No this is not another parody post, although I admit I was tempted.
It’s not exactly the traditional “new year, fresh start” post, either, partly because I can’t do anything the traditional way even if I’m trying and partly because I’ve never managed to make a fresh start without a complete change of practically everything. This is actually kind of normal.
So, while we’re all recovering from the New Year’s Eve partying and thinking about those shiny new resolutions some of us have made (I might make some, but they’re not shiny, and they’re more along the lines of “try to” than “I will”), here’s a few thoughts about actually making the blasted things count.
For starters, they have to be something that you control. “Win the lottery” is a dream, not a resolution. “Buy lottery tickets every week” is a resolution. (I never said it had to be a good one). So is “finish book X”. “Become a bestseller”, nope. Nice dream, but… Okay, these are really stupidly obvious examples, but if you are trying to decide what you’re going to change about your life as part of the next year, it does help to isolate the parts of what you want to change that you can’t affect. They can hide in innocuous places (Like for me everything comes with the caveat of having enough energy and brain after work to actually do anything).
Once you’ve figured out what it is you want to change, it helps to look at how. If you’re trying to stop a bad habit, you have to put a different better habit in its place otherwise as soon as you get stressed you’ll revert to the old pathways. Brains create shortcuts for things that happen often: there’s some kind of trigger stimulus or group of stimuli (I itch), you respond in the way you’ve trained yourself through repetition (I scratch), and your body gives you a reward (It doesn’t itch any more). If you want to stop scratching, you need to change how you respond to an itch and make a conscious effort for at least 5 weeks to do something else every time you itch (good luck with this, by the way – that particular brain-body short-cut is one that gets so deeply ingrained you might not even realize there was an itch until you’ve scratched yourself raw. That’s what happens to me, anyway…).
So, you want to make wordage happen every day? Set up your writing habit so you’ve got a trigger for it (“oh, I just got a big flashing writing time notification”), and for the next 5 -6 weeks, don’t change anything else except that when that big flashy writing time notification (or whatever else your trigger is) happens you open your current work in progress and you don’t close the file until you’ve added something to it. Even if the something is “insert transition scene here later so I can write the good bit now”. Give yourself a time frame (the 20 minute tomato thing works – there are old posts about that floating around here somewhere), and when the time is up, if you’re fighting save what you’ve done and take a break. If things are flowing, fine, of course. And make sure you have some kind of reward other than “ooh, wordage” because if you’re anything like me you’ll look at what you’ve done and go “oh my deity that sucks” (As a side note – I don’t recommend using food as a reward. It creates a new bad habit that you’ll need to get rid rid of entirely too many pounds later). Maybe the reward is you get to go on Facebook and chat after you’ve done your writing time. Or maybe you’ve got a really accommodating spouse/partner/significant other who’ll help you reward yourself with mind-blowing sex (I am not admitting anything here – but I wouldn’t recommend this method simply because it relies on there being someone else who’s willing and ready when you are. Save the mind-blowing sex for some other occasion). Whatever you choose for a reward is up to you – but you’ll find if you keep it going you won’t actually need to reward yourself because you brain will do that part for you. That’s when you’ve got the new habit in place.
After that, all you need to do is try not to accidentally make a different one that overrides your shiny new writing habit.
One last tip: one change at a time. Too much too fast, and chances are you’ll do what I’ve done many times and wind up losing the lot. We’re creatures of habit, every last one of us, and it takes work to build a new habit to replace an old one. Work and concentration. This is one place where multi-tasking isn’t going to work.
May 2015 be your best year yet, and may those of you who want to change their lives be able to do so.