Come take a look at my proudest shame.
Long time readers will identify this Excel spreadsheet as my writing log, where I mark how many daily pages I write. And yes, your eyes did not choose the alternative to ‘treat’ on Halloween; I did crank out thirty pages in one day. Well, more like 22 pages followed by four hours of typing and editing. I had a story deadline, I outlined what was going to happen in this story a week ago, and by god did I finish that story just in time. And I was behind on my semester goals anyways, so this was a great way to catch up!
You do realize, I hope, that I am more wrong than Donald Trump whacking a Mexican with a piñata stick.
Oh good-idea-at-the-time, how do I best shape you into a brick for the construction of a road to writing hell? Let’s start with a look at the rest of the log.
That ‘5’ remains an outlier- I procrastinated an essay as well that week. My weekly goal is 21 pages- the week after the week when my hand started cramping at the 15-page point, I only wrote 8. A little more than a page per day, if I ever spun this tale to an agent.
But that’s all ok if the story turned out all right, yes? Yeah, you could see where this was going even if you just took a black sharpie to your eyes. Oh, my workshop class gave positive criticisms of my story- its ideas, its characters, its atmosphere. In short, things I planned out at a reasonable rate way in advance. The writing- done all in one day with the exception of the first page- was confusing, spiced with bad metaphors and lackluster details. Almost as if it was written in 18 hours.
You know where I’m going- blah blah blah blah fuck motivation git gud. But here’s what swinging from my brain like a chimp- should you, if motivation comes to your door, snog it like it’s a long-lost wife? Survey of one says no on the onset. There’s a consistent pattern with my writing: whenever I write over my daily goal, I find it more difficult to write more for the next few days. But saying, “write only when your discipline commands you to,” is like telling a refugee on rations to not pig out when she finds a roasted pig. I’m writing this very post in the burst that follows exercise- in fact, I’ve doubled my daily goal again today and hear no reason to stop until the play I’m attending later begins. Sure, I might not write as much tomorrow, but I might break an arm tomorrow and not write as much anyways. It’s an easy choice to create a hard choice later.
I suppose if I had to choose between two treacherous options, like a man at a voting booth at closing time, I’d stick with disciplined writing over motivation-based writing, much as my gut protests. But that requires an intense cultivation of inspiration. Here’s something I’ve done for this. I switched out my old writing binder for a new one last week, and wanted a cover for it. So I’ve inserted a blank piece of paper in front of the binder. Nowadays, when friends can plug their noses and wade through the stench of chips and sweat to come visit me, I have them sign the writing binder with words to compel me to write. My friend Rai put it best:
“23 words. Just write 23 words. My dead grandma can write 23 words, but you will do it better.”
And, due to these encouragements, days that would go by without a written word got at least a page from me this week. Will it last? Of course not. That’s why, in a month or so, I’ll find a new reminder that pushes me into a dark void of ideas with a pen for a flashlight and roller skates on my feet. If you’re going to motivate yourself to do anything, motivate yourself to keep a commitment.