Fiction writer. Expert procrastinator. This is my life.

Reasons matter: a rambling essay

I’ve decided many times over that a schedule is a bad idea for me. It occurred to me today that my reason for this isn’t exactly rational: A schedule puts me in a position of having to consciously face the fact that I’m choosing not to do something I’ve already decided I need to do, something I know I need to do.

I’m undisciplined when it comes to work (tbh, I’m undisciplined about most everything in my life). Deadlines don’t help. I still don’t usually become inspired to work until the very last moment and only the most serious of consequences is enough to get me going soon enough that I’m not absolutely scrambling at the last moment to get done on time.

This makes me ill suited to the career I’ve picked for myself, I know. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it because I love earning my living by writing fiction.

I’ve tried to come up with some kind of system that doesn’t hang on goals but that’s just a mind-bending exercise in futility. You can’t have a system without goals of some kind. It’s impossible. I’ve tried to come up with a system that relies on me aiming at a targeted word count, but I keep coming back to the fact that I put it off until the end of the day and I just can’t get enough done in the time I end up with. I decided I would write until lunch every day; then I watched myself not start writing until lunch and wow, I sure produced a lot of words getting started ten minutes before I was supposed to quit (sarcasm alert!).

I’ve tried relying on my love of writing to keep me going without goals but my natural tendencies toward procrastination make that a terrible idea; I’ve failed miserably to get any appreciable amount of writing done at all without them.

But then when I set goals and I fail to meet them, I feel bad. I mean, really bad.

Setting goals based on things out of your control is never a good idea. And I can’t control my word counts. I can’t know how well the writing is going to go for any particular scene, book, day, hour, or month. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes, I delete more than I write.

It’s hard to remember that word counts are out of my control. Sure, I remember right now, but will I remember tomorrow or next week when my deadline is closing in on me? Probably not.

A word count quota is the kind of goal that feels completely rational and within my control, until I have a bad day and manage 200 words in four hours because I had to delete a ton of work and couldn’t get moving on what was left. Then I feel like I’ve failed at something that should have been easy, and even though I know rationally that this is silly, the irrational parts of me (and there are a lot of those!) do not care. In the least.

There’s only one path left for me and the only reason I have for not taking it is because I see it as a failure.

If I loved writing, wouldn’t I want to do it all the time?

I feel dumb writing that out because I’ve known for a long time that working to your passions doesn’t mean you’ll never have to make yourself work again.

I love writing. I love having written. I love publishing my books. When I’m in the mood. Sadly, I’m not in the mood as often as I should be. In fact, I’m not in the mood a whole hell of a lot of the time because I tend toward moodiness as a general rule. And yet, if anyone cares to know, writing fiction is the one thing I’ve loved almost my entire life and it irks me that there’s someone out there that’s going to read this and say: “Well, she just doesn’t love it enough or she wouldn’t have to make herself do it.”

I need a schedule and I know it. Even if I can’t stick with the schedule most of the time and even if I choose on more days than not to skip writing, at least I’ll have some framework to keep me aimed in the right direction.

A system is made up of goals and habits, and habits can form around schedules more easily than they can form around random events that occur throughout the day.

So here’s the challenge. I’m going to make a schedule. Every day will be a challenge to stick to it. I’ll probably fail more often than I succeed. Maybe if I’m lucky some good habits will develop around the times I’m supposed to be writing that will make it work over the long-term even if I have a lot of short-term failures. If not, well, how’s it any worse than what I’ve already got going on?

No more searching for the best system, no more word count quotas or goal-setting, no more excuses. It’s time to move on from all that and settle in. The remainder of 2015 is going to be the year of the schedule.

The only requirement for myself is that if I choose not to write during the times I’m supposed to write, I have to admit that to myself. It’s a choice and I need to be responsible for it.

I won’t stop myself from writing outside the scheduled times, but if I don’t write when I’m scheduled to write and end up not writing as much as I should, I want to end the day knowing I had an obligation to myself and that I chose not to meet it.

I can’t keep avoiding the one system that is guaranteed to give me the opportunity to write more just because I’ll have to face how often I choose to fail.