You read a lot of writers who talk about the need to write every day. At first you don’t believe them. At least I didn’t. Every day? Writing isn’t supposed to be a chore. It’s something you do for fun. It’s art. Inspiration. Blah, blah, blah.
Writing is a practice. At least for me, it has to be done over and over again, on a regular basis, or it all falls apart. Every day or week in which I don’t write makes it harder and harder to come back to it. The very idea of writing becomes vast and unmanageable, like a monster hiding under the bed. You make up all kinds of stories about why the monster is too scary to face. You can’t do it anymore. Everything you write is crap. Blah, blah, blah.
Last fall was a hard time for writing. The class schedule at the college where I teach changed; we went from 50-minute classes to 70-minute classes, which meant a lot more of my day was spent teaching. I didn’t finish teaching until 2:30 in the afternoon, and by the time I came home, it seemed too hard to make myself sit down and write.
Also, there was the election. That’s all that really needs to be said about that.
Something had to change.
I’ve done National Novel Writing Month a couple times in the past. My favorite part of the whole experience is the little graph on the website that allows you track your daily word count. I love seeing those little bars go up. I love the visual record of my progress. I would write an extra 500 words just to watch that little bar crawl upward. I tried a similar kind of thing using Excel, but it wasn’t as satisfying. It wasn’t as pretty.
I saw a friend on Facebook who was tracking her progress toward a walking goal by coloring in squares on graph paper. It was like creating your own system of gold stars. My inner kindergartener was bouncing up and down with excitement.
So over the break I bought myself a notebook with graph paper and some colored pencils. I drew lines for the month of January. I devised a system—green for every day I meditate and blue for each 20-minute writing block.
I don’t know what to say about my new system except it’s a little sad that it took me until the age of 42 to figure out how motivated I am by filling in colored sqares on graph paper. Here’s how my thinking goes some days—“I don’t really want to write today. I hate writing. My writing is crap. But if I don’t write today, they’ll be a blank spot on my calendar. No pretty blue at all. It’ll stare back at me at the end of the month, an island of white in all that blue and green.” So, I sit down and write.
You can see in January, this worked pretty well. I was revising a novel, so it didn’t really make sense to measure progress by word count. I only missed four days. Two because I was sick. One because I spent the whole day following the Women’s March on social media. One because it was Day 6 of the new regime and my soul was too thoroughly crushed for writing.
I still hate writing some days. I still dread sitting down in front of the computer. But I think of those little blue squares. And I find if I can make myself sit for 20 minutes of pure, uninterrupted writing, the rest comes easier. Getting started is always the hard part.