Thursday, July 22, 2010

Asking Nicely: The Problem of Willpower.

Today in Scientific American I read an interesting article about the paradox of willpower, and how sometimes the more determined you are to do something, the less likely you are to do it.

The article provides a wonderful little trick for writers: Instead of sitting down and sternly ordering yourself to write 10 pages today, sit down with the attitude that you're open to writing as many pages as you can. In other words, instead of telling yourself "I will," ask yourself, "Will I?" This little trick could turn out to be my saving grace.

My agent has managed to negotiate the kind of deal for me that doesn't come along too often in a writer's life, and I need to make the most of it. It's a three book deal for a science fiction series that we've now tentatively titled The Star Chasers. I have about a year to come up with a 400 page sequel, and I'm finding the task somewhat daunting. This is the first time in my career that I'll be dealing with this kind of pressure.

I was just at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference, an intimate little gathering in the heart of the Tetons where lots of writers, agents and editors come together to talk about writing. One of the speakers was Craig Johnson, who turned out to be one of the funniest writers I've ever heard speak. Mr. Johnson, who is a bona fide Wyoming cowboy including shit-kickers and sweat-stained straw hat, turns out a mystery series that enjoys much critical acclaim and a wide audience. He is quite familiar with the concept of writing a whole lot in a short amount of time. After his talk I raised my hand and I asked him timidly, "How do you deal with all that pressure?" 

He said very wryly, "If you think that sitting on your butt and writing every day is pressure, then you've never had a real job."

In other words, I'm so very lucky to be a writer who actually gets paid for my work, complaining about the "pressure" really is quite unbecoming. Some people dig ditches for a living. Some people hack their way into burning buildings. They don't worry about being in touch with their creative process. They just do it.

But now I feel I've contradicted myself. Which do I do? Ask my subconscious brain nicely to please come up with 400 pages by my deadline a year from now? Or do I tell the whiny parts of me to shut up and be grateful that I'm not still doing dictation for a living?

Whichever it is, I need to get back to work.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. I'll try asking myself nicely now. And good luck on finishing that sequel. That's a fabulous book deal.
    Happy writing,