I’m in a weird place where I’ve decided to do something I don’t know how to do (write for a living) so I’m figuring it out as I do it. This probably isn’t weird, all things considered, because I don’t think anyone knows how to do this until they do it. And I’m also pretty sure that everyone does it differently, which makes advice and examples useful only in a limited way.
However, there are a few things that help and in that list I’d put “sushi dinners with my friends who are doing similarly difficult things” right at the top. Jules is in the endgame with her dissertation so we got together for a “lady date” tonight to catch up and problem solve together.
For your edification, here’s the dinner we had and our collected wisdom regarding our various projects.
1. Just get it down on paper – sometimes it’s less about quality and more about doing it. Sometimes the beginning part is going to suck anyway so you might as well get it out so you can get to the part that’s better. Sometimes you just have to do it so you have something to edit later.
2. If you are afraid it will suck, it’s better to get there faster so you have more time to deal with it – Jules and I discovered a mutual tendency to put things off for fear that they might be terrible once we’ve done them. I guess the thinking is that it’s better to think it will be terrible than to do it and know it is. On a deadline, this is death. It’s much more efficient to get to the terrible part faster so you have the time to fix it or change it or deal with it. If you push it off and it is terrible, you might get stuck with it.
3. Small deadlines make work possible – a large looming deadline of finishing something is so daunting. Break it into small pieces. Daily pieces if possible. Filling the daily quota of work allows you to “rest completely when you rest.” See how I referenced the last dinner I had with Jules here? The practical practice of resting completely is something that we’ve both worked at ever since that dinner.
4. Find a diversion that doesn’t break the flow of work – this is very tricky. There are times when I need a couple days away from writing but I’ve discovered that I lose extra time because it can take me an extra day to get back into the swing of things. I’m still learning how far away from my writing I need to stray in order to be refreshed and how far is too far because it takes me too long to get back.
5. You won’t feel like it so don’t wait – no matter how I feel, I’ve discovered that if I pick up a pen and a piece of paper, the words will come. For sure. But if I wait until I feel like it, I get very little done because I have an infinite bag of distraction tricks. Occasionally you feel like it. Mostly you don’t. Do it anyway.
6. It you’ve ever done something hard and accomplished it, this thing is just like that thing – incredibly difficult things have similarities to them. They’re conquered by habit. You will spend a certain amount of time doing stuff that doesn’t seem to make any difference while you don’t seem to get any better. But then one day you wake up and it’s easier. Writing is the same way for me. I know it’s hard now and will get easier later. It’s how difficult things work. The progress is glacial, but it is progress.
But mostly (and mainly) sushi helps. So does conversation.