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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Heavy Lifting

Willpower, the ability to grit your teeth and make it through the tough stuff, is something that comes in handy in life. They say willpower is limited, a finite resource that you need to allocate appropriately. Once you've used up your willpower reserves, don't expect to sit down and crank out your taxes. Try again tomorrow. Your willpower tank has been tapped dry. This all might be true, but here's what I don't see them* saying: willpower is also a skill that you can develop, a muscle that you can train. Best yet, it's a transferable skill. The strength of will developed in the heat of the fire can be used for any number of things: getting through a hard work day, crunching through the editing process or powering through that final set of deadlifts.

Here's something you may not know about me: I am a fitness fanatic.

No, not like a green smoothie drinking, gluten free, yoga-going vegan type.** I mean, I love kale as much as the next girl***, but I'm just too tomboy for all that. I'm never going have my feet standing on my own head while I execute a perfect scorpion pose. I'm a boxing, powerlifting, macro-dieter. I get my 100+grams of protein every day, drink water by the bucketful, and try to be the most badass version of myself that I can manage.

I will admit, though, that occasionally my fitness routine includes something like this:

Notice that my legs can't even hit 90 degrees.
As I said, I'm not so good at the yoga stuff.
I know I have stated many times that I do not believe in the work-through-the-pain, a little bit at a time writing philosophy. And I don't. So what I'm about to say is going to seem like a huge contradiction.

When it comes to the novel-crafting process, sometimes you just have to strap yourself in, bite a pencil, and force yourself to get the work done.

Allow me to explain and defend myself. I am not a flip-flopper. There are different types of writing. There's the inspired, muse-gifted writing where everything just seems to pour out when it will. This is your first draft, the bulk of the words and story, and I am completely against toying with this process with forced writing and a-little-bit-at-a-time-ness. In this part of the process, I believe in letting the words flow when they're available, and embracing the pauses too. Let the ebb and flow happen. Don't force it now, because you're going to have plenty of that to do later.

Because after that first bit, after the floodgates have been opened and you've rafted your way to the first draft finish line -- well, now the ride is over, and it's time to drag your raft back up river. It's time to edit.

This is where all that training comes into play. I don't care how you work and build your willpower muscle: actual exercise, schedule making, a tidy home -- pick what suits you -- but I do hope you've been working on it. Because it's a long trek up river, and -- well would you look at that -- it's uphill too.

In the sand.

With a headwind.

And the raft is magically 50 lbs heavier than it was before.

Not to overdo it, but that's what editing is like. It's slow. It's deliberate. And it is exhausting.

The same way you train for a marathon, you need to train for the editing process and put yourself in the right conditions to be successful. You wouldn't run a marathon in a pair of kitten heels, don't sit down to edit without the proper tools for success. Find the environment that inspires you to focus. This isn't the whimsical inspiration coming down on beams of sunlight or blinking as light bulbs over our heads. This is the inspiration you use to study for exams, to create those final slides for the big presentation your have to do tomorrow. It's the inspiration that tells us to work. To ignore the world, to focus and to get shit done.

In combination, willpower and the right type of inspiration will get you through the laborious editing process. What does this look like for me?

I develop willpower through fitness. I strive to punch harder, to lift heavier. I plan ahead, I always know what I'm going to be doing and I follow a strict routine. When I'm editing, I take a red pen, my color-coded Excel doc and a hard copy of the pages I will be working on and plan to get through during that session, and I sit in a cafe. I drink my Americano. I work for an hour and get as much done as I can. I head back to my computer and I type up my progress. I schedule at least 3 of these sessions each week on my lunch break. I vary, sometimes. I'll find myself in the mood to edit during off hours, or find myself in situations where a cafe and an Americano aren't readily available. So I adapt. Sometimes you have to wash your favorite sports bra -- does that mean you skip training? Sometimes it storms, are you going to say "not today" or will you hop on a treadmill?

But here's the other secret to willpower, and training, and gritting your teeth, and powering through:

Sometimes you need to take a break and do something stupid.

Train, but don't overtrain. If it's all work all the time, you will get fed up. You will want to quit. Before you get to this point, before you give up completely -- choose to stop. Make a plan to take a break and see what else you can do. Maybe the muse is holding out her hand again, asking you to go somewhere new and exciting with her. Go ahead -- see where she takes you. Because when you plan to take a break, you know when you'll be back. Doing something outside of your routine, knowing that it won't ruin you or what you're doing. So you're a powerlifter training for competition -- well sometimes you just want to play around in a silk hammock and pretend you're an acrobat.  And that's okay. Because after you've had fun twirling around and looking a little ridiculous, your routine is still there waiting for you, your progress isn't any less progressed, and your willpower muscle is well-rested and ready to go. 

This is my path to success. I'm going to stick to it.And according to my fortune cookie last night, it's working.

*You know who I mean: THEM.
**If you are this type, then you do you. I'm not hating. 
***Okay, possibly more. I actually really love kale.

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