Serious about finally finishing that novel this year? DON'T force yourself to make it a daily practice
If you find your executive function overtaxed by stress--or that part of your brain is feeble by nature--I recommend the opposite approach: make tedium a daily practice and your dreams an emergency.
“We make time for the things we want to do.”
“Force yourself to write five hundred words per day—you’ll have a complete draft in three months and change.”
“Break it down into small steps!”
These rank among the worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard.
At least, they’re the worst ones I’ve ever heard for me, A Neuroatypical.
They’re also terrible for people like me: those whose prefrontal cortices are, for genetic and/or lifestyle-related reasons, puny AF.
Neurologically, I am what the writer Dr. Edward Hallowell might call a Ferrari with weak brake pads. Mine is close to the ideal brain for a literary agent—obsessive, curious, restless, relentless, hyperlexic, fairness-obsessed—but boy is it terrible for completing household chores. Also personal budgeting. And staying focused during playtime with small children. Sigh.
In general, it’s not a great brain for finishing or even starting multistep, optional personal-life matters, no matter how “motivated” I am to complete them.
Take, for instance, a challenge I recently faced involving contact lenses. I wear contacts for nearsightedness. I also have several pairs of glasses, but I hate them.
I have not been to the eye doctor in more than three years. I bulk-bought three years’ worth of contacts after the last appointment, see, and who goes to the doctor just for a checkup like some snob?
A few weeks ago, however, I threw out my last monthly pair. I would not have done this if I had realized it was the last pair. My prescription is expired, so I can’t just click to reorder new ones. And I’ve switched insurance policies since my last visit to the ophthalmologist. And my old ophthalmologist doesn’t take the new one. So you know what that means: I am stuck in glasses forever.
“Make an eye appointment with a new eye doctor and go to it,” you say? Sure, sure, and then afterward, while I’m at it, why don’t I go learn vector calculus? RUDE, BERNICE.
But seriously: this task falls into the dead center of my weak spot. Until literally twenty minutes ago, I could not for the life of me get it together and solve the problem. (More in a moment on what happened twenty minutes ago.)
My…challenges…also affect my ability to complete large creative projects, no matter how “motivated” I am to complete them. Take, for instance, the novel I’ve been plotting out in my head since the very beginning of the pando: I’d love to write it out some day, but I haven’t. Not a word.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: for years, YEARS, I’ve been telling myself: some day, some day. I swear I will write that novel some day. I want to write the novel. I am lucky enough to have some time here and there after work in which I could be writing the novel. I just…haven’t.
Last night, though, the clouds started to break: I actually sat down and wrote out the plot outline I’ve been turning over in my head for years. I’m still not writing the novel, exactly, but it’s a start.
I believe I made this start thanks to a new approach I’ve been taking lately with my daily routines, schedule, and general life attitude. It’s the same mindset shift that enabled me to finally get off my ass about my contact lenses problem. And I want to share it with you in case you are stuck in a similar way, baffled by your failure to execute on a novel or other book-length project you want to write but just…aren’t.
Here’s the shift I’ve made: