Saying vs. Doing, or, the Art of Psychologically Manipulating Yourself

How are those new year’s resolutions going? I hope you’re all clinging to yours like gum to the underside of a chair. (Ew, gross analogy, sorry)

Now that it’s nearly April, I assume most people who waxed poetic about “new year, new me” have long since fallen off the bandwagon and are back to their old habits. I, however, am 98% on track with my goals for this year so far. No one knows it but me, because I refuse to announce my goals and resolutions.

Why is that, you say? Why do you hate new year’s resolutions? Why don’t you tell anyone what yours are?

I don’t hate new year’s resolutions, I just can’t keep them if I announce them to anyone. If I tell anyone my goals, I won’t accomplish them. It’s a basic tenet of my personality. It’s actually a basic tenet of human nature. There have been numerous studies done on the topic. One study notes: “Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.” (PDF here)
In English: Y’all tell people you’re gonna do something, and suddenly you feel like you’ve already accomplished your goal because other people know about it.
And then you don’t do it. Because you already feel accomplished.

As writers, we can’t afford to make this mistake. Writing is hard enough without human nature interfering with our goals.

Being a productive writer requires a stupid amount of discipline, and discipline requires self-awareness. You have to reflect on your own habits and behaviors. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. No one else is going to, and if you claim that telling 172 people on Facebook that you intend to write a novel will help you write a novel, that’s just a lie you tell yourself to justify the feeling of false accomplishment described above. Aunt Sally on Facebook will not help you achieve your goals. Aunt Sally probably never even achieved her own goals. Don’t rely on Aunt Sally to keep you going on your writing. You are the only one who can do that.

Basically, being a writer requires you to be psychologically manipulative… to yourself.

You have to pay attention to yourself. Figure out how your own mind works – know what motivates and depresses your creativity, what time you’re most productive and under what circumstances, what you have to tell yourself in order to get results, what music helps and what doesn’t, know how other people can affect your productivity and adjust your interactions accordingly.

To me it’s almost a game.

You have to trick yourself, psychologically condition yourself like Pavlov and his dogs – ring a bell and the writer puts 100 words on the page! Tell yourself that if you don’t write every single day, the sky will fall, an army of vicious aliens will invade the planet, the sun will go supernova. Whatever works for you. But you have to figure it out. You have to pay attention to your own psychology. And talking about how much writing you’re going to accomplish does not help you accomplish it.

Here are a few things I’ve found that work for me:

  1. Self-talk. When I find myself dilly-dallying, especially out of some sense of anxiety (starting a new story, starting edits, avoiding a difficult-to-write scene), I have a little chat with myself – sometimes out loud, sometimes not. My self-talk is, erm, more along the lines of drill sergeant than encouraging momma. I have to be harsh with myself or I’ll take advantage of my own lenience. (i.e., “LISTEN, YOU STUPID BITCH. WRITE YOUR FUCKING STORY OR YOU WILL DROWN IN SELF-LOATHING, AND YOU WILL BE MISERABLE.” “ugh okay, you’re right, self”)
  2. Plan/Schedule. If you work a regular dayshift job, it’s easy to fall into a kind of slump in the evenings. You work all day, get home, you’re tired, you just kinda… meh, do whatever, watch TV or something. I tell myself every day, “I have to write tonight.” Or if you have something to do after work, “All right, I should be home around 9, I’ll write for half an hour and then watch an episode of whatever and then go to bed.” Work it into your daily schedule. It doesn’t have to be a huge time sink. If you write one sentence, you’re doing better than if you write nothing. But make it part of your daily schedule. If you want to take it seriously, treat it with as much responsibility as you do your actual paying day job.
  3. Frequent Small Goals + Reward System. Dangling a proverbial carrot in front of my own face does tend to work. I typically reward myself with food and breaks. I set small, daily goals in addition to my overall goals. That’s a tactic I learned from running for fun – when you think you can’t do it, pick a small landmark, a tree or pole or pot hole, and say, “I just need to get to that.” Once you get to that, pick a new one. Before you know it, you’ve run 3 miles. In a writing context, your overall goal may be to write a novel, but setting a small, achievable goal such as 500 words a day, or thirty minutes of writing, can help keep the sense of accomplishment alive so you don’t get discouraged. I like to set goals with rewards such as, “If I finish my short story tonight, I will make brownies tomorrow.” or “If I finish my novel draft by Friday, I will marathon the Lord of the Rings movies on Saturday.”

I will put a caveat here: As writers/bloggers/artists who maintain our own social media presence, sometimes we have to talk about our plans. You have to have content for your feeds, you have to keep your audience interested and updated on what you’re doing. I still advise you not to talk about what you’re going to do, but rather what you are doing and what you have done. Mentioning your future plans is okay occasionally as long as you still have actual content to share just as often (or more often).

Here are a few articles with interesting tips to trick your mind into being more productive and better focused. They are kind of generalized or intended for office work, but it can easily be applied to writing as well: Six Lazy Ways to Trick Your Brain into Being Productive, 5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Being Productive When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and How to Trick Yourself Into Doing Tasks You Dread.

For more specific writing-related motivation, Camp NaNoWriMo starts this Saturday, April 1! Camp NaNoWriMo is kind of like normal NaNoWriMo, except that you can set your own goal, and you get to join a “cabin” of up to 19 other writers who will help encourage each other. If you’re not sure if you should participate, 1) yes you should, 2) maybe my blog post about NaNoWriMo will convince you.

Do you guys have any tips or tricks you use to keep yourself on task?

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leighmlorentz

As yet unpublished author of m/m romance.

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