Non-negotiable

This post is for a good friend and writing buddy who first introduced me to the incredible writing blog of Alexandra Sokoloff. I recently bought Sokoloff’s Kindle edition of Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!), which I highly recommend. Although most of the information in the book is available on her blog, having it all in one place and for a terrific price makes the book a steal (and if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the reader for your PC for free).

cover of Screenwriting Tips for AuthorsThe following section of the book, from the chapter “Your First Draft Is Always Going to Suck,” was a mini-lifesaver last night:

“Even though you will inevitably end up writing on projects that should be abandoned, you cannot afford to abandon any project. You must finish what you start, no matter how you feel about it. If that project never goes anywhere, that’s tough, I feel your pain. But it happens to all of us. You do not know in the middle of the anguish and despair that is writing if you are going to be able to pull it off or not. The only way you will ever be able to pull it off is to get in the unwavering, completely non-negotiable habit of JUST DOING IT.

Your only hope is to keep going. Sit your ass down in the chair and keep cranking out your non-negotiable minimum number of daily pages, or words, in order, until you get to the end.

This is the way writing gets done.”

Yesterday was a productive day. I spent almost all day on a non-fiction writing project, one with a deadline and that I was able to finish early. I spent some time catching up on emails. I resubmitted a short story that had just come back. After supper, I had some time before my husband and I planned to watch a short program about the making of the new Mildred Pierce miniseries. My head ached, and a drowsy numbness pained my sense (with apologies to Keats), and I was tempted to read a magazine or suggest we watch the program early or otherwise check out for the day.

Finish signBut I hadn’t done any work on my novel. Then, Sokoloff’s word “non-negotiable” rose front and center in my mind, and I knew that if I spent just 20 or 30 minutes adding something, anything to that work, I’d go to bed and wake up the next morning much happier and more relaxed, without the exhausting weight of that which is left undone.

So, sit my ass down and crank out the words I did–only a couple of paragraphs, and I winced at some of the sentences, knowing I’d need to change them later–but when I went to bed, I could answer Dan Pink’s second question with a categorical “yes.”

My writing buddy and I had coffee this week, and we talked about the challenge of keeping up the momentum on a large writing project while working full-time (she is; I’m not) and being a mom to two teenagers (she is; I have only one, who is no longer living at home) and conscientiously fulfilling the responsibilities of work and family and home and social events and causes. She inspires me more than she could ever know, and she is a fantastic writer. Afterward, I got an email from her, saying that she was able to put in 20 minutes on her own large work-in-progress.

That is the way writing gets done.

14 thoughts on “Non-negotiable

  1. I love the “non-negotiable” aspect. Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday (she turned 4), and I was exhausted after a day of festivities. I wanted to crawl in bed when she did at 7:30p, but told myself I’d just “open” my manuscript first. I only managed 30 minutes of work before I crashed, but felt so much better for doing it. Great post, Lisa!

  2. I have been struggling to find the time (energy) to work on my manuscript. I finally just had to put the blog aside and write (not that I blogged very much anyway – though I did squeak a new short story out earlier in the week). Kristi’s comment is so familiar to me… All I can say is… Large pot of coffee, LARGE!

    • Congrats on the short story! “she was appalled at his suggestion to dip down low at all, much less where he was referring to” lol

    • Kate, that’s the important part, I think–when not writing is making us miserable…

      Thanks so much for the comment, and Have a great weekend!

  3. Thank you for this post Lisa! I constantly need this reminder. And it really helps to know that this is the struggle for all writers: to force yourself to just sit down and get it done. Writing doesn’t happen any other way.

    • Thanks very much, Nadine. It helps me, too, to know that I’m not the only one who struggles at times to do what I really do love to do–in fact, I think it really is a normal part of writing. Strange, but true. 🙂

  4. Yup, I needed that non-negotiable reminder today – thanks!!! And, I’m going to get Sokoloff’s book on my kindle – sounds like a great one and I took a peek at her blog. Great stuff. Thanks for the always helpful info.

    • Pam, I’d be eager to know what you think of Sokoloff’s work once you’ve had a chance to look at it in more detail. I really like how she uses screenwriting to explain how scenes work in stories.

  5. Well … I have do admit, I just can’t write every day. And sometimes, I don’t want to. Today is such a day. I had to work so long and all I want to do right now is sitting here, eating sweets and read stuff. And I have many projects that I haven’t finished, but want to someday.

    I know this is unprofessional, and some days, I feel bad about it.
    But on the other hand, I think that it’s okay and I’ll manage to write the end of them.
    Someday…

    • I don’t think it’s unprofessional at all! In fact, it sounds very healthy. There are some days when I feel like that, and I don’t write every single day. It’s on the days when I feel I really need to write for some reason I can’t even put into words–well, those are the times when the non-negotiable element seems to help.

  6. P.s. Just a quick question about Kindle. I downloaded Kindle for my laptop (I didn’t know you could do that until I read it here), and I found that I can highlight and add notes to the text, are you able to do that on an actual Kindle or just the version for computers?
    K

    • Yes! That’s one of the things I like about it. It allows me to highlight lines or passages I want to remember for later, and I don’t have to take the time to write them down. You can also turn on a feature that allows you to see parts of the books you read that have been highlighted by other people.

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