Prosing On

When your writing practice falls apart, go camping.

Woman sitting on a mountainside writing.
Photo by Tyler Nash via Unsplash

I have a confession. I’m a lapsed writer. Writing used to be my preferred daily activity, and then it was a burden. My day-to-day responsibilities eclipsed any motivation to write. My kids needed me. A part time job and a side gig ate up hours like Pac-Man eats ghosts. I had a new puppy to train and two other dogs who wanted my attention, a husband who liked my company, and a million other little things that vied for my attention. I unceremoniously shoved writing aside.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Not writing made me feel ill but not enough to do anything about it besides take a nap to avoid the feeling and the writing I could be doing. Looking at my student loan balance would spur me to reconsider my resistance every month, and I’d make desperate attempts at stifling the guilt with motivational books and well-intentioned courses about creating successful writing practices. I can’t say I jumped right back on the wagon, enthusiasm as my travel companion—novel, ho! No, I felt worse than before. It was painfully apparent I’d jumped off the wagon and let it drive off without me.

When my inevitable pity party cleared out, I took a look at the empty fro yo containers, balled up tissues, and worn out excuses and realized enough was enough. Wallowing wasn’t going to make me a writer of anything besides mediocre country songs. That was definitely not the writing legacy I’d intended.

I can fix it

The 8-bit Fix It Felix grabbing his hammer under the flashing words "I can fix it!"
Me, too, Felix!

(Re)building a habit can be daunting. Especially when there is a baggage train a mile long attached. I needed a familiar space to make the transition and as luck would have it, Camp NaNoWriMo was right around the corner. I’ve done Camp several times with varying degrees of success over the last 5 years, but it has features that make it ideal for my plan to cobble together a spiffy new wagon to ride.

Flexibility
Not only can I choose what type of project I want to work on for Camp, I can choose the metric for success, too. I am not obligated to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel like for NaNoWriMo in November. That would be too big a project to start with (I shudder at the thought). Since carving out time for myself to write is my biggest obstacle, I’m choosing to track hours. One hour a day is the minimum I will log for this particular project. I’m not counting the writing I do for my business as it is a whole different animal.

As for what I’ll be writing for Camp NaNo hour, well, when I feel like my writing practice is in ruins, I tend to go back to my roots. Much as I love writing fiction, my heart belongs to nonfiction feature writing and has since college. I do have several short story ideas filed away, but the topic I’ve been researching and ruminating over is bout women and waiting. Not writing it would undermine the whole idea of it. I can’t let that happen.

Accountability

My main reason for loving Camp NaNo, though, is the built-in public accountability. I see my successes and failures getting to my personal goal in a handy chart. There’s also the sense of responsibility to my cabin mates because we share a group goal, which can also be seen. It’s harder for me to be accountable solely to myself. I loathe dropping the ball if I think others are counting on me, and that can be motivation enough to get me in my chair.

It’s not only the accountability to others that is helpful, it’s the the moral support of cabin mates (all of whom are my friends). I find joy in encouraging other writers, and having several sympathetic pairs of ears who also won’t let me off the hook makes for a safe harbor when things get tough, which they inevitably do.

Thanks for the clarification, Stark.
Thanks for the clarification, Stark.

Boundaries

When your household is full like mine (there’s always someone home besides me), setting and reinforcing boundaries is crucial to getting work done and your sanity. We are all notoriously bad at respecting my boundaries. Ask my 13-year-old dog. He could teach a class on how to disrupt Mom.

For this round of Camp I’m scheduling my writing for the morning, whereas in the past I just wrote whenever. I’m not an early riser by nature, but my dogs are, so I’m taking advantage of their routine to help me build a solid habit of my own. Latching mine to theirs makes the transition bearable.

I also need boundaries because I do have a social media habit like the rest of the world. I switch my phone to airplane mode, close my internet browsers, and make sure I have my tea and a snack handy so I’m not tempted to get up. Having a sleepy dog snuggling beside me on the couch where I write doesn’t hurt either.

I’m not breaking new ground here, I know. Everyone has different writing needs and routines. I’m sharing my approach as another alternative that may spark ideas for writers also struggling with (re)creating a practice. I’ve done everything I can to set myself up for success, and two days in, I feel like I’ve made good choices. I expect to hit bumps in the road, but they won’t be anything I haven’t come across before. I’ll report back at the end of the month to share how this experiment went.

Tell me in the comments below about your own writing practice and what you do when it falls apart. I’m sure other writers would love to hear viewpoints about how to fix a broken writing practice besides mine.

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