The kids are back in school. My oldest child has just started fourth grade. Today, she tells me, “Mommy, at the end of the year we’re going to have to write a thirteen-page paper!” Her sigh is as loud as her eyes are big. The thought of thirteen whole pages is incomprehensible. “You know what,” I say, “thirteen pages sounds like a lot, but not if you break it into pieces. You’ll just have to write one page at a time.” I know the project will be daunting, but not insurmountable. There may even be tears but ultimately she’ll be fine, no, better than fine. She’ll be stretched.
Over the summer break, I spent time reading and thinking about the novel I would write when my girls returned to school. Yesterday I finally put my nose to the grindstone. Like my fourth grader, I have a writing project, which has the power to overwhelm. I console myself with the same advice I gave to her. Just tackle one scene at a time. Write one scene a day. That’s totally doable, right? And if a scene is around 1,500 words then 33 days amounts to 50,000 words. Scene by scene. This is how I’ll do it. Once it’s on paper, that’s when the real fun begins. Then I can cut and paste, rearrange and string scenes together, write and rewrite. Or toss it all and start anew. But at this point, I wouldn’t call the first draft fun. The very first draft is hard work. I just need to slog through it.
Loads of people tell me they’d like to write, but they lack the discipline. I’m not sure I have the discipline either. This worries me. Writing is a solitary pursuit and it is oh so lonely some days. Especially on rainy, cold days when I just want to crawl back in bed. Yet, even when the sun is shining there’s always a bazillion other tasks and fun diversions vying for my attention. My latest temptation? The season finale of Breaking Bad. Right now Walter White and his devious methcapades are just sitting on my DVR box waiting to be watched. No one’s around to say c’mon don’t turn it on, stay focused, get down to work.
No one but me.
So how to stay honest and stay on track?
I find myself relying on an insightful principle of human behavior. Like most business school students, I learned about this principle in my introductory marketing class. It’s Robert Cialdini’s oft-studied, well-proven principle of Commitment and Consistency, which is: if a person commits to an idea or goal verbally or in writing, he or she is more likely to honor the commitment. I’m hoping it will work for me.
In a previous post I committed to writing a first draft of a novel by January 1, 2013. Let me say this again for good measure. By 1/1/13 I will have written a first draft of a novel. There. As you can see, I’m employing Cialdini’s principle in hopes that the more I write it, the more compelled I’ll be to follow through. Believe me, fear of potential public shaming and extreme self-loathing if I miss the mark is a powerful motivator.
Feel free to lend a hand in my pursuit of commitment and consistency. If you run into me, don’t hesitate to ask how the writing is going. I’ll be forced to tell it like it is. My answer today? One scene down, 32 to go. It still sounds ominous in totality, but tomorrow I only need to write one scene. That I can do.
What about you? Are you stretching yourself with a big writing goal? Comment/commit below. Consider it an important step towards making it a reality.