How I learned to embrace little habits.

I am a terrible procrastinator.

I always I have been. I’m not sure why. I suffer from a terrible discordance between the person I’d like to be, and the person I am. In my mind, I am a true renaissance man. Artist, writer, pundit and politician. Thinker, doer, adventurer. Equally at home publishing his own fine collection of short stories or painting pretty little still-lifes for the whole world to enjoy. In reality,  I fight a never ending battle against my own laziness. I have some achievements under my belt, a few things I’ve done I’m pretty happy with and a few ongoing projects that I really think could become something. The problem is I’m just not one of those people who finds it hard to do nothing. Some people get itchy at the idea of doing nothing, the get bored and irritable, they need to work at all times. I wish I was one of those people. I have to rely on other tactics. (Mostly guilt.) I’ve said it before, there are lots of things I enjoy, lots of things I quite like to do. I love the feeling of having created, of being proud of something and being able to put it out there. There are some things I love the process of. I can become totally absorbed in art. Drawing and painting would be enormous time drains, if only they paid the rent.

But getting started? Getting up in the morning with a to-do list and happily working through it until the sun sets. Working without pining for a time when I can put it all away and vegetate in front of Netflix while my waistband steadily expands. Well. I’m not that person. And I’ve fought against it. As a child, society helped. Go to school, do your homework, don’t be late. I was kicked and shoved begrudgingly into something the resembled an organised life, but the older one gets. The longer we are left to our own devices, the less we can count on society to mould our lives into shape. When the plaster is removed, some of us turn out to be exquisitely sculpted clay, but I ended up as something squidgier. I’ve been trying to mould myself ever since.

The first failure was in trying to fix everything at once. I would have phases of firing on all cylinders all at once. For a while, the shape would stick. I would work hard, without stopping, on everything I wanted to achieve all at once, and tidy the house at the end of the day too. The results were predictable. My life would stop and start, I’d oscillate between moments of giddy, productive joy and utter, depressing mediocrity.

Things changed when I went into writing. At first I tried to do it all at once, I was going to write the greatest novel ever written, and I was going to do it in three months, self publish it and live off the fat cheques that followed. It didn’t work out like that. I got half way through the first draft, burned out and never returned to it. My next attempt wasn’t much better. Eventually I realised I just didn’t have the stamina to write what I wanted to write. I was like a Sunday jogger trying to run a marathon. I switched it up, I decided to go into training. I set myself a very modest goal of writing 500 words a day. The 500 words became 1000, then 2000 and eventually 3000. (Oh how I miss those days.) It changed the way I wrote, and it changed the way I saw my own progress. For once, I’d stuck with something and I actually felt like I was growing. It affected me in other ways too, just getting up in the morning and writing first thing put a different spin on my whole day. Of course, I still kicked and screamed my way through everything else I had to do, but I had one solid goal under my belt already that day. It was a step forward. Progress, if nothing else.

Since then, when taking to something new, I’ve always tried to break it down into little daily goals. Little habits to build. I find it much easier to approach everything I have to do if I take it one tiny decision at a time, and at the end of the day, I can look back and see what those decisions added up to. If I let it expand, if I try too hard to worry about the big picture, I get overwhelmed. I shut down. The lazy gland kicks in and I want to hide from my to-do list. Over time, however, if I keep working at these little decisions, they become habit. The brain heads to them without thinking, until you can almost work on autopilot. After a little while, I found I was one of those people who couldn’t go too long without writing before they started to get itchy feet.

I’m still a terrible procrastinator. I have to resist the tendency to slack off every day. I’ve had to learn that what I want, and what I think I want, aren’t always the same thing. I want to draw comics and read great books, I want to tell stories and make art and connect with people through these things. But most of the time, I think I want to crash in bed and watch TV. I know I don’t really want to do it, because if I give in to that temptation I end up hating myself for it. I don’t feel happy again until I can work closer to that goal. I’ve been in a slump with writing for a few months now, I haven’t written as much as I should. I’ve started lots of other projects, but they’re all easier, more comfortable. I’ve let the challenging things slip while I worry about leaving my job, and where to go moving forward. It has been a while since I worked on my little habits, but I know where I need to go from here.

A little writing every day, a little blogging every day, a little around the house, and the rest will take care of itself.

Another year, another novel started.

writerIt has been a while since I’ve posted day to day writing updates, but I’m trying to get back in the habit. Progress is going well on my new project so I’m sharing a few details.

I don’t usually work on novels outside of November, but I really need more practice. I decided a few months ago that when I finished the last round of Flash Fiction stories, I’d work on something longer. The writing has been fast so far, I’ve been at it a week and I’ve already hit 10k, but I’m already seeing some of my old weaknesses peeking through. Characters are talking about events more than events are unfolding; there’s a lot of recapping and discussion. It makes me nervous even at this early stage because I don’t have much experience fixing these sort of problems.

One solution I had in mind was to rewrite one of my old NaNoWriMo drafts while I go. That way I can motivate myself by watching another rough draft improve. I started writing Flash Fiction because I felt like it took too long to get to the rewriting stage. The idea was to polish up these little gems and get a better idea of my abilities. In the long run, I think this has held me back as I’ve become more reluctant to tackle longer works. I’m hoping to break out of that bad habit this year. Hopefully, rewriting old rejected drafts will have the same benefits the short pieces did.

I like short fiction a lot, but I have always wanted to write good novels. Somewhere along the way I have stopped focusing on that, and it’s time to get back on track.

I’ll let you know how I get on.