Habits, For Better or Worse

Some days, I don’t feel like doing anything. This time of year, those days are more frequent than not. So I fall back on habits and routines, and the ever-present and never-shortening To-Do List to keep me on track. Certain tasks can be done on autopilot, and then I don’t have to chase myself with a stick, shouting about lazy jerks who don’t pull their weight around the place.

Creative work doesn’t automate very well; it requires a little too much problem solving to let my mind wander. However, there are work-arounds. For example, I can’t automate writing itself, but I can automate sitting in the chair and typing at a certain time of day.

To this end, I’ve been tracking my progress using Discord. A large chunk of you are on the same Discord servers as me; for the uninitiated, Discord is a chat program, originally designed for gamers and somewhat taken over by other creatives. It’s been noteworthy of late, because of the Discord-based AI art generator MidJourney, but that’s not its only bot program.

I’m a writer, not an artist- alas!- and I’ve found Discord’s Sprinto bot very useful for the past year or so. Users can set it up to start a writing sprint of a specific length, at a specific time, and track word counts. It provides just enough external accountability to keep the words flowing when I’m tempted to throw it all over and become a permanent lump on the couch, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets and muttering darkly to myself about how I’m a worthless human being, et cetera.

Thank goodness for weird little niche programs on the internet.

It’s very helpful, but there are some downsides to the sprinting habit, namely, I’ve gotten used to writing words- any words will do- without any consideration for the quality, if they even make sense, or whether the story is actually progressing. Yes, you can’t edit a blank page, but if all you do is write crap- or write in circles- and never break out of that, you’re not doing yourself any good. And I haven’t yet found a way to quantify the editing process (proofreading is different; I track the number of pages I’ve gone over. Because editing takes more or less effort, depending the story and what you’re doing with it, it’s harder to quantify).

Another interesting downside is that, for a while, I could only write in twenty minute increments, because that was what I’d gotten used to. I also had trouble writing when the bot wasn’t running, because I’d left the notifications on, and gotten used to starting and stopping at the sound of the little bell. Very Pavlovian, and not an easy habit to break.

But break it must, because I don’t want to be stranded if Discord is down for maintenance, or my internet goes out, or any number of problems.

…she said, while writing this as part of a sprint.…

Okay, so I’m not perfect, and, to make this more complicated, I have no plans to stop using the bot, or even to stop writing in sprints, however they may be tracked, because, you can use your watch and a piece of paper and pen; it’s just a little more work than the automated program. It’s a useful routine, tracked by a useful tool, and it’s not inherently harmful. But I don’t want to be dependent on it.

What is a poor writer to do?

Experiment, of course. One variable at a time, like any good scientist.

Lately, I’ve been writing in intervals of varying lengths, at different times of day, with more or less light in the room, with and without music, interspersing sets of exercises in between sprints, with or without the bot tracking me, et cetera. Basically, anything I can think of, to train my brain to make stories when I want it to, not only when the chirpy little bot says it’s okay.

It’s been mildly successful, though my plan to be a good little scientist has fallen apart due to lack of time to test every variable individually; I’ve been simultaneously rediscovering some other good habits, like working on projects instead of only doing maintenance chores. So that might have something to do with it. Also, the days are getting ever so slightly longer, with corresponding effects on my energy levels.

Have I finished anything lately? No.

Am I making progress? Well, sometimes.

Am I going to skive off work and visit my horse on this bright, sunny day?


5 thoughts on “Habits, For Better or Worse

  1. I think there are some other offline programs that can do similar things. I want to say Scribus? And there are a number of productivity programs that could be used in a similar way. Notion might?

  2. What I’m “Supposed” to be writing has fought me so hard that I threw in the towel for the moment and started the next project. It’s flowing far better, and it is in a series with a known reader base, so I’m not losing anything. I’m irked that I can’t force the other story to move, but my subconscious knows better than I do, some days.

    That doesn’t help when the January Blahs hit hard, but it is words on page.

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