November 1, 2013

Accountability and Good Times

by Bryan Johnston in Creativity, Life, Writing2 Comments

Minute Read

OK. Here’s the situation. My parents went away on a week’s vacation…whoops. No. That’s not quite right. Not where I meant to go with that, so let me try again…

Today is November 1. Many of you might already know that it’s also Day 1 of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, NaNoWriMo is an annual “competition” where people pledge to write a 50,000 word novel, from scratch, between the first and thirtieth of November. If you do, you win. Kudos all around!

And why is that the subject (or sub-subject, at least) or my latest post? Well, my fine feathered friends and family (Hi Dad!), I have rather foolishly decided to participate this year. Yup…50,000 words, one month, no excuses. And the next question you might be asking is “Why on earth would anyone put themselves through that special kind of hell?!”. Simple. Creative habit.

I’ve been struggling a lot with this idea. Scratch that. It’s not the idea that is troubling me. It’s the execution. Read through a few of my past posts and you’ll see what I mean. The basic idea is popping up repeatedly in blogs that I read…from Zen Habits to Artist Think (created by my friend and artist, Carrie Brummer).

I’m stuck in this vicious and crushing cycle of wanting to be more creative – of actually staking my livelihood on it and writing – and not being able to because of my own crap. I don’t write enough, feel bad about that, and then fall in to a funk which means I write even less. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It’s exhausting and, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Making a new habit is rather simple when you approach it the right way. It can be just a few steps, and those steps can make all the difference.

  1. Commit to the habit/change you want to make. You need to go whole hog here, folks. No half-ass, wishy-washy promises. Make it real. And make it doable (this one is crucial…too many of us make the mistake of setting a goal that is next to impossible to accomplish. Baby steps, people!).
  2. It’s all about the accountability, baby! Making a silent promise to yourself is one thing, but it’s easy to break. No harm, no foul, right? BUT…create some serious consequences for falling short, and the game becomes a whole lot more interesting. Broadcast your intentions to the whole world. Post it online. Brag about it in advance. Make a sizable bet with a friend. Promise to do all the household chores for several months if you fail. Instruct your friends to give you never-ending shit if you don’t follow through. Now…try and break that promise. A lot tougher, eh?
  3. Create a trigger. It’s way too easy to keep putting it off. Tomorrow never quite gets here. So set a D-Day to start and stick to it as though your life depends on it…and if you set up #2 properly (accountability), it just might.
  4. Just do it. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But enough with the excuses. Whatever the habit is, find the time EACH day to do it. Get up earlier. Stop watching television (or at least cut down). Stay up 15 minutes later. The time is there. Find it.
  5. Celebrate the little victories. And they should be all little victories at this point. It goes back to what I was saying about making the goal doable. Quitting smoking is damn hard (been there, done that), but not having a cigarette today is easier. Writing a novel is monumental, but writing 1700 words today? Not so much. It’ll probably even be fun. Baby steps, and then party like it’s 1999 when you hit them.

That’s it. When we set ourselves up for success – break down the goals and habits we want to create – you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish.

To that end, I am setting myself up for success in regards to my desired creative habit. I want to write more. Every day. I don’t want to care about the quality at this stage. I don’t want to edit. I don’t want to think about whether it’s the next Harry Potter. I just want it to be. To exist. So here’s my game plan…

  1. I will write a novel this NaNoWriMo. Starting at zero – and with no idea what it will be about just yet – I will have 50,000 words by November 30.
  2. I am telling everyone I know about this. Facebook friends. My Twitter peeps. Google+ circles. Family. Friends. And any one else who stumbled across this post. I will write a novel this month. Ask me about it. Call me on this on December 1.
  3. I start today. November 1. No plot. No idea. But a belief that it will come, and the characters will lead the way. It might (probably?) suck, but that’s not the point. By the end of the month, I will have created my habit. Yay me!
  4. Just do it. Well, ok then. I will.
  5. To reach 50,000 words by the end of November, I need to hit a minimum of 1667 words per day. That’s my doable goal, and every day that I hit it will be a magnificent day. I may do my happy dance. I may even post video.

I’m facing an uphill battle here. I’m still trying to get my new business off the ground, but I figure it’s time to get serious about this. I left teaching because I wanted to write. I left Dubai because I wanted to write. I have all these ideas swirling around like some insane twister, and I’m tired of being afraid to fail. Who cares if my novel this month is not the next big thing (it won’t be…just preparing you in advance)? I will have written a novel. A bad one, maybe. But a novel.

And hopefully, the first of many. November 1. Go time.


Bryan Johnston

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.

International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a university sophomore, an eleven-month old charmer, & the two best doggos. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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