Friday, September 6, 2013

Getting Addicted to Writing

I don’t like doing things halfway. If I owe someone money, I pay it back in one big chunk, rather than a little bit here or there. When I go out to exercise, I want to do a 5k, or spend time on all the weight machines, and I want to run or jog, not just walk. And when I write, I want to sit in my dark cave, away from everyone and everything, and whip out a few thousand words in a few hours.

The problem with this mindset is that it is very wearing. Yes, I’ll write a huge amount of words in one big writing session. I’ve been known to hit Lowellian word counts now and then. But after these marathons, I write NOTHING for a week or two afterward. I’ve gone months without getting words down before. Sure, things get finished eventually, but working like this is a recipe for idleness and inaction. Such a tiny percent of my time was used for the things I needed to do. “If I have fifteen minutes, it’s not enough time to write,” I think. “I can’t get myself revved up and going,” I tell myself. And another day would pass where I put no words down. I got nowhere fast. I’m talking moving at glacier-pace.

If you are at all like me, you understand that it’s rare to find the times that you can get in those marathon sessions, those private afternoons ideal to writing, when you can focus on nothing but the story and the characters. It’s not often that life will say, “Hey! Here, have five hours of no obligations and get a big chunk of that book done!” No, that doesn’t happen, really. Between work, a 45-60 minute commute one way, running, and just general existing, I’m lucky to have life plop an uninterrupted 30 minutes for writing. I bet you have a similar problem. One of the most common questions for writers is “How do I find time to write?” I’ll do another post on that someday, I promise. This one will touch on it, but is mostly about what the title suggest, getting addicted to writing.

So anyway, up to this point, we’ve established that while I love writing, it was hard to actually make myself do it. Even though I have an addictive personality, writing was nothing more than a hobby. Sure, I had daydreams about being an author, about having people come up to me and tell me that they’re fans of my books. But I didn’t do the actions to make those dreams happen. I was sinking in dreams, waiting for some stranger to look at me on a bus and say, “Hey you, you look like you have an amazing book idea. Here’s a lot of money. I want to publish it and then make a movie about it!” And then I’d tell him my idea, it would magically already be written, and then I could really call myself a writer. Life doesn’t work that way.

Then a small miracle came along: The Magic Spreadsheet. Find it here. This little tool has gotten me to bust out 131 of days in a row that I’ve written. Seriously. Today is day 131. Yes, me, Captain-I-Can’t-Write-Unless-Everything-Is-Perfect-And-I-Have-Hours-To-Do-It has written 131 of days in a row. But this is the beauty of the tool. For The Magic Spreadsheet, you build a chain. All you need to do to get a link is write 250 words. That’s all. 15 minutes can cover that. Or less, if you’re a fast writer like some people. Take a few minutes before bed to focus, decompress, sit at your notepad or computer or whatever, and BOOM! You have written today! If you’re easily distracted, it doesn’t take very long to hit that word count, and then you’re free to watch your TV show. Heck, watch your show and plunk down words during the commercials! Two or three shows’ worth of commercials will get you your word count, and you’re done if you want to be.

This concept makes it so easy to get addicted. You gain points for building your chain, and if you write more words than the minimum count, you get extra points. There’s even a leveling system, which gives you further goals to shoot for. As your chain/habit grows, your word count goal gets a little bigger. If you want; leveling up is completely optional.

Holding to the bare minimum 250 words a day will result in your writing 91,250 words in a year! JUST DOING THE MINIMUM! It’s not hard. That’s a whole novel in a year, chipping away at it bit by bit. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself in the zone, thinking, “Oh… that was 250 words… that’s it?” and then you’ll keep going and write more. Then you get your extra points and your novel grows faster.

Holy cow. Guess what: you’re addicted!

Suddenly, you want to write every day, because things are moving along! Time has started throwing itself at me. A few minutes a day really makes for something amazing. It wouldn’t be good to make cookies this way, but it’s great for writing!

Don’t get me wrong; I still don’t like doing things halfway, which is why I’m now one of those infuriating people that averages 1000+ words a day. But I’m an overachiever and should probably be shot. And here’s the thing: the Magic Spreadsheet brought on the mindset that has spilled over into other parts of my life. This mindset jumpstarted me on getting back into running after I got diagnosed with a rapid heart rhythm and stopped for a while. Rather than trying to run 2-3 miles a couple times a week (and usually not doing it), I started going a mile every day. I did that for 34 days in a row before I finally started doing more mileage during the week and taking weekends off. But the point was that I built the habit by getting more mileage and better fitness in small chunks. I wasn't in such overworked pain after a few miles that I turn into a lazy lump for the rest of the day and the next 3 days after. And what’s more, it helped me find a balance. For once, I don’t feel trapped, having choose between whether I’m going to run or write from one day to the next.

I’m an addict. Voluntarily. You can be too!

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