Well, that backfired.
But let me back up. I wish I wrote more. Relatively speaking, I’ve done a lot of writing over the years: sketches, a few murder mysteries, short stories, a couple of hours of stand-up of varying quality, co-authoring of a TV show, contributions to a book or two and a semi-devised script for a promenade show at a dubious pharmaceutical research facility as they were beginning human testing. You know, the usual. But all that writing is spread thinly over an uncomfortable number of decades, which is because each time it’s like getting ink out of a stone.
I just find it difficult to put my mind to it. I’ve always found it hard to share the writing process with another, but unfortunately I also lack the discipline to write on my own. All my essays, stand-up, scripts and other odds and sods have been written at the last possible minute, with the deadline forcing my hand. Douglas Adams famously managed to operate on that basis, and perhaps, were I significantly more talented, I might be able to get away with it as well. Unfortunately I need to work really hard at it, and as a result I generally feel like everything I’ve ever written isn’t quite finished or good enough to be published.
There’s a pretty well-known challenge faced by stand ups and comedy writers, which is that something that seems pretty amusing in your mind suddenly becomes dull and unfunny when you try and get it down on paper. Like having an abstract notion of a sculture in your head, then sitting down with a big block of stone and a chisel, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. In my case I don’t want to start tapping away with the chisel lest the results be disappointing; even in this digital age, turning an idea into words feels somehow permanent. And let’s face it, in writing and comedy, the results usually will be disappointing. It takes a while to craft the words just so to best communicate the core joke or idea, and the first few drafts are probably going to miss the mark.
Here’s another unnecessary analogy because I’m on a roll. If your pure, brilliant idea is a steak of flawless kobe beef, then the writing process is trimming, cooking, seasoning and serving it up with various accoutrements, all of which can detract from the original ingredient. It’s tempting to keep that pure idea in your head, rather than risk screwing it up by developing it. It’s a kind of perfectionism, which in writing is just another form of writer’s block. For me it’s an excuse not to write in the first place.
I think part of the solution, for me, is just to develop the habit of writing regularly and frequently. A good stand-up might write ten jokes and throw nine out; the important thing is to make it habitual and get to a place where ideas can just flow. That’s where blogging comes in. Posts are updated frequently (generally), and the bar for quality is lower. Not that blogs are inherently badly written or anything like that, but I think people expect them to be a little more rough and ready, a little less polished, than your average essay or newspaper article. The odd typo or unrefined turn of phrase isn’t going to be a big deal, and that means less time spent on the bits I dislike, such as editing, and more on the original ideas and first draft, which I enjoy.
So obviously you’re reading this on my blog, about my weekly lifestyle changes, and I should probably explain that the idea for the blog came first. The weekly challenges were, partly at least, to give me something to write about. Not that I’m not enjoying all those little life-style changes, which occupy considerably more of my time and energy than writing each of them up, but the idea came about when I was trying to think of a way to get me writing regularly again.
I’d always intended to spend one of my weeks focused on the blog itself one way or another, switching from weekly to daily updates to up the challenge, but I hadn’t been able to figure out logistically how to make it work. This is after all a blog about doing weekly challenges, and if the weekly challenge is to keep a blog, and I then write a blog about it, well, that’s all getting a bit meta and self indulgent, and it was already pretty far down that path to begin with.
…which has never stopped me before, so let’s go. And by happy coincidence, I missed seven weeks of blogging because of the birth of my second child. I kept up the actual weekly challenges, but fell well behind on writing them up. So this week’s challenge was to write daily blog posts.
I have a few writing goals planned (including this and writing a short story), so this seemed like a good time to check-in with David Scullion, a good and time-generous friend, and the most motivated, prolific writer I know. I asked him about writer’s block and how you maintain motivation, but he was singularly unhelpful in that regard. Turns out that’s never been his problem.
Writer’s block? Not really, no. Lack of motivation? Hell no.
I don’t think I’m rare in this either. Most of the professional screenwriters I know are hugely motivated and don’t have time to get writer’s block. Don’t have time to get it?! Yep. That’s not a valid excuse for a missed deadline so it HAS to be worked through.”
(Read the full conversation with David Scullion here.)
Well, that rings true. Lack of time is my go-to excuse, especially now I have two young children. Give me 15 spare minutes, and I’m going to spend them sitting down watching TV or fiddling with my phone, thinking as little as possible. I also spend all day every day in front of a laptop at work, and opening it back up once I’ve wrestled the kids into bed and cleaned up the kitchen requires discipline that I apparently lack.
Still, that’s the whole point of doing these weekly lifestyle changes. They’re not particularly big, challenging things, just little ways to prompt me to find new habits and get to things I’ve wanted to for ages. So I found the motivation in those tired evenings, and wrote daily blogs for a week.
The week itself went pretty well (don’t worry, it all falls apart in a bit, failure-fans). I wrote six articles (plus the write-up of the week), one a day, though spacing out the publishing. Here they are:
- No caffeine
- Travel light
- Drink 8 glasses of water a day
- Push-ups: part 1
- Clear out mobile phone apps
- Gluten free
And that’s where it all fell apart. Having spent a week writing every day, with a bunch of posts queued for publication, I felt like I was ahead and relaxed. For several months. I kept doing the weekly lifestyle changes, though not every week, and I have a lot of scribbled notes and stories, but the blog lay dormant.
I’ll write about the year as a whole, and that general failure, shortly. Within the next three months, for sure. Maybe four.
Write every day. Every day. For 5 minutes. For four hours. Every single f–king day. Write. Read. Repeat.
Yeah, all right, stop going on about it Dave.
- Difficulty: Mederate. It takes discipline to get started, but gets easier as it becomes a habit.
- Worthwhiliness: Moderate. If you want to be a writer, this could be an excellent enabling habit to get into. For me it backfired, sapping my motivation.
Seriously, go read my conversation with David Scullion. It’s a stream of conciousness that gives rare insight into the mind of a quasi-lunatic, and it’s packed with good tips for writers of screenplays, novels and more. Win-win.
Header image by Drew Coffman