Dear Beautiful People,
For the first time in several months, I achieved my goal of writing 1,000 words a day on my work-in-progress this week. Most mornings, I didn't want to do it. I had other things to do - things that pay me money and aren't as hard - but I did it. Each time, it took me less than 30 minutes - I draft very quickly because I've practiced for years, but my revision process is quite slow - and when I was done, I felt great because I wasn't going to be carrying the burden of disappointment and guilt I feel when I don't write.
For me, writing is a calling, a vocation, my life's work, if you can bear that level of grandioseness and not think it some sort of April Fool's Day joke.( I assure you, I'm serious.) So when I'm not using it, I feel a bit like that servant from the parable who buries the money in the dirt. I don't like that feeling.
Over many years of practice, after reading many books on writing, through listening to many friends who are further down the path of words than I am, I have learned that a real key to writing is discipline, a regimented putting-of-the-butt-in-the-chair. I don't believe in inspiration. I believe in hard work, in showing up, in facing the page as often as possible to get the writing done.
But I also believe in grace. I believe that it's far more detrimental to my mental health if I walk around on the days I don't write feeling shameful about what I haven't done. I know that shame is too heavy a weight to bear when I need lightness to create. I am certain that no good - and almost no writing - comes from feeling weighed down by what didn't happen.
So here's how I keep the teeter-tooter of discipline and grace for myself. (By the way, I am coming to think of balance as shifty, not something you pin down forever like a beautiful butterfly, but something we dance through during the various days and periods of our life. Hence, the teeter-totter metaphor.)
· I have a regular goal for writing. For me, that's 1,000 words a day five days a week. That goal is achievable for me on a daily basis.
· I have a regular writing time for each of those five days. Right now, that time is 6am because I can wake at 5, do a little reading, write, check email, and then feed the farm animals. That time will shift as the sunrise moves earlier this summer.
· I give myself time off. I don't write on weekends. That's my farm time, my time with Philip, my time to binge-watch Firefly. My time with family and friends. If I'm making space for things I love sometimes, I don't tend to skimp on writing, which I don't always love, the other times.
· I look ahead to how I will make this time given what's happening in the rest of my life. If I know I'm traveling - as I as this week - I evaluate whether or not I'll still be able to write that 1,000 words. If I don't see it as possible, I scratch that day off my calendar. But just that day. By looking ahead at what might make my goals hard to achieve, I give myself the space to not hit the goal that day without derailing myself with guilt for many days.
· When I miss a writing day unexpectedly, I look at why that happened as soon and as honestly as possible. Sometimes, I just don't get it done, and so when that happens, I take stock right away. Did an emergency arise? Was I sick? Or did I make choices that got in the way? If this was about choice, why did I make that choice? Am I okay with that choice? And if not, what will I do to make better choices to allow for my writing next time? I find that 90% of my missed writing days were my choice, and most of those choices I would like to not make again. So I adjust my schedule or my practices - like this week, I committed to not looking online until my 1,000 words were done. It worked well for me.
For you right now, 5 days a week may not be possible; 1,000 words may be too little or too much. Mornings may not work. You have to find what works for you.
I believe you have to make a goal and set a schedule that work for you, and then do all you can to keep to it. And I believe this is possible for everyone most of the time. You may be tempted to say that because you work a lot of hours you can't set a goal or schedule, or because you have young children you can't keep a schedule, or because you have a chronic illness you can't make a goal or keep a schedule, or because your second toe is longer than your big toe schedules don't work for you. I get it. Life is hard for all of us a lot of the time and in a lot of ways.
Here's the thing though - people have written books while raising young children. People have written books while working to make partner at a law firm and working 18-hour days. People have written books while battling cancer for their lives. The way they do that may not be as fast as I do in my childfree, write-for-a-living daily life (which has it's own griefs and challenges, I assure you), but they do it. And they do it by committing, by practicing, by prioritizing, and by giving themselves the grace to say, "Today was not the day, but I'll try again tomorrow."
So here's my NO FOOLIN' challenge for you.
· Make a weekly writing goal.
· Set a weekly schedule for achieving that goal.
· Celebrate when you meet your schedule.
· Evaluate when you don't and let the "didn't" go.
· Try again the next day.
What do you say? Are you in?
Excerpted from Love Letters To Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling by Andi Cumbo-Floyd – Forthcoming on November 14, 2017.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, 3 rabbits, and 37 chickens. You can read more of her words on writing at andilit.com.