Thursday, May 14, 2009

DAY 14: Write a Novel in Two Weeks

When I was working on my first novel, I made a daily visit to a Website that promised anyone (yes, you, too, if only you weren't such a loser!) could write a book in two weeks. I don't remember whether they were selling software, or self-hypnosis or maybe even a book that they themselves had whipped out in a 14 day orgy of caffeine and typing. It didn't matter. Whatever it was, I had no intention of buying it.

And yet, for me, there was an inexplicable magic in their overheated pitch, and every morning before I began to work, I reread it. It became my personal writing ritual. Though I knew it was manipulative, and I didn't believe it, it worked anyway. It didn't matter if I was exhausted or riddled with the doubts that stopped me so many times in the past, I only had to read their page of hype and the tap opened.

Did I finish a novel in two weeks? Nope. Nor did I ever believe I could--though we all know it can be done. (Tish Cohen wrote Town House a novel so good that it was nominated for the prestigious Commonweath Prize in that time period.) But using my magic ritual, I had a draft in 90 days. A record for me.

Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to write my second novel, the Website had disappeared, taking its mysterious voodoo with it. I was crushed. I was also forced to think about what their pep talk had done for me, how it had released energies I never knew I had. Since I never bought the product, I never learned the secret they were selling.

But I learned something about myself. I learned that I could do more than I thought I could, more than I was allowing myself to do. I might not be able to write 20 pages a day; or have the resilience to stare at my laptop for twelve hours at a stretch, but if I tried, if I challenged my self-defined limits, if I set out in the morning with a sense of expanded possibility, I surprised myself almost every time.

Now I designate every Tuesday as "blitz day." Most days I'm happy with my normally slow, but steady pace, but on Tuesday, I get up earlier than usual and give myself my version of the "pitch" in the mirror. (Fortunately, my family already knows I'm crazy.) Then I go to my room and write as if I really could finish a novel in two weeks.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 13: Begin Where You Are; Begin Again

Originally uploaded by *helmen
As you may have noticed, this 100 Days of Discipline hasn't exactly turned out to be 100 CONSECUTIVE days of discipline.

What I've learned--and yes, this is a learning, strengthening, stretching process for me, too--is that the average muddling human being--can't adapt to a new habit every day. Even the average muddling human being in training to become her own master.

Some of these practices have been easy for me. Timed writing, for instance, is second nature, as is maintaining a notebook, and writing something--however short or insignificant--is as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth.

Going to bed early, on the other hand, is swimming upstream for me. It goes against both deeply ingrained habits, and natural proclivities. But there are three reasons I haven't given up:

1. I've learned that I'm more productive in the morning whereas the late night hours tend to be given over to various forms of relaxing, ie, PLAY TIME (which is probably why I love them so much! )

2. Though I fail a lot at the goal, I succeed sometimes, too--and that's the aim. In other words, progress not perfection.

3. When you swim upstream, you get stronger. In fact, there's no other way to do it.

So wherever you are, begin. And if you've begun before and find yourself stalled, begin again.

Enter the current, and swim for your life. The water is exhilarating! To review:

1. Set a bedtime and stick to it. (Mine is 10 p.m.)

2. Dress for work.

3. "Nulla dies sine linea." Write something, even if it's only one line, every day.

4. Be at your desk and writing within 30 minutes of arising.

5. Control the internet beast! (The hardest challenge of all for me.)

6. Look over your work and prepare your workspace (both internal and external) the night before.

7. Set a timer and write with abandon for one hour (or more.)

8. Deliberately write for 15 minutes (or MORE!) when conditions are less than perfect. "Guerilla writing," as Danielle Younge Ullman called it.)

9. Maintain a notebook.

10. Set productivity goals

11. Expand your ability to focus

12. Keep "One Point."

I'll add a critical fourteenth discipline tomorrow.