LMS - Lazy Muse Syndrome - has paid you a call, and she's brought along her BFF, Procrastination. Procrastination will present you with something you'd rather do - and it has to be now, because today's the last day that movie will be showing, for example - or with just this one thing that you should do first - that phone call, maybe, which leads to another thing and another...
When or if you get through Procrastination, and bring up the page, and type "Chapter One", Lazy Muse jumps in. She'll spit out two sentences, or three paragraphs... and suddenly you find you're thirsty, or hungry, or need to pee. When you get back, there stands Procrastination, just waiting for you again.
I don't need to go on. If you're reading this, you get it. The question is, how do you get rid of it?
You tell yourself the problem is will-power, or time, or too many other commitments, but the real problem is: SIZE. Let's face it, a novel is huge: 90,000 words, 300 pages, a WHOLE BOOK - gasp! It doesn't matter if you've already written a dozen of them - or in my case eight - the very thought of starting something that size makes me hyperventilate. What if I can't do it again? What if it takes forever? Shouldn't I just do this one little thing first? If I'm going to be writing this book for the rest of my life, do I really have to start today? Why not tomorrow?
Really, the issue behind all our fears is size. Would you jump off a step stool? Would you jump off the Empire State Building? Would you talk to two people about your book? Would you like to talk in front of two thousand? Would you walk through a shadow? Would you walk through a long dark tunnel? Would you climb a hill? Would you climb Mt. Everest? It's all about proportion.
The trick is convincing yourself that this MAMMOTH, LIFE-LONG COMMITMENT is really not that big a deal. Telling yourself? Nope, convincing yourself. It has to be believable. Your inner muse isn't stupid. And if you want to convince yourself, it has to be true. So how do you turn this mountain into a series of mole-hills?
Big Business uses the mnemonic acronym SMART to reach goals. But we don't want big, right? We want SMALL. So that's the acronym I use.
S - specific. Going to a movie is specific; making a phone call is specific; writing a novel? Not so much. In order to make a task specific, you have to know exactly what it looks like, what's involved. For a writer, that means plotting. I know, some authors hate to plot. But you can't build anything without some kind of blueprint, and the clearer the blueprint, the more manageable it will seem. Remember, you're trying to convince yourself this is doable. So whether you plot a lot or a little, you need to have some idea of where this novel starts, where it's going, and where it will end. Who are the characters, what are the main plot points, how will it conclude? The more you know, the smaller the actual task of writing it will seem. Having trouble with this? Just pretend that plotting out your novel is a way of delaying writing it, and you will have Procrastination on your side!
Once you know what your novel specifically looks like, you can turn writing it into convincingly bite-sized pieces. We already do this for the readers, so they won't be daunted by the prospect of reading it - we call them chapters. So now do it for yourself. The right size of each writing chunk is very individual; you need to consider the rest of this acronym to determine what will work for you.
M - measurable. Your lazy little muse might not want a big task, but she wants a big reward, and she's not very patient, either. She needs constant affirmation. That feeling of success, of accomplishment? She's addicted. Making her wait till the whole bloody novel is written just won't work - she'll go somewhere else, where they understand her better. You have to give her a day's pay for a day's work. How will you measure a day's work? Some people say, "I'll write for this long every day." I've never found time to be a good measure of writing. I mean, does it start when you sit down, or when you actually start typing? If you take a washroom break, is that time out, or is it part of your daily hour? There are a hundred ways Procrastination can still operate while you're sitting in front of your laptop. How can your muse leave with a sense of accomplishment if she cheated?
Chapters are an option, and you can feel legitimately good about completing a chapter, but chapters differ in length. Writing is slower than reading, so writing an entire chapter (especially if you write, say, 8,000 word long chapters) every day may be unrealistic. I prefer word count or page count as a measure. It's quick and clear.
A - achievable. Here's where you take into account your personal circumstances. How much time a day can you realistically devote to this? What are your other daily obligations? Are you a fast or a slow writer? Your muse won't be happy if you never achieve your daily goal, so be honest about this. Better to aim low and feel wildly successful than to aim high and constantly fail. Remember, you're trying to convince yourself this is a SMALL doable task, not confirm your fear that it isn't.
L - length. How long will you do this for? Everything looks smaller when there's an end in sight. So when you're setting your daily rate, consider how long it'll take you to finish at that rate. Is there a deadline for completing this novel? How serious is that deadline(is it a 'like to' or a 'must'?) You might want to adjust your daily goal after considering this, but you still have to be realistic. Don't worry if the end is 10 months away - if you'd started it ten months ago, you'd be done NOW. And there will be a now. Until then, focus on each day.
L - life. Will this schedule allow you to enjoy your life? There are still movies to see and phone calls to make. The goal is not to avoid all temptation. Temptation is great - I succumb to it regularly. The most important trait that creative people share is a sense of playfulness.
That fun thing you want to do? That half-hour of daydreaming you feel guilty about? I guarantee you, you won't write anything if you don't make time for them.
There you have it. A SMALL task awaits you. You can get today's chunk done before that movie begins, and still have time to make the phone call! So go to your laptop right now and type in: CHAPTER ONE.