I don’t know about you, but I need a writer reset.
In Stop Worrying; Start Writing, I spoke about having to re-learn the same techniques, of having to remind myself of truths I had forgotten, and – once again – this has proved to be the case!
I’m sharing my struggles in the hope that it might be helpful. The summer is a classic time to fall off the writerly wagon, and I want you to know that you are not alone; good habits are hard to establish and easy to lose. A regular refresh is not only normal, but necessary.
For myself, however, I’m talking about rather more than a ‘refresh’: I need a total reset.
I would like to blame this on a recent life event which knocked me out of routine, but that wouldn’t be true. I was already in trouble.
While taking control of my own career and seeing writing as a business saved my sanity and gave me back a sense of optimism and energy, it’s also true that it led me into some less-than-helpful thought patterns. Despite knowing better, I fell into the habit of calling my writing ‘work’. I lumped it in with my working-day – a task on my to-do list alongside ‘updating accounts’ and ‘sending out newsletter’.
Now, this approach actually worked very well for a while. There is something to be said for making writing another mundane ‘to do’, no more difficult (or avoidable!) than any other appointment on my schedule. It’s also good, I think, to apply that old-fashioned notion of a ‘work ethic’ to writing or any other creative endeavour.
Where it stopped working for me was when it stopped working for me… I know that seems obvious, but it wasn’t to me!
Things change. Mind-games that work for months or years can suddenly stop being effective.
Where I went wrong was in ignoring that this had happened and soldiering on with my old habits of thought and routine, even as I got ever-diminishing results.
And, over time, with countless thoughts like ‘I must get on with some work this morning’ and ‘I need 3000 words a day to hit my goal, I must work harder’ and ‘I worked really hard yesterday, I can take time off today’, I equated writing fiction – my love and escape – with work. Hard work. Something difficult and draining which required treats and time off to recover from.
Now, as I’ve already said, this approach can work really well. I’ve long been a fan of mini-rewards and treats to keep my writing life on track. The key different lies, however, in semantics. When I reward myself for 1000 words written with a cup of tea and an episode of Jessica Jones, it can either be framed as a mental ‘high five’, a way of introducing positivity and small ‘wins’ throughout the long slog of a novel.
Or it can be a signal to your brain that you deserve a treat because you just did something awful and boring.
I’ve discovered that the second interpretation can sneak up and sandbag your motivation.
Taking my own advice (I also mention this as a tip in SWSW – I’d just forgotten to use it!) and stopping referring to writing fiction as ‘work’.
Everything else – this post, replying to emails, sending out my newsletter, running ads, doing my accounts, making the podcast – all of that is ‘work’. Work I enjoy, luckily enough, but work nonetheless. Writing fiction, however, is to be rebranded ‘play’.
More accurately, writing is going back to its original branding… From back before I was published.
Writing was my passion and my joy, my escape and my dream.
Yes, it was something I worried about (and avoided from fear), but it burned brightly in my secret heart. I need to remind myself of that.
I am re-reading favourite books from childhood and my teenage years and spending time every day writing long-hand in my journal – connecting with my younger self.
I’m referring to fiction writing as ‘play’ and correcting myself when I slip up and call it ‘work’.
I’m (trying!) to remove all guilt associated with not getting ‘enough’ writing done and focusing instead on spending time on it. Instead of thinking ‘I must get 1000 words written’ I’m thinking ‘I get to play for two hours this morning’.
How about you? How are your writing habits? Are they serving you well or do you need a writer reset?