Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Treat It Like a Job

A colleague and I were talking about writing yesterday, and he asked me, "How do you do it? Where do you find the discipline to sit down and actually finish something?"

At the time, I said something cliched like, "Mind over matter -- I just sort of make myself do it, like it or not. I just dig in."

But now, I wish I'd elaborated, told him this, instead: "Try to treat writing like a job. Pretend there's something huge at stake (a salary, your reputation). Because when you have something depending on the writing, you'll be more prone to write."

That's probably why my Creative Writing students usually tell me that, as hard as it is to have deadlines for creativity, they appreciate the deadlines I give them in class. Because it forces them to write. Their grade is at stake.

Every semester, there are students who take that "how do I finish something?" question a step further -- they're frustrated with themselves because they have "all these ideas," have started all these stories, but they can't seem to finish one of them. At that point, I tell them, "That many stories can feel overwhelming. So just narrow your focus. Pick one and only one. Then, finish it. And don't stop until you finish it, even if you think it's awful. Because that sense of accomplishment will give you the courage and determination to finish the other pieces."

Pardon me while I get a little philosophical, here, but yet another incentive for diving in, finishing that languishing manuscript, is that time is short. I turned 40 last year, and though numbers are just numbers (and, in a way, meaningless), that birthday did make an impact. No longer in my twenties, no longer in my thirties. Two decades that passed by in what feels like a blink. 40. Yikes. Yes, the clock IS ticking.

We only have today, for sure. Tomorrow? Who knows. So why not dust off that manuscript, that 10-year-old short story - TODAY - and set a new goal--to finish it. Even if it's a few minutes a day. Just do it.

Perfect quote for this entry: You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do ~Henry Ford

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