No Switch to Flip

I posted to this blog for a few weeks and then, like every other time I’ve ever tried blogging, I stopped. I stopped pretty much everything, in fact: writing, working out, etc. Right now, today, I’m working my way back. I don’t know about you, but I always want there to be a switch. When I was a kid I remember distinctly writing in a notebook that I’d had this revelation. Maybe I was thirteen. The revelation was that there isn’t this switch that gets flipped and now you’re an adult, possessed of all the knowledge and capabilities adolescent-you lacks.

You do change, but it’s slow, and it’s not always in the ways you think.

I started blogging in 2011… and 2013… and 2017. But if you look back at this site, the earliest post is from 2018. What used to happen is, I’d make a few posts, excited to be doing this… and then I’d stop. And then, after six months or a year of inactivity, those couple of lonely islands in a sea of unproductive time would fill me with shame, and I’d just delete the thing. Until, a few years later, I’d start all over again.

I was and am jealous of those folks who have a blog for a decade or more; they can look back on this mountain of work they’ve slowly accumulated. The same is true for the fiction side, as I’ve said before: I love the idea of standing on top of a mountain of stuff you made. Not just one or two things breaking through the filmy surface of distraction and laziness once or twice in your life, but regular, consistent production. It doesn’t have to be genius work, most if not all of it won’t be, it just has to be yours. In the world. Outside of your head. Made. Done.

Sometimes, always, there’s no magic switch: the tricky and terrifying thing is that you just have to keep choosing to show up. It’s true in relationships and exercise and writing, anything that slowly builds a mountain one rock at a time. I always wanted there to be a switch that flipped and then I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about whether or not I was going to do the work.

But I’m losing faith such a switch exists—or gaining clarity that it doesn’t.

What I hope instead is that I reach the place where there’s a habit, and, the same way I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to brush my teeth before I go to bed tonight, I won’t have to wonder “will I write today?” But maybe that never happens. What I’ve realized I can do, though, must do, if only to never again feel like I gave up on this, is not mind the times I fall off: just keep showing back up.

Early

So to get back on the horse, I’m doing a three-week challenge: wake up at six in the morning and write at least one thousand words. First thing, before you do anything else. I’m on day seventeen as I edit and post this, and it’s been going pretty smoothly. I’ll say this, though: every time I get up at six I wish I was getting up at seven instead. I’m going to do an experiment when this phase is over: I’m going to try waking up at seven and writing, for, say, a week, and see if I actually feel different upon waking, or if I always feel like “it’s too early”.

I suspect it’ll be the latter: wanting to hit snooze just one more time is merely a passing feeling.

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of waking up early, and, fair enough, but I don’t think it’s magic; look, the point is to do the writing, the thing I’ll otherwise spend all day thinking about but not doing, the thing I’ll feel like shit because I didn’t do. I’ve got to do that first before the rewarding activities of eating breakfast and drinking coffee and catching up on the internet and going for a walk and playing video games, because all of those activities can and do stretch out to fill the whole day.

I still have a nagging voice telling me I’m not writing enough, but at least it’s a start. I did something, and I did it every day. If I write a thousand words a day I can work on pushing it to two thousand. If I go back to writing zero, well, I’m back where I came from.

When you do a challenge like this you have to plan. One thing I did right away was create a little three-week calendar on graph paper, and I wrote in the dates and highlighted the weekend days in red. The red is a warning that weekends are often a break in routine, they require more deliberation to wake up early and to therefore go to bed at the right time.

The red highlights were a reminder to consider this beforehand: instead of realizing it’s Friday night and I’m staying out ’til midnight but, oops, I wanted to wake up at six tomorrow, I’d have to be planning for Friday night that whole day.

Likewise, for going to bed earlier. Once or twice, I stayed up past midnight and then woke up at six. And I did get up at six, because, dammit, I was going to do this challenge. And I could always go back to bed for a couple more hours afterwards. It still feels terrible, though, so most days I started going to bed earlier. Doing this requires planning that rolls backwards through the rest of the day: I wanted to be in bed with nothing left to do but read a bit until ten and then turn out the light. That meant whatever else I wanted to do during the evening had to stop at nine at the latest. And then that becomes easier because you were up at six and you’re tired by nine anyway, and you’ve already had fifteen hours in your day, how much more do you need? When you get up after nine in the morning it’s easy to stay up til midnight; when you get up at six, it gets a lot less easy.

I talked about switches, wishing I could find and flip the switch to shunt myself from the inconsistent writer track to the writes all the time track. But maybe a more apt metaphor for how we really change is, we need to set up roadblocks for ourselves, forcing us to navigate onto the right roads. We’re not Nietzschean super-beings of unlimited and awesome willpower, it turns out: we’re creatures of habit, but that’s fine. The difference between us and, say, a lab rat, is we can become aware of the routines running our lives and change them, maybe not through force of will, but through the deliberate construction of an environment, both internal and external, which slowly molds us into the people we want to be.

That sure sounds a lot less satisfying than just flipping a switch, but my experience is that the switch is a fantasy. The other… well, I’m hoping it isn’t.

It Piles Up

I had this desk in my room when I was a kid, and it became a junk heap. I would never, ever clean it up, just precariously balance more stuff on top. At the time, I didn’t see what the point of all the work required to go through it would be; any other thing I could possibly do seemed more rewarding, totally aside from the fact that the job seemed enormous and impossible.

I’ve got a desk right now, as a nominal adult. It’s not nearly the pile my childhood desk was, but… there’s a dozen things on there that don’t need to be there.

Even worse… my computer becomes that pile. Which is ridiculous, right? Because the windows and apps and tabs don’t take up any actual room, but what happens is when I think about using my computer, it’s this big pile of uncertainty. Instead of knowing exactly what I want to do there are twenty things I could do, so… it’s easier to just not think about it. So I never do any of them, so I have Safari tabs that stay open for six months.

Even my writing app gets like this. I’m using Ulysses as my One True App and putting everything in there, so I have a heap of sheets in my Inbox group… what friction does that impose on me every time I sit down to write?

You can’t spend your time just cleaning this stuff up, because now you’re a janitor instead of a creator. But it is worth some amount of time to periodically say, look, all else aside, the very most important thing I can do with the next half an hour is make this pile smaller.

In fact, I’ve been dawdling on my writing today; I’m going to schedule this post and go do some of that cleanup right now.

Scattered

It never ceases to amaze me: like clockwork, when I think I’m battening the hatches down on one project—I’ve outlined stuff, I have lots of ideas, I’m ready to finally sit down and write the goddamned thing…

I was so committed, I had in my mind this whole picture about how it was going to go, how I was finally going to get something substantial finished…

Every time, no sooner do I start the actual act of writing a corpus of words, suddenly some other project is the one I should be doing.

It. Never. Fails. My attention scatters. I don’t know really quite how to fight my way through this. I’ve been doing alright with my current idea. I had a fantasy novel in mind, and had gone pretty far with planning and characters and scenes… but I sat down and wrote one scene and hated it. Then I had this elaborate idea for, I guess it’s like urban paranormal fantasy, and it’s consumed me entirely. And I’ve actually banged out about 7-8000 words. But even now, these thoughts flicker into being: it doesn’t make sense, and no one’s gonna like it, and why don’t I just write this science fiction idea I have instead?

Like I said. It never fails.

Far as I can tell, it’s the difference between the ideation, which is easy, and the writing, which is not. The writing is a struggle against what Chris Fox has called the Creative Gap, the difference between the awesome ideas you have in your head and the tepid stream of words you drizzle out onto the page. But I do know those words are necessary, you have to produce a lot of shit before you can shape it into manure for your garden, or… some better metaphor.

Speaking of gardens and Chris Fox, he wrote a book called Plot Gardening, in which he conjures up this image of planter boxes for each of your projects, and you just toss some soil into each as you get ideas, and see what starts growing… there’s more to it but it’s meant to be a balance between the necessary structure of plotting, and so-called pantsing, where you just write like the wind and see what happens.

I like the idea, but haven’t figured out how to reconcile it with the problem of being scattered: I do like the optionality of being able to toss some soil into boxes, but nonetheless at some point I have to pick one and finish it. Or wrestle it to the ground until I’m sure it’s the wrong project.

In the Tyranny of Tools post, I was talking about Rabbit Holes and Blind Alleys in terms of playing with tools instead of doing your work, but the same seems to apply to the work itself. While the alleys and holes of tools are to be avoided, falling into them during projects seems inevitable: you have to play with a lot of different things and maybe even finish them before you’ll ever know if they work or not.

This is not a totally thrilling prospect. Who wants to spend the time only to find out the thing sucks?

For now, I’m quite convinced the only thing really fixed in stone is you need to sit down every day and put some words to the page… but here’s the thing: I’ve been doing my writing sprints every day for the past week, but I’ve only been working on this blog… not the novel. The habit I’m tracking this month has been doing at least a five-minute sprint every day, no matter what comes out, because you need to start somewhere.

Next month I will track two habits: a sprint in general, and a sprint specifically on the novel.

We’ll see how it goes. Training myself to write every day is going well so far, we’ll see if I’m more successful than I was in late 2017… and early 2017… and, well, etc.

The Tyranny of Tools

There are lots of things you could do to ignore your writing instead of doing it, one of the biggest for me is playing with the tools. If you’re a writer these days it’s probably about apps; even if you have a vintage-looking typewriter on your desk, you hipster, you, I’m gonna guess you don’t crank out novels with it, not all of them, anyway, and if you do you probably aren’t reading this blog. So, for the rest of us, let’s just admit it: I play with tools.

I bought Scrivener a long time ago, and it’s a great app, but it’s also complicated which means there’s a lot to play with. If I spend time playing with it, on the one hand, it should return dividends because it helps me be a more productive writer… hypothetically. But on the other hand, every minute I spend in a writing app during which I’m not writing is not taking me any closer to my goals. So there’s something to be said for using the simplest tool possible.

Okay, but TextEdit doesn’t give you any kind of organization, you have to organize everything you write yourself in your filesystem. And Macs introduced filesystem-wide tagging a little while ago, which now syncs across devices with iCloud, so you could set up an elaborate series of folders and tags and apply them to all the little files you produce. Since everything would be plain text you could copy that filesystem anywhere (though the tags may or may not come along for the ride).

But in everything I just said, you didn’t see writing anywhere, did you?

Okay. So lately I started using Ulysses, which is the kind of app I like: you can use it in a simple way, but as you get more complex (goals, keywords, publishing formats) it scales up and up with you… which is useful and fun, but, again, beware how much time you spend tending your tools.

Whether a tool is simple or complex, you’re going to spend time feeding and watering it, which necessarily detracts from your writing. Yet the feeding and watering should also enhance your productivity. There doesn’t seem to be an escape from this conundrum, and I love alliteration, so I’m calling this the tyranny of tools.

I’ll be honest: I do love my tools, and love finding new ones, and will probably write about them here. And I’ll be even more honest, that’s an attractive type of content. People like reading about tools, it makes you feel productive… but that feeling, when it doesn’t translate into production, is inherently dangerous.

So my goal here is to establish The Great Caveat: if you’re reading this post, or any future post about tools, you should probably go do some writing instead. I won’t feel bad if you do, okay? Let’s just have a gentlemanly handshake and agree it’s what’s best for us both.

Rabbit Holes and Blind Alleys

There are three big areas where I reach for tools:

  1. Creating: the actual writing bit
  2. Organizing: the keeping track of what I create
  3. Publishing: ultimately the whole bloody point of this enterprise, without which, the foregoing two steps are of limited utility in the world

And I swing back and forth between two philosophies:

Having one extremely simple tool to do one extremely defined task, where each of those tools can talk to each other in a standard way, so you can find the right tool for each job, and then link them together to accomplish the Superjob. This is creatively satisfying if you’re a technology geek like me, and is also aesthetically satisfying in a way, probably for the same reasons.

But it’s fiddly. Even after you’ve found all the pieces, you still need to make the glue to bind them together, and, once again: this is not the real work you need to be doing as a writer.

The other philosophy is to find One Tool To Rule Them All, something in which you can write, organize, and publish all right there in the app. I believe the incomprehensible colloquialism is ‘soup to nuts’.1 I mentioned Scrivener and Ulysses (and will probably mention them again) and there are even more tools than those in this category. But OTTRTA isn’t a perfect solution, either, because you have to learn how this big, complex tool works well enough to use it.

Either way you go, you risk rabbit holes and blind alleys. That is, you risk spending way more time than you expected on something (the rabbit hole was deeper than it looked), and you risk trying out a tool only to discover it doesn’t quite fit your needs or wants (you went down a blind alley). Both are frustrating and expensive.

How do we avoid tumbling endlessly down a rabbit hole, which will not result in a finished novel? After all, how many rabbit authors do you know, exactly? Hint: Watership Down was actually written by a person. How do we avoid putting a bunch of time and energy and possibly money into a tool only to realize the magic was inside of us all along (or in another text editor all along)?

The same way we distracted, disorganized meat sacks accomplish anything in this vale of tears: we make a system.

Make it a System: Tool Time

I first got this idea from Curtis McHale: you set aside specific times where you just look at tools. Maybe an hour every couple of weeks, or a day out of the month, you let yourself spend all that time playing with new things, even if you’re happy with the things you already have. Now, to give us any hope of doing this efficiently, just like sitting down to write, you need to be prepared.

First, know what you’d like to check out. The way I do this is to have a running list. Whenever someone tells you about some cool tool, or you come across it on the web, or on someone’s screen when you’re spying on them at a coffee shop instead of writing, don’t go look at the tool right away. Just add it to the list. Since you know you will eventually get around to checking it out, you don’t have to keep it in the back of your mind.

When your tool time comes ‘round at last, you’re going to pick from the list, and I suggest picking / organizing the list in terms of pain; what aspect of the job are you having the most trouble or annoyance with right now, and what tools will help? If you’d like to find your favourite place to make words come out, look at the writing apps / text editors themselves. If organizing eludes you, focus on apps with a good organization experience. If you’re struggling to put words out into the world, look at publishing tools, etc.

Now, pick an app and go look it up. Maybe it’s on a website or an App Store. Before you get your hands on the thing yourself, go to their site and/or YouTube and look up reviews or videos of people using it. Watch a couple of these. If it still looks appealing, consider how it’s distributed and what it costs: does it run locally on your computer / tablet / smartphone, or is it a web application? Does it cost anything? Do you pay one time, or does it have a subscription? If it’s not free, does it have a trial? How does that work, and what happens when the trial is up? (If you put some writing in there, and don’t decide to keep the tool, what happens to the work you’ve done?)

Once you’ve answered these questions and decided you want to give the tool a try, decide exactly how. You might have a specific series of steps you try with every tool so you can easily compare them. Simple example: whenever I’m trying out a writing app, the first thing I do is put the cursor on the place where the words go and type,

I am the very model of a modern major general, I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral.

Aside from being amusing, this lets me immediately see what the typing experience “feels” like, what it looks like, what kind of auto-correction features it does or doesn’t have, is there formatting, how does it work, etc.

For something more complicated, like an organizing or publishing tool, you may want to have a small set of pieces you’ve already written ready to load into each new tool to see how you can organize them. Perhaps even have a ‘staging’ site where you can publish things privately just to see how a new publishing tool behaves. That’s advanced-level stuff, but if you set this all up beforehand, you reduce the depths of the rabbit holes and the lengths of blind alleys.

If a tool isn’t an immediate bust, you may want to keep using it outside of your established tool time. If so, and if it’s replacing another tool, you’ll want to have a plan. You’ll want to already know:

  • If this is a trial, how will I handle the trial running out if I choose to (a) proceed or (b) stop using it?
  • If I have a bunch of writing elsewhere, do I need to import it into this new tool? If so, how and when will I do that, how much of a pain in the ass will it be? If not, how will I keep things organized between this tool and the others?
  • If this is for publishing, how will I get it set up with all the places I want to publish? If I already have a ‘publishing workflow’, how does this fit in?

If this all sounds too prescriptive, well… like anything else I prescribe, I’m first prescribing it to myself. I try to do the above with tools, but still fall into plenty of rabbit holes and blind alleys. I’m going to continue building a system like the above, and I’m going to link back to this post—with its Great Caveat—whenever I talk about tools here. And if you have tools or a system for trying them… let’s be honest, I wouldn’t mind taking a break from the writing to hear about it. As long as I don’t stay away too long…

  1. I have no idea what this means, and I’m not sure I want to find out.

Getting Unreasonable

I want to publish 100 novels and 1000 short stories in the next thirty years.

What?!

Well, words are easy and actions are something else altogether. But there’s this idea in the entrepreneurship circles in which I circle, Chris Fox talks about this: 10x Thinking; the idea being that, if you have a goal, things change in your mindset in a big way if you imagine ten times your goal.

So, you want to write a book? Okay. Then you’ll do certain things in order to achieve that goal. But what if you decide you want to write ten books? And in less than ten times the time? You’ve got to do different things to reach that goal, and they will by necessity be more powerful things. You have to learn to plan, to write faster, to not spend all your time noodling around with the thousand words you wrote over the past six weeks. You have to open the valve on your own artistic production which is, it appears to me, the only way to ever get better at this craft.

A big part of the shift I’m trying to make is committing to publishing things, not just writing them, because “writing” is an activity that can go on forever, but publishing, like sex, has a definite endpoint (and makes a mess of your sheets).

Amirite?

This may all seem like semantics, but when wrestling with our own brains semantics are really all we’ve got. The difference between saying you’re gonna write and saying you’re gonna publish is the difference between masturbation and sex, and, with that simile out of my system, the difference between “I’m gonna write a book” and “I’m gonna write ten books”: it forces you into a different mindset, and mindsets are the antecedent of action, and action, of course, is the only thing that actually produces books.

Okay. So, if I say I want to publish an output more like Isaac Asimov’s than Thomas Harris’s1, now I can think my way backwards from that: what actions will I need to take in the next decade to get me there? Okay, what about in the next five years? Okay, next two years. Okay, next year, okay, etc., what do I have to do tomorrow?

And from that big vague goal up top, my immediate next action becomes vibrantly clear: you need to write today, you sumbitch!

Well, ~500 words down, 10,000,000 more to go.

  1. Due respect to Mr. Harris, I love his books. But he became conspicuous to me via Stephen King’s On Writing, wherein King points out that Harris writes these awesome novels, but only one every seven years, and isn’t that kind of a shame?

Scenebook: What It Is

If there’s a reason this blog exists, it’s because they say write what you know. But that’s a slippery expression because it’s vague: “know”… meaning what? Some people interpret it to mean you shouldn’t write stuff you don’t have first-hand experience of, but i hope it’s obvious that’s ridiculous advice.

I propose an alternative, that we side-step the whole “know” thing as not very helpful. Instead:

Write what you want.

That is, write the thing that you wish existed. There’s almost certainly something like that, for everyone. Maybe there’s already lots of fantasy stories with dragons in there, but they don’t do dragons the way you want to see them done. So write the dragons you want to read about.

Okay. More on that topic later, probably. Here’s what I want: it’s 2018 and it’s much easier than ever before to share our lives with the world. And what I want as a person learning to be a professional novelist is not more advice on how to write—because I’m buried under a heap of it even as I type this, send help—but a glimpse of what it looks like for someone to do this, to struggle against the forces, almost entirely internal, that make “being a writer” so difficult.

So “write what you want” means I’m writing about the journey. Not because what I did yesterday or today or tomorrow is so goddamn interesting for its own sake. But because, hopefully, someday I can point to this pile and say, there. You want to know what it was like for me to become a writer? That’s what it was like. And it might / will definitely be different for you, but there’s at least one thing in that pile you can relate to.

That’s a mission statement, if you like, for why this blog exists, and maybe I’ll edit it for style and length and put it on an About page… another day. For now, I want to describe this idea I’m calling a Scenebook.

Put it all out there

It mostly happens when I’m taking a walk. And nothing else, not looking at my phone, not listening to music or a podcast, just walking. My mind wanders, and I always come up with ideas. Sometimes just one, sometimes plenty, and some of them are these ideas for scenes that just pop fully-formed into my head. But they aren’t necessarily related to the projects I’m working on at the moment, they’re just these isolated bits of narrative or dialogue or description, and I think, “that’s cool, I’m going to write that down.”

I’m planning a post about the power of publishing versus just writing; if you spend years sometimes writing stuff but never finish projects, never ship, then you’re not really getting very far from where you started. Actually publishing stuff is powerful: it creates a pile, like I said above, a heap of accomplishments, and you can look at that heap and draw strength. Alongside that, I’ve said I want to share the journey, show each of the steps along this path by which an author is grown.

So what I’m going to do is, when I have these great ideas for scenes, write them out. Don’t worry too much about if there’s a story around them, if they ‘work’, if they’d get dropped in an editing pass. Write them, and publish them, and organize them into something called a Scenebook. Other people can see ‘em, and comment on them, and get ideas from them, or even copy them—though hopefully not word-for-word, because then they’re not growing themselves.

This is all in the service of making the thing I wish existed. Wouldn’t it be cool if your favourite authors had a Scenebook? Just a public set of outtakes, and, sure, they’re curated: this isn’t just shovelling every random ejaculation out the door because I think it’s so terribly special, no. It’s about sharing, but also about building the habit of publishing instead of hiding, and maybe it turns into something interesting in the bargain.

So now I’ve put the idea out there, and it’s on me to execute.

Blood, Sweat, and Then What?

There used to be a billboard in my old neighbourhood, I don’t even remember what it was for, but the slogan on it, in big blocky black type on bright yellow, always grabbed me. It said

BLOOD, SWEAT… AND TEN YEARS

Let’s talk goals. There’s the nebulous desire to “be a writer”, yeah, but imagine what that looks like: not just a big pile of words on your hard drive, but a big pile of words out somewhere where everyone can see, whether it’s on a blog or Barnes and Noble. What could you do with blood, sweat, and ten years?

Yeah. Me too.

But the problem is ten years is too far away, it’s a fantasy, and, honestly, even this Christmas is just a fantasy, too. Sure, I’ll have written a novel by then, sure. I’ll probably start tomorrow.

Pretty sure I said that in October 2017. And, look, let’s be honest with each other: I’m pretty sure I said it in October 2007, too. But here we are. Well, here I am. How about you?

I spent the last few years working with people who have among their hobbies the desire to run really far; did you know there’s a thing called an ultramarathon? The funny thing about it is, it’s considered any distance run of 50 kilometres or more, which means if you run 50 or 150, it’s an ultramarathon both ways. Do you think the person who runs 150 feels kind of ripped off? Maybe not.

Imagine how it feels to wake up the next morning, hopefully not in hospital, and realize, “I ran a hundred fifty kilometres, for fucksake!” Imagine! It takes deliberation to even drive that far. Here’s the thing, though: your car is probably up for grinding out a quick 150 any old time, if there’s some gas in the tank and it’s not a total wreck. But a human being can’t just get up from the desk you and I are sitting at right now and run 150 klicks… or fifteen…

Even five will be a struggle, until you practice.

And that’s the crazy thing: I can maybe run five K, maybe, if wolves are after me and my loved ones. But I can’t run 10 K without stopping, let alone a marathon, and yet… there’s no physical reason why I can’t run a marathon if I trained for it.

See, novels are like that. Only took me twenty years to absorb that analogy. You figure, I love LotR and R.A. Salvatore’s stuff, and people are always telling me how imaginative I am, I’d love to write a novel! And then you try and don’t get anywhere, over and over again, and you feel bad about yourself and give up. Who knows why we think writing a hundred thousand words of coherent, structured, exciting narrative is the kind of thing a person should just be able to do with no training when even a goddamned toaster oven comes with instructions, but if you think of a novel as a marathon a lot falls into place.

I reckon you can train for a novel the same way you train for a marathon. A marathon requires a whole bunch of running, packed into a small time frame. You run and run and run and run, a lot, before you get to recover. Same deal with a novel, if you have any intention of cranking out more than one a decade.

And be honest: if you think you want to spend a decade carefully crafting your novel, but you’ve written pretty much nothing in the previous decade, especially at length… well, you’re probably fooling yourself. You’re saying you want to do the following with no training: thinking about what should happen next and what happens after that and after that and after that and after that in the form of a three- or four-act structure that may or may not dovetail with the Hero’s Journey but definitely needs a satisfying denouement that wasn’t telegraphed at the beginning but nonetheless follows inevitably from everything that came before…

I’m exhausted just describing that, let alone doing it in ten thousand words, let alone a hundred thousand.

See, I’m out of shape.

So, we gotta train.

The same way you can’t run a marathon in a single step, you can’t just sit down and write a novel in one sitting and if you throw at me that spin-off of National Novel Writing Month where people crank out a first draft in a weekend, or tell me anything about Kerouac and Benzedrine, you and I are through, ok? Corner cases are like lottery tickets: fun to fantasize about but let’s not peg our retirement plans on one.

You can only run a marathon by putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over, and you can only write a novel by sitting down to write in the same iteration. If you’re anything like me, and God knows how you got through eight hundred words of this if you’re not, the place you fall off is not sitting down. Not every day, right? And not for very long. And the mind wanders. And the web browser is right there.

I decided at some point that I don’t want to run a marathon, but 10 K seems like a reasonable goal for a relatively healthy human being: I want to be able to run ten kilometres without stopping. So I looked up a plan, and the one I found basically goes like this:

  • The first day you get your shoes on and you walk for four minutes, and then run for one minute
  • Then you walk for four, then run for one, again
  • Repeat until you’ve done that four times, i.e. you were “running” for twenty minutes and you only spent four of them actually running. Because you need to condition your body.
  • You do what I just described three days in the first week.

The next week, you walk for three minutes and then run for two, repeat. And the next week, you walk for two and run for three… and on, and on, until you’re running for, say, eight minutes with two minutes of walking in between, for a total of forty minutes, until, after thirteen weeks, you are running for one hour without walking and without stopping.

Thirteen weeks is a long time, but it’s also not that long. Just like any slice of life. You might think, ugh, “can I wait thirteen weeks?” or “do I want to spend thirteen weeks?”, but the real question is, do you want to become someone who runs or remain someone who does not?

The thirteen weeks, the ten years, they pass regardless.

Replace runs with writes, and here we are.

I’ll tell you where I’m at, specifically, right now when I’m drafting this post (August 27th, 2018): I’m still not writing every single day, but I’m working on it. I’ve got a habit tracker taped to my wall, and the goal? The ultimate goal might be to become a novelist, but the right now goal is to tick the box today. And tomorrow the goal will be to tick the box. And the day after. And maybe it takes thirteen weeks or a hundred and thirty, but the same way you might realize you’ve put a hundred kilometres of pavement behind you in the past few months, and that’s a hundred more than you ran in the preceding decade, maybe you look back and there’s a pile of words behind you, and once you’re sitting on that pile… stacking up another pile of words in the form of a novel seems not just possible, but inevitable.