The Games We Play
A couple of years ago, I really wanted to finish the manuscript I was working on. I’d hit the part of the year when my day job threatens to take over every waking moment, and between that and family responsibilities, I was finding it almost impossible to make time for words. As it always is when the writing gets dropped, it was a matter of not making that work as much of a priority as I should have. But however I manage to tumble into the non-writing state, inertia is a terrible thing. When I get out of the habit of writing nearly every day for any reason, getting back into it is a frightening and difficult prospect.
So, like most writers I know, I play games with myself to trick me into slipping back into the writing groove. With the right mind games, I can dodge the reluctance, sneak around the block, and find ways to make writing time my top working-hours priority once again.
On that particular occasion, into that awful state of inertia and frustration came salvation in the form of the whip-cracking, tights-wearing, excuse-rejecting author kc dyer. Her solution then, custom-made to fit my life at the time but easily adaptable for anyone, is the very best writing motivation tool I have ever encountered for fitting writing into a busy life.
Have you ever played the dice game Yahtzee? It’s a game of chance and of choice, really. You roll the dice, and when you see what lands, you choose which part of your score card to mark. As the game progresses, the goal is to fill every box on the score sheet. The good thing about Yahtzee is that even if you have a crappy roll, there’s somewhere on the score sheet to fit it in and get some credit for it.
kc applied the same principle to creating a writing schedule for me. Gone was the idea that I had to write a daunting, specific number of words every day. Instead, for each month between when she made the schedule and my self-imposed deadline for finishing the draft, she’d offered a grid of choices. There were 500 word days, 750 word days, 1000 word days, 1500 word days, and even days off, fewer in less busy months, more in months when an extra day off would mean the difference between sanity and insanity, success and failure.
My instructions were clear: print the schedule and put it up where I could see it from my computer. Every day, mark off with a highlighter whatever writing I managed to get done that day, or use up one of my precious days off.
This deceptively simple tool made all the difference. With the chart staring at me from behind my screen, it was almost impossible not to convince myself that I could manage at least 500 words so I could colour in a box that day and save days off for when I really needed them. Sometimes, I’d push 500 to 750 or 1000 to save the 500 for a worse writing day, so it would always be there for the “Come on; I can do a measley 500 words” conversation with myself.
It didn’t hurt that my daughter, then eleven, jumped on the schedule bandwagon, becoming the daily word police, pushing me to stick to it. Her efforts, as well as my knowledge that she was watching me and would know if I put the work in to accomplishing my dreams or didn’t bother (a particularly motivating truth for parents, I think), made it impossible for me to ignore the schedule hanging there.
I finished the draft.
And now, with this year’s conference behind me and the need to once again find a better balance that favours writing over other tasks, I’ve printed out a new schedule for the coming months. Here’s a peek at what it looks like in its spot of honour on the bulletin board right behind my computer.
It works for me; maybe it’ll work for you, too. Try it.