How to be a better unsuccessful writer – part 1

This is the part of the show where I give unsolicited advice.

Let’s face it.  Most of the time when you’re a writer, you’re not being paid for it.  Now, like all statements of fact, this is completely biased.  I’ve been writing steadily every day for 18 months with no publications of any kind (except for that one poetry thing).

But just because you have no hope of being published, that doesn’t mean you can quit.  You *have* to write; [that’s just what you do now].  So you need to find ways to make the unhopeful slog of amateur wordslinging both rigorous and sustainable.

1. A change is as good as a break.  But don’t tweak.

My good friends at the Volen Center for Complex Systems taught me that, under certain circumstances, the brain derives as much benefit from changing a task as it does from taking a break.

Now, in the context of writing, especially amateur, shitty writing like you and I specialize in, it’s not length of session that’s the problem.  You write for a set period of time every day, as best as you can fit it in between your day jobs.  You WISH you had the problem of writing for too long a time at once.  But that PHP isn’t going to debug itself, Mr. Updike.

But the soundbite used in the title to this section can inform our decisions about what to do when you feel that writing has become A Grind.  The true artist will Stick With the Plan and tear through the friction of repetition using shear will-power and Artistic Superpowers.  But the rest of us are amateurs, whose will-power reserves are mainly consumed by tolerating the parts of our lives that aren’t writing.

What you can do is take some small aspect of your Grind and change it for some set length of time.  The change is not allowed to impede the production of physical words, nor may it be enacted for a shorter time than an entire writing session.  It must be a relatively subtle change that nonetheless alters the physical act of cranking enough that you can trick your mind into thinking you’re doing something different.

Here are some that worked for me:

  1. Pen vs. pencil.
  2. Printing vs. longhand.
  3. Longhand vs. shorthand.
    1. but only if you already know a shorthand system.  Don’t put off your actual writing to learn.
  4. Notebook vs. computer.

You’ll notice I don’t say to change your notebook.  This brings me to my point about tweaking.  Aspects like the notebook you use and the particular brand of pen or pencil that you use, these are things with almost limitless variation and depthless temptation.  They also require money and encourage great wads of “research” on the Internet.  These are all enemies of the unsuccessful writer. 

The four options I outline above are free, have a small and discrete set of options, and directly affect the physical actions associated with prose-birthing.  Aspects of writing like font size do not affect the physical actions you’re performing, so I am tempted to theorize that your brain doesn’t really know you’ve made a change.

Merlin says that you’re allowed to buy ONE (1) new notebook if you decide to become a serious writer, but you’re not allowed to buy another one until that one is filled.  I mean filled.  Fucking filled.

Next time, we’ll talk about applying your other strengths to writing, and ways of leveraging unnecessary, vestigial things like “career” and “family”.

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