My friend Keith told me something that’s helped him write more lately:
[...]for the past few days I’ve really tried to write at least 15 minutes every day. Once I get started, I just crank it out. [...] In the past month I’ve thought about it and opened Marsedit over and over, looked over my drafts, and not wanted to write on any particular one, so I didn’t that day. But when I have to do 15 minutes, I find that I can pick any of my drafts, and when I force the words out, suddenly I do want to write on that topic. [Emphasis mine - rew]
The idea that simply committing beforehand to write for X minutes creates the desire to write more seems counterintuitive (to me, anyway). Yet there are certainly a lot of good writers who say that’s the secret (or the main part of it). Yet it seems so hard, if you’re not doing it right then to believe that it could be so simple. I guess it’s because, while simple, it’s not easy. It’s doubly pernicious because the whole reason I can’t seem to get started is that I don’t want to right now. The fact that if I’d get started, then I’d want to is sort of beside the point.
There are other things besides writing that work that way for me. For instance, some days I really, really don’t want to work out. Yet even on those days, the moment after I start, I no longer want to quit until I’ve done every single rep of every single exercise. It’s not some great expenditure of will power at that point; finishing every step is what I want to do. The critical moments all are in the lead-up to the one where I actually begin.
Right up to very first step on the stepper or first lift, my brain is all abuzz with excellent reasons this would be a good day to skip it.
Now there’s no reason at all why the first rep of the first exercise should change my state of mind. If it was a good day to skip before, it should be a good day to skip after the first step. I’m not jacked up on endorphins, I’m not tired or sweating yet, not pumped up or let down or anything. Yet the moment I’ve started, I no longer want to quit. To get finished, sure, but not to quit.
Now, it’s possible that’s deeply-ingrained training from way back in some day when I had coaches who beat that into my head. If so, I’m grateful (again) for having had people teach me that. But I think it may be something more fundamentally human and psychological. I don’t think I’m alone in it, and I don’t think it’s purely the outcome of someone yelling at me regularly not to quit many years ago. I dunno.
The thing that seems to change is whether it’s hard to do something. Keith said that once he gets started writing, the desire to keep writing follows on its own. I find the same thing with my workout. The fact that I don’t want to right now doesn’t mean that I won’t want to once I get started.
The trick seems to be training my rational mind enough to force my emotional mind to just have a little faith that once I start, I’ll be doing what I want to do if I’ll just dive in.