Writing Wednesday: Putting Handles on the Cups

There’s a Writing Rule that says “Write every day, no matter what.” You hear people tout this rule, just like every other Writing Rule, and since I’m dragging myself back into the swing of things after what amounts to a five month hiatus, I thought I’d address it.

Obviously it’s terrible advice.

I mean, yes, if you can write every day, that’s awesome. That’s great! Go for it! Have fun! Write every day! God knows I do when I can. But the idea that you must is as crippling as any other Writing Rule, because reality interferes a great deal and people can rarely write every. single. day.

I think the biggest reason people say that (and even I’ve been known to say it) is that it can be so. hard. to get momentum back, if you haven’t been writing regularly. I’m starting up on REDEEMER now, and honestly I feel like a beached fish, flopping around uncomfortably. I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I have this long synopsis and I look at it and I think “yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah this isn’t even any help *flop flail yuck barf* oh look i could go pick blackberries.”

It’s easier to resist picking blackberries when I’ve got momentum.

It’s not necessarily that the book is going easily and that’s why it’s easier to resist. It’s that I’ve at least got the habit re-established: I’m sitting down and writing now, this is my work time, the berries will be there in a few hours. What I write might be like pulling teeth, but if I’ve got two weeks or two months of that behind me already, I’m in practice.

Right now I am so badly out of practice, and having such a hard time getting myself moving. I just don’ wanna. People tell me all the time I must be very disciplined to write as much as I do. It’s really not discipline. It’s habit, and when the habit’s broken (as it currently is), it’s just as awful for me to get it started again as it is for anybody else.

I’ve heard people say “write every day when you’re working on a particular project” as a way of ameliorating the onus of Writing Daily. I think that’s better advice. Actually, I think it’s great advice except for where it again doesn’t necessarily coincide with reality. But it does help enormously.

It doesn’t, however, actually get you started, so I will tell you This One Simple TrThese Two Simple Tricks I know to get the writing started when you Don’ Wanna:

1. Turn off the goddamn internet. Use the Freedom internet blocker, or its less draconian sister Anti-Social, put your phone on flight mode or in another room or both, but turn off the goddamn internet and do your work.

2. All you have to do is put the handles on the cups.

This is a trick I learned from a friend who is a potter. When she doesn’t want to go out to pot, she tells herself that all she has to do is put the handles on the cups. It’s a five or ten minute job and then she can be done for the day and she’ll have accomplished something.

The thing is that once the handles are on the cups, she’s out there in the studio, she’s gotten into the groove, she’s working, so she might as well throw a couple bowls while she’s at it. Or a vase. Or glaze the plates. Or whatever.

It’s a total mind game, but it works. Once in a great while, all she does is put the handles on the damn cups and then she’s done…but even if that’s all she does, she’s accomplished *something* for the day, and that’s what she set out to do.

Right now my Scrivener is set up in total handles-on-the-cups mode. I have it set to 250 words as my goal for the day. Given that I currently have like 4 hours to myself every week day and I can normally write something like 4500 words in that time, 250 words is really putting handles on the cups. But I’m pushing toward Hour 3 of My Time right now and all I’ve written is a blog post because I Don’ Wanna, so 250 is at the moment what I’m telling myself is all I have to do.

And the truth is that in a minute here I’m going to turn off my internet and start putting handles on the cups, and I’ll probably come away with a thousand or two words.

So that’s the best trick I know to get writing, folks. Go put the handles on the cups. That’s all you have to do today. Just go put the handles on the cups.