Timers and Free Play

A sentiment I hear from a lot of people who, like me, are trying to create (whether that comes out in the form of art, music, words or dance) is that they experience difficulty getting started.

I mean, I work a full time job, so I get it. Time is at a premium and when you care deeply about your success at a certain act or craft, not achieving your goal can feel like a reflection of who you are as a person.

It’s hard to break a streak, whether that streak be doing the thing or not doing the thing.  For me, this means writing and quitting.

I’m not a successful, published member of my field. That’s ok. Because even though I’m not <Insert Famous Author Here> , I’m still doing better than the me of six months ago who couldn’t start.

I want to share some tips from a person who has problems with quitting.

  1. Start SmallIf you want to make art, you don’t start out with the Mona Lisa. You can’t just pick up the brush and pain a masterpiece. You need to sketch. You need to know how to draw shapes, how lighting and shadow and perspective matter in your work. Writing is no different. I have been struggling for weeks with characters doing things I have outlined for them to do, but nothing was working in my grand plotting. Why?Because I went to write on the current project without hammering out background and motivation. I was trying to create the masterpiece and failing because I hadn’t set my foundation first. Once I spent some time getting into the heads of my main protagonists and examining WHY they were doing things instead of just expecting things to happen, I amazingly got the story cranking forward.

     

  2. TimersI recently read a fantastic book called “The Now Habit” as recommended by Mur Lafferty on her “I Should Be Writing” Podcast, which I highly recommend. In the book, the author talks about “guilt-free” play. About examining the why’s to our procrastination. Oftentimes, the trouble is perfection, about always wanting more time on the project we’re working on because we know, deep in our hearts, that if we just had more ‘time’ we’d get it right.Except with that in our head, the entire attempt becomes too big to tackle. Instead of beginning, we just think about how we can’t possibly do a good job on such a stressful thing. So we go do something else that feels good instead. And we never start.

    So when I start to feel like that, I take a timer, I set it and I just go.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s all free writing. Doesn’t matter if none of it is going into the final draft. Doesn’t matter if all you’re doing is sitting one of your character’s down on a shrink’s couch and forcing them to talk through motivations. That’s all things you can work with. It doesn’t matter if you only get out 58 words or 580. Go, set your timer, and do the thing.

    and finally, my most important and most used tip:

     

  3. Take Clearly Defined Breaks
    One of the best quotes from “The Now Habit” was “The Body is not a temple, it’s a machine.” And like any machine it needs fuel. It needs to be maintained. It needs to rest and, because our brains are organic, not mechanical, we need to play.
    That’s right. I said it.
    We need breaks. We need to check facebook. We need to watch netflix. We need to play video games and go walking and get air. We need to talk to other people and step away from the words for a while. We procrastinate on those things because they feel good and they’re fun. They make us happy. It’s only a problem if that’s the only thing we do. Well, writing all day without any defined stopping point to eat, or shower or drink food or hang out ever is just as bad.
    So I play video games. I cook. I do things other than the words.

And that’s how I’ve been managing.

What books do you recommend for time management? What methods have you found most helpful for dealing with getting started and maintaining a habit? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

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