Skeletons & Dirty Linen
For years I’ve had a pledge to write at least five hundred words’ a day. You might think that’s not much of a goal. Colleen McCullough claimed she wrote twenty thousand words a day. Graham Greene religiously wrote five hundred. If it was good enough for him then it’s good enough for me. Any way five hundred works out to be nearly two hundred thousand a year, – the length of a very long novel. With such a low target you might think it would be a breeze, but I confess it isn’t.
There are times when I go for days, weeks even, without writing a single word of the book I am working on. All manner of things get in the way. For a start there’s the chores I simply have to do before I sit down to write. This is my typical daily routine – empty the dishwasher, check my emails, fill the dishwasher, check the news headlines, put on the washing, check Facebook, pay some bills, check twitter, hang out the washing, check my emails, make the doctor’s appointment. Oh dear suddenly the morning has gone, and I haven’t even opened a word document let alone written five hundred words. Now I’m too tired to even think about writing.
I guess I’m not the only writer with this problem. Writing ideas can hit you anytime, whether you’re lying awake in the middle of the night, or you’re sitting on a bus or going for walk, you suddenly can’t wait to start putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. The words are about to pour out of you and you won’t even think about your goals as you charge past the five hundred mark. But as you walk toward your desk - alarm bells ring. You hesitate for a second. You’re sure there’s something you ought to be doing. You remember your sister is coming to visit and you need to change the sheets. You’ve run out of milk. You need to get a quote for new tyres. Your writing can wait for an hour, and anyway there’s always tomorrow.
You’re tricking yourself aren’t you? You know there’s nothing more important in your life than writing. You know it’s so much bigger than washing or car repairs or twitter. Of course you know that. You also know all too well that later today, or tomorrow or next month of next year you’ll be kicking yourself for your lack of output. You will eke out the rest of your days in misery and guilt. So why don’t you stop reading and starting writing this minute? So why don’t you just start?
My husband is a very keen golfer, well actually he’s a bit obsessed. He practises a lot, which is probably one of the reasons I have so much housework to do. When he’s at the practice range he hits his golf balls out of sight. When he shoulders his bag for a casual round his scores are quite often terrific, but he rarely repeats this prowess when he plays in official competitions. It’s what most of us do when we have to stop rehearsing and face the real thing. It’s called self-sabotage, and I do it to myself over and over.
Yet I’ve also proved I’m capable of being much more prolific. When I was given the deadline to write my memoir Ursula, I wrote 80,000 words in twelve months, and I was working full-time that year. So why can’t I manage five hundred words a day without a deadline?
In his inspirational guide to overcoming personal barriers, http://www.stevenpressfield.com/do-the-work/ prolific novelist Steven Pressfield argues no matter what we set out to undertake, whether it’s a creative pursuit, starting a new diet or health regime or overcoming an addiction, our main enemy is RESISTANCE.’ He says ‘We’ll hit every predictable Resistance Point along the way – those junctures where fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, and all those other demons we’re all so familiar with can be counted on to strike,’
So now I have name to call it that low level ache under my ribs that comes with the very thought of words going on the page. It’s called resistance. Pressfield ‘says resistance is lying and full of shit’. My theory is once you name something it’s a lot easier to fight it. I also know once I start anything is possible. Crikey, I’ve just realised I’ve exceeded today’s goal by over two hundred words. Easy isn’t it? Now there’s just tomorrow. I’m going to keep a tally of my daily output over the next month. Anyone want to join me? I’d love to get your feedback.
Next week – The Pomodoro a Magic Time-Management Method