth. Talk to others. Get encouragement from them. Share your goals with them.
You can develop the writing habit if you develop the skill of predicting what might go wrong and figuring out a solution, in advance. Even if you sometimes feel frustrated, even if the amount of work you're able to do seems ridiculously small, you will be able to make progress.
This is because you are the type of person who never quits, no matter what.