I think it’s pretty obvious that the worst part about writing is writing. Otherwise, why would everyone always be asking me: Mrs. Meehan, how do you keep yourself motivated?
Well, I’ll tell you: I spend the bulk of my “writing” time staring into space, thinking about failure, death, and disappointment, and shopping for things I can’t afford on the internet. When I’m working on a first draft it sometimes feels like I am trying to extract my own teeth with sewing needles, except my teeth and stuck somewhere in my brain and the needles are really dull.
Thus, the establishment of good writing habits is crucial, particularly for those moments when everything is awful. Good habits are something you can cling to when your inbox is full of rejections and you are sunk deep in bitterness and self-loathing. And there is no better time than the end of January to establish those good habits because by now we should all be over the holidays and disappointed with ourselves for not having accomplished more this month.
The internet does not want for lists of writer’s habits: drinking habits, sleeping habits, odd habits, eccentric habits, super sad habits, etc. However, these are at best entertainment and at worst a means to procrastinate while dreaming of a more productive life than the one you currently have. I have therefore assembled for you a list of useful – albeit somewhat paradoxical – habits for those times when you need to read a list of such things.
- Make the internet unavailable during working hours. Zadie Smith evidently uses Freedom. I like Freedom, but I almost never remember to turn it on.
- The best way to marry frugality to productivity is to get rid of the internet in your home altogether. I would do this if I still lived in the States and did not need to call abroad very often.
- However, the internet is not your enemy. If you are really stuck, read some things on the internet. I get a lot of ideas from The Bradenton Herald and random pop science shit. If you read enough things on the internet, you may enter a crazy fugue state that will enable all manner of creative breakthroughs, which you will consequently forget. Actually Habit #3 is just MAKE TIME FOR READING and try to keep a dim awareness of new titles. If you don’t, you will never know that someone else has already written your current project.
- Establish a system of quotas. I’ve found the pomodoro method worse than useless because it makes the passage of time salient, and time is depressing. Plus when you get into “the groove,” inevitably the timer will sound, interrupting your awesome flow. Personally, when drafting I set a daily word limit, and when revising, I set a page limit. If I hit my targets, I reward myself by not having to feel ashamed.
- Use newfangled technology to track your progress and enforce quotas. There are like a million productivity apps and I’m not going to bother linking to any of them. Beeminder, SelfControl, 30/30. You know how to find these things. When you get burned out on one, you can always switch to another.
- But don’t waste your money on productivity apps. You can make your own damn Beeminder with a piece of paper and an empty jar of mayonnaise into which you will deposit $1 every time you go off track. When the jar is full, make some charitable contributions; you can write those off. You don’t need Freedom either! Unplug your router and throw your phone into the toilet. This is really hard to do, but I believe in you.
- Comfort at your workstation is very important. Make yourself comfortable! Do whatever it takes. Sitting at a desk is awful, looking at a screen is awful. Take a break. Write on paper. Stand up. Go to the library or the coffee shop if you can afford it. Ambient noise can be helpful. I like a change of scenery when I get stuck on something.
- Mornings seem to be the best time to write a lot? I hate that, but you know, ego depletion is a thing. If it is after 3 pm, go eat something sweet and fatty.
- Flâneur. Go for a walk. Sitting down all the time is bad for you, and walking helps you think. If the weather is not too bad, try to go for a walk.
- And most importantly, do not work on your writing every single day, unless you really must. Take one or two days off because you are a human being. You might fail to meet the expectations you have set for yourself, and in that case you will want to have cultivated some other aspects of your life. Do not neglect your relationships. Do not neglect your health. Do not neglect your other interests.
As for my own weird habits, I never wear makeup when I’m writing. I try to be as unkempt as possible. I think this is one part superstition, two parts laziness, three parts stereotype threat. How can a woman be a serious writer if she doesn’t look like a mess? I look properly nasty. And for those really bleak moments, there is an acronym that I invoke: WBAEF. Writing Before Anything Else, Fool.