Thursday, 5 July 2012

Preparation 3: How to Sit Down Part 1 - Will Power

The hardest part of writing, for me, is sitting down. It shouldn't be, I know. I've been practising how to sit for years now. I also seem to do it reasonably well for my day job, I sit there for hours on end (possibly not perfectly as I keep getting headaches, but enough for the general purpose). Yet when it comes to writing, bringing myself to sit down with my laptop is often much more of a struggle than it should be.

So, I'm going to dedicate this post to looking at half of the equation for overcoming this. I thought I would start with the hard half: will power. Simply put, will power is that stuff that makes you do what you think you should when you don't feel like it. Some people appear to have amazing amounts of it and can just make themselves do whatever needs to be done. Other people appear to have none at all. I'm usually somewhere in the middle.

It appears to be a bit like fitness. If you exercise a little bit frequently, you get fitter. If you never do any exercise, anything you try to do appears amazingly hard. Therefore, I don't know about you but I want to be the person that has an ever increasing amount of will power. Maybe one day if I work at it enough I will be able to bend the world to my will, which would be sort of cool. But for now I'd be happy with the ability to just sit down and churn out 10,000 words everyday.

You might also have noticed, however, that even given your general level of will power, it seems to fluctuate greatly. Some days you can float through life saying no to any temptation, while others days it is like you are magnetically drawn to all chocolate. This, my dear friends, means you have stretched, strained, used up, dried up, and nullified your stock of will power. Yes, unfortunately it is a limited resource, and on a daily basis you can suck dry your reservoirs.

So, let us look together at ways to turn off the pumps emptying our dams in order that when we sit down to write there is a cool refreshing spring just waiting to help us. Being a theologian, I've neatly summarised it into a three point sermon. Please forgive me.

The first step is to look at the super powered pumps, those things that can empty a tank in less time than it takes for a Cadbury's ad to make you start drooling. It is the big three, like the four riders of the apocalypse, but without the horses and they appear to have eaten Death: Hunger, Stress and Sleep Deprivation. Didn't your mother ever tell you not to go shopping when you're hungry? How many times have you apologised for snapping at someone just because you were stressed or tired? Nothing kills your will power faster than these three, and so often they happen to strike all at once. To fight back is futile. The only method is pre-emptive attack! Food, sleep, relaxation. If you want will-power, you need to fit these in. (Luckily for me I've got food and sleep covered, and am working on the relaxation.)

The second step is to look at your command centre and see exactly where you are distributing your supplies. What do I mean? Prioritising, baby. You want a body like Miranda Kerr's, to be able to run a marathon, as well as being able to speak French fluently in your spare time to writing? Good luck. Unless you have the will power of Buddhist monks and are prepared to resist all temptation, it's just not going to happen. Time to look at what is sucking up your will power and decide if it is worth it.

I was reading John Maxwell's Talent Is Never Enough, that the secret to success is to work out the cost, and then just decide to pay it (and keep paying it). This is sort of part of that. To have enough will power to make myself sit down and write 10,000 words a day, I'm going to have to choose to not have other things because I can't afford the spare will power (you might also have noticed that the moment you set something as a priority, the desire to do other things even if they were themselves previously a chore is so much stronger).

I'm giving up my chance at Miranda Kerr's body, will be puffed out by walking up the stairs and I won't be turning heads of any hot French guys with my super fluent pick up lines. But I'm sort of fine with that, as long as I get to write. Though, over the next few months you will see how well I stick with that.

The final step is to stop leaks. Those things which suck away at your reservoir which don't really give you any added benefit. To give them their true name: temptations. Will power is used to overcome temptation, so obviously, reduce your temptations = increase the supply of will power. Simples.
When it comes to sitting down to write, there are plenty of temptations. The temptation to watch TV instead. The temptation to go for a walk and come back and do it later, or to have a nap, or to read, or to go do the laundry. The more things you can think of to do, the harder it will be to actually sit down and write. But you can once again take pre-emptive action against these temptations.

I've worked out my top five, and created an attack plan:

  1. No TV/Movies on work nights. I've set the rule, and I'm enforcing it by not having a TV and am helped by the fact my sister very kindly accidentally wiped my portable hard drive with all the TV series and movies I wanted to watch (blessing in disguise? Good disguise!).
  1. Can eat whatever chocolate I like but only while I type. Yes, possibly a recipe for diabetes, but getting up and getting something to eat etc. is no longer a temptation.
  1. I've got a cleaning lady. No more thinking: hmm, maybe I'll just clean the bathroom before I sit down to type. Nupe, Lilly does it for me. She comes once a fortnight for just two hours, but for my little place that's enough.
  1. No internet. I only have internet through my phone, so have to physically set it up when I want it, and it appears to turn itself off automatically if I leave it too long, so no emails popping up, etc.
  1. Live by myself. I know this is not really something most people can actually choose, but when I get home, I put the chain across my door, and know that for the rest of the evening, I'm not going to have people asking if I want to go to the movies, etc. (Previously I lived as a residential tutor at one of Melbourne Uni's colleges, and was forever being tempted away from my room. Moving out by myself was one of the best things I've done for my writing. Killed my social life, but once again: price to pay.)

And I have to admit, this system works pretty damn well. Especially compared to right now. I'm at my parents, and I know that there are about 5 TV shows I want to watch waiting, and there is also the possibility of just snoozing, or going into town and shopping. My brothers are coming up with great ideas of things we could do, and Mum would really like me to do the washing up now.
I really struggled to sit down and write today's blog. It has been much harder than all the other days at my place. Tis sad, but true. Becoming a hermit is the best way to become a writer.

So, will power secrets for those interested in any sort of success:
  1. Stop killing your will power: don't let yourself get hungry, sleep deprived or stressed.
  1. Prioritise what you want to spend your will power on to get the maximum effect.
  1. Reduce temptation to increase your stores.

Next entry I will look at the flip side of the coin: motivation.

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