Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

Writing, inspiration, discipline, and the mind playing tricks on itself.

My plans to write an entry on daily writing have turned into a long ramble about discipline instead, and what people consider its opposite: inspiration. I've lost count of how many friends have told me to give myself a break and write when I'm inspired instead of enforcing a daily word count; it should be fun, you say, writing shouldn't feel like work, and if it does then something is wrong. It's true that forcing yourself to write in a stressful or tragic situation is a bad idea, and it's also true that forcing the words out during a period of burnout will most likely be counterproductive. I can't argue with that. February and March proved those claims true.

But-- there is a difference between forcing oneself to work through stress and depression, and exercising personal discipline. If your aunt is in the hospital with a serious condition and you're twisting yourself in knots over whether she'll be okay or not, forcing yourself to write instead of visiting her isn't discipline - it's ridiculous. Go see your aunt. Bake some cookies if she's allowed to eat them, or better yet, take some shampoo, because hospitals have really crappy shampoo, and nobody likes lying around in the same bed for three weeks with dirty, reeking hair. If you can write after that, however, then why not?

If you're tired, or bored, or you'd rather be playing a game, or making cookies - all of which are common problems for me - then pushing yourself to write 1500 words before you do those things isn't "forcing yourself." It isn't too hard. It isn't too much work. I write 1300 words per hour on average, give or take a few hundred depending on how inspired I might be, or how well the project is going. I'm also unemployed (or shall we say "self-employed?"), which means I have seven days a week to write, and very little of that time is required for other things. On a normal daytime schedule, it's possible to devote a full eight hours a day to writing. That's a little over ten thousand words per day that I could be writing, technically, if I had that kind of discipline. I don't.

That isn't the goal, though. The goal is to write 1500 words a day. Nothing but fear, laziness, or voluntary obligations will get in the way. What makes that hour and fifteen minutes of work happen? Discipline.

Now, I don't believe in the claim that writing every day will result in the words always being there for you when it's time to sit down and type. That's a myth, at least in my own world. I've written almost every day for two years, and half the time I'll sit down at the keyboard and find that I practically have to crack my head open and reach in manually to pull the story out, but eventually I get started - and once I'm over that hurdle, I'm fine. The process of writing turns into its own inspiration. It feeds itself, it pulls me in, and that story I was reluctant to start becomes the most interesting thing in the world.


So how do you define inspiration, anyway? The most common version is probably what I call the bolt-of-lightning - you know, those moments when ideas hit you like a punch in the face and suddenly you have the whole story (or picture) mapped out in your head, and that problem you were struggling with for two years is suddenly solved? I love those. Moments like that are why we have the concept of a muse, or divine inspiration. That's exactly what it feels like. Too bad it hardly ever happens! I can only speak for myself, of course, but I don't think we'd have so many movies and books about struggling, angsty artists if I were the only one who languishes for months between those flashes of genius.

There are other forms of inspiration. Above, I said that the writing process itself is inspiring, and by that I mean that working on a project makes me think about my characters, setting, or plot, and drives me to see the scene to its conclusion; that means writing, even if I'm not sure how exactly I'm going to get Primrose to throw her fan, or make Sephiran try to punch someone, because trying to figure that out means getting into the character's head, and once I start thinking the way they do, I'm there. That's all I think about. It's a tiny strike of inspiration - more like being shocked when you open the car door. Likewise, I find that just thinking through a scene or storyline while I'm doing something else will get my head in the right place to start writing when I'm finished with whatever is occupying my hands at the moment: cutting vegetables, maybe, or taking a shower. Walking and commuting also give me time and energy to think through my stories or play with characters, since there's very little else I can do; reading on the train will wreak havoc on my body (with either a headache or motion sickness), it's very hard to take a walk while reading and not run into things, and I wouldn't recommend cooking with a notepad in one hand, either. But action, movement, can be inspiring. The key is to think about it - discipline your mind, make yourself focus on your own story instead of someone else's. Stop thinking about that fight with your mom the other day, and what you would say differently if you had the chance.

Discipline is almost synonymous with structure. It's more effective to say "I'll write from three-thirty to four this afternoon," than it is to say "I'll get some writing done some time today." The second example inevitably leads to procrastination, especially if the project isn't going well. This happens to me all the time. I am the queen of procrastination, and that's central to why I'm writing this thing. If it's so easy for me to create inspiration once I get going, why am I constantly complaining about not meeting my goals?

It's hard to start a new story. It's hard to begin a new scene, or introduce a new character. It's hard to get through the boring middle of the book when I'd rather write the exciting endgame instead. Maybe I want to see what'll happen to the group of characters I'm writing about, but the prospect of writing the next ten thousand words is daunting, and it would be so much easier to just play it out in my head. A novel, all by itself, is a pretty tall order for someone like me, who hasn't ever completed a single piece of fiction longer than forty thousand words.

What if I can't do it?

What if I do it wrong?

What if nobody likes it?

What if it's a bad idea?

Never mind the harder questions that really undercut my confidence: do I have the skill to do this? Am I improving at all? Should I just give it up while I'm ahead and get some kind of desk job? Where am I on the scale of crap to quality? Do I even want to know?

I hate self-help books, and I hate optimism, but I can't deny that people are right when they say that thinking negatively will stop a novel in its tracks. The more you think you can't do it, the harder it gets to complete the project. The single biggest contributing factor to my recent blocks has been depression. Worse, that depression has been self-inflicted on several occasions. I talked myself into being depressed by answering all of those questions negatively every day. I finally stopped when I picked up two books on writing a novel in thirty days, because they both told me the same thing, and they were right: think positively, and the words will march out onto the screen like they're supposed to, even if I'm not feeling inspired. That - thinking positively - also requires discipline, which I'm very bad at.

My mind has come up with ways to combat the very idea of requiring myself to do anything, especially work. For example, the moment I think about starting a new story or chapter, I'm suddenly very tired, though I felt perfectly fine five minutes ago. It's not unusual to get a sudden craving for something - a fresh cup of coffee, a cookie. I tend to schedule my time before lunch, so cooking something long and involved is also a temptation I have to ignore. Dinner prep - say, chopping bell peppers - is another one. How about brushing my hair, or braiding it? Doing the laundry, folding clothes, cleaning up my desk, scrubbing the sink-- oh, and the floor needs to be vacuumed.

Or hey, maybe I can just pace around, or take a walk, because walking inspires me - right?

I've read in several places that fear is the motivator of procrastination. Maybe that's not true in every situation, but it is in this one. And maybe you're all right - it's stupid to beat myself up over not meeting my daily word goal, especially if I'm only two hundred words short. But when you tell me that I shouldn't be so strict with my writing requirements - that I should give it a break and write when I'm inspired - this is what I want to say (which I never say, because it makes me sound like a jerk):

We aren't talking about fandom. This isn't just a hobby for me. I'm writing because I love doing it, yes, and because it can be really fun, sure, but my goal doesn't involve sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike. You might be able to write a novel that way, but it'll take a hell of a long time, and you won't meet any deadlines while doing it. Writing professionally isn't just about the creating - it's about the second word too. Professionals do their jobs. Hopefully, they do them well. What they don't do is sit around and wait for the planets to align before they start on their scheduled tasks.

Inspiration might get the story started, but discipline is what will get it done. I think that's the beginning and end of it.

For me, that means writing fifteen hundred words a day, five days a week - and I'm going easy on myself with this schedule, as a concession to my recent burnout. My attitude could use some adjustment, but I don't think I'm on the wrong track with what I'm trying to do. It's necessary to reach my goal.


Regarding fandom, I'm working with the assumption that there aren't any obligations in writing fan fiction. You can start a multi-chapter fic and then drop it ten chapters later if you're not feeling it, and all you'll have is a few disappointed readers - that is, if you're lucky enough to have an audience. The same is not true of pro fiction. You don't just drop projects or contracts unless you want to sabotage your career. And you won't get that career to begin with if you don't get off your ass and write.

I'm really bad at the "get off your ass" part of that last sentence. Really, really bad.

This has been a long year. Almost all of it has been spent figuring out how I write, how my brain sabotages my productivity, how to scrape inspiration from the bottom of the barrel, and how to motivate myself. Only some of it has been spent writing. If you ask me how I motivate myself to sit down at three thirty and write, I'll have to tell you that I use straight-up bribery: write the scene, play more Tales of Symphonia. Hit at least twenty thousand words with that novel, and then go buy a paperback. Etc. That last problem - motivation - is still tripping me up.

Step one: stop wasting time with LJ entries and write more Golden Sigil.
Step two: ...
Tags: public: writing
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