Keeping Pace

Writing is an endeavor prone to mood swings. This is hardly surprising when you consider that you’re engaged in tapping into your subconscious. One morning you wake up and your head feels clear, like you could see for miles. Another day you wake up and feel fog crowding in around your eyes.

These up-and-down swings occur on a longer cycle as well. You may miss an entire weekend because you’re away, and all that next week you remain AWOL. You’re just not feeling the usual urge. Or, the evening you plan to get back into the story, your brother calls about Thanksgiving plans. By the time you hang up, you have barely a half hour left before going to bed.

A more pernicious effect on writing can occur from external forces. Your job goes through a demanding phase. You wake up early to get an early train to get to work early, because you know a backlogged pile is waiting on your desk. Depending on how long the rush period at work is, you can find you haven’t written in several weeks, maybe even more. If you had been in a groove, settling down every day with the story, you’re left facing the ruins of that happy stretch.

These lulls separate those for whom writing is an avocation from those for whom it is a vocation. But that’s okay. You don’t want to give up your day job to chase a unicorn. What you can do is make a promise to yourself that you will take advantage of the good swings.

A book is like a huge boulder you are rolling. The more your shoulder stays in contact with it, the harder you push when you are rolling it, and the more progress you will make. You have to think ahead, deciding to dedicate the next block of time you will have free to writing. If that means both mornings of the next weekend, put it down on your calendar on Wednesday night. Two long blocks of red—9:00 to 12:00 (red for passion, your passion). Intent counts. That’s what keeps those gaps in the range of days, not weeks.

Exercise: Don’t make promises you won’t keep, though. If you put down Sat-Sun 9:00-12:00 for every weekend on a repeat cycle, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to miss some of those dates. You’ll start clicking off that block before you even reach the weekend, and that will become a habit. Focus on this week, not on months of vague promises. We know what that analogy is: a New Year's resolution.

“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”   
—Jane Yolen

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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