When I first moved in with JT, he suffered an adjustment of perception. We had been together for years, and it had been firmly established that of the two of us, I was social and talkative, and he was quiet and introverted. After we became “housemates,” he was forced to become acquainted with a side of me rarely experienced before.
Here’s the deal, reader. I like being quiet. I like being alone. In my spare time, I gravitate to activities that allow me the freedom to embrace those states of being: reading, running, painting, baking, Netflix binges and, of course, writing. I love working at a task – or indulging in a less goal-oriented activity – solo, in my own time, free of judgement and the expectations of others.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m also on a competitive sports team and several committees. I can play nice with others, and I really am social. However, it’s nice to create or complete or achieve or experience something purely for myself, without it being coloured by the influence or opinions of others. That is, it’s nice to create or complete or achieve or experience something purely for myself… when my will is fully charged, when I’m full of excitement and inspiration and creativity, when everything is going right.
The question is, when everything is going wrong, how do you stay accountable to yourself?
There are roughly a zillion articles, books, life coaches, and talk show special guests touting their mantras on persistence and visualization, trying to answer that question for us all. Maybe one or many of them have a foolproof way to make me more driven, focused, and self-motivated. If so, I haven’t come across it.
I struggle with follow-through in writing. I’m strong at the beginning, but when the thrill of newness wears away I’m guilty of abandoning stories and characters to the permanent limbo of a computer folder to grow old but never to maturity. Poor stories. Poor characters.
So how have I learned to stay accountable?
#1: I get honest with myself. Why do I want to write whatever I’m writing? For accolades? To enter in a contest? For a friend’s birthday present? To become rich and famous? Because I’m genuinely interested in where the story is going? I don’t think that any of these reasons are bad (unrealistic or shallow, maybe, but not bad), but some have more value than others. I’ve found the amount of effort I put into a project is directly proportional to the reason I’m doing it. If the reason is less valuable, then I need to find another reason (as simple as “if I finish a first draft of this story, I’m buying brand-name groceries next week” or as significant as “Finishing a first draft of this story could be the most important thing I do for this entire year, and if I fail, it will be indicative of everything I attempt in 2014”).
#2: I give myself a break. Some people work well with a scheduled writing time or set number of words every day. But some people don’t. My relationship with structure is complicated. I enjoy rules. I find they not only give me something to work within, but also through and around. NaNoWriMo taught me that structure (1700 words a day or else) certainly can have positive results in my writing. But come December I took a break. I turned off the laptop and ignored my draft for a couple of weeks. When I felt like writing again, I did it for the pleasure of it, for the creativity, and with the happy looseness of freedom from the taskmaster of my NaNoWriMo contract. I’ve discovered that writing on a strict schedule is beneficial for me only if I can see an end point. Otherwise, it saps the joy.
#3: I get social. In the end, sometimes it’s not enough for me to be accountable only to myself. When I was in a writing group, they expected me to show up with new material every week. If I tell my parents and sister, teammates, or best friends about something I’m writing, they immediately ask when it will be done, and when they can read it. This keeps me going sometimes when I need a kick in the ass that self-bribery, threats, or white-knuckle will power just isn’t providing. (JT isn’t good at this, and I’m thankful for it. Sometimes I need someone who will just blindly support me in whatever choice I make… even if it’s quitting.)
Will my rules be a foolproof solution for your own struggles? Probably not. They only work for me about two-thirds of the time. But maybe the main theme of each (honesty, joy, support) can be customized to fit your needs.
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