There's nothing inherently wrong with SLAKE, according to feedback I've received from you guys. But it focuses on writing craft (and, to some extent, the business of writing), on quality, not quantity. Personally, I have spent 2018 and 2019 really struggling to make time to write, and keep those writing appointments, and then write productively during those times. Since beginning my own novel, I have heard more and more writers—both fiction and nonfiction— confess how difficult it is to really focus and be productive during their writing times.
As a writing coach, I have a toolbox full of ways to elicit productivity. I've talked and written about the "click-whirr routine," writing prompts, accountability and check-in discussion, self-talk and identifying resistance, and the crucial role of research, and many more. But none of my own tools really worked for me, and some didn't even feel available to me: how can I "call my writing coach" if I am the one who is the writing coach?
I often tell my academic clients that "approximately one hundred percent of the time, a lack of prewriting is why you don't know what to write." So when I sat down to write my novel and wasn't able to write, one hundred percent of the time I defaulted to prewriting: setting development, character development, theme development, plot mapping, scientific research, story outlining and tweaking and fiddling until I had such a complex plot/subplot tapestry that the dang manuscript easily would have run 200,000 words... if I had been able to write it.
I knew what I needed to write. Each plot and character arc was in place. Every story beat was outlined. But despite my previous writing experience, despite absorbing centuries of wisdom about rhetoric and story, composition and communication... I just could not make myself do the thing. Not consistently enough to have any hope of finishing it in my lifetime, anyway.
I was stuck.
Until one day I noticed a profound connection between my meager writing and my previous difficulty with physical health.
Back in 2011, a dear friend of mine pulled me out of a physically-erosive workaholic sinkhole and onto a Crossfit-focused health and fitness regimen that I still maintain. I rehearsed to myself the reasons why I needed Crossfit, the reasons why trying to work out on my own had never gone well... and it struck me how closely my failed fitness attempts matched my failed writing attempts.
I would frustrate myself by not challenging myself enough...
I would injure myself by trying something too challenging...
I would unbalance myself by developing some things but neglecting others, unable to find a mix and a consistency that led to overall fitness...
Worst of all, I would do it all on my own, succeeding for brief periods before lapsing back into struggles with priorities and preparation and performance that undid all the good that my previous efforts might have begun. Alone I congratulated myself when I did something right. Alone I castigated myself when, more often than not, I failed again. Alone, I often forgot even to try.
Crossfit changed all that. The workouts were always changing, but over time, averaged out to develop whole-body capacity in all ten aspects of fitness. Someone who understood all that created those workouts. Someone who understood all that coached me in each movement and workout. And when I could not do the workout as prescribed—pretty much my first three years of Crossfit!—someone taught me how to scale the movements so that I could do the workout at my own level of ability. But most important of all, Crossfit added three kinds of structure to my life that, together, made possible the progress that had eluded me for decades:
- Specific weekly times: I could choose a time that worked best for me, but they had a schedule and I had to commit to it. There was something I had to show up to, at a specific time and place.
- Specific monthly cost: I was paying money for this, a significant amount of money per month. The more often I attended those workouts, the less cost per workout. Missing a workout felt like robbing myself of something valuable—which had always been true. But this time I was paying for that value.
- Specific persons expecting me: I got to know my fellow Crossfitters, and the coaches too. I liked them. They liked me. I didn't want to disappoint them. Working out with them helped me focus and work harder since we were all striving together to reach our goals, despite how greatly our goals might differ (the fellow who cheered the most for my first-ever 200lb one-rep max deadlift was using that weight for his warm-up sets).
Now, Crossfit itself wasn't the secret sauce. Any similarly supportive structure would have helped me back to physical health: Orange Theory covers all those bases just as well as Crossfit. So would a devotion to a particular club team sport, like basketball or ultimate frisbee or roller derby—anything that demands a specific time commitment and financial commitment, and offers a team of compatriots who strive with you, who will miss you if you don't show up, who will call you on your sandbagging.
Having a coach is a great bonus: someone who understands the sport and who can give you helpful feedback to improve your game. But just for the sake of showing up and throwing down, the coach is optional. The time, price, and team is not optional.
I'm sure you've already guessed the application of all this to writing. PRESS, a productivity-focused writers' group, has been meeting informally since late November, and we are ready to make it an official writers group this month. PRESS will:
- meet at least weekly, eventually scaling up to twice or three times per week (depending on demand).
- include at least two 45-minute writing sprints per meeting...
- ...followed by a debriefing time in which we talk about ways to improve our writing speed.
- eventually, someday, cost a flat monthly rate of $60 retail no matter how often you attend.
- definitely help you PRESS AHEAD in your word count and meet your writing deadlines!
PRESS will continue to be free for the month of January at least, and you'll lock in a lower price if you join early. I'm still in the Sierra Nevadas on vacation with my family, but once I get back to LA, I'll put together the January & February schedule for PRESS, and for SLAKE too. Early-bird rates will be announced once I have a better idea of projected costs... maybe not until March 2020. Did I mention that PRESS may be offered in various locations around the Southland, not just at the Wordsmith office? Exciting stuff!
I'm thrilled with PRESS because it's something that I need in order to improve my writing productivity and finish my novel. It has already proven its effectiveness for me! I hope it will prove amazingly effective for you too.
Grace, strength, and tremendous productivity to you in 2020!
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