Lower Your Standards

You heard it here first, folks–writing is a joy, and it’s a pain. There are plenty of days when any little distraction will pull me away, and I’ll go gladly. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the noise out there on the internets, for example. (Here I am, blowing another harmonica right now, right here!) It’s too easy to fall down rabbit-holes, follow rainbows or stare at shiny things. Blink-blink.

I work at home. Do you? Then you know, too, the other things that hang around the house: laundry, the vacuum-cleaner, kids, pets, the phone, stuff. Sometimes it’s awfully hard (laundry) to sit (email) still (cooking!) and (stuff!) write. What keeps us going?

One thing that helps me carry on with my writing is the option to unplug the router.  It’s a free country, I’m not required to have my wi-fi firing. There isn’t any law about it. Still, it seems sort of subversive. The router is downstairs. So I simply sneak down there, and unplug the blinking thing from the wall. (I’m not fake-swearing – routers have little green and yellow blinking lights, right?) Then I go back up to my writing room. It’s enough of a gesture to quiet my impulse to browse. If this unplugging trick stops tricking me, I’ll try that “freedom” app, the one that shuts it down and punishes you if you even think about facebook.

What about inspiration? Two blogs (among many, I suspect, but I can’t read them all—see “unplug router,” above) are consistently excellent— Marion Dane Bauer’s and Avi’s. I’m grateful to these authors for sharing the wisdom gained from decades of writing experience and hard work. I, for one among many, am listening. I’m moved by their generosity – moved to cry (really, and often), to chuckle, to nod in agreement or new understanding or fellowship. And I’m reminded to sit in my chair and do the work. Oh, and if you don’t read CYNSATIONS, you’re missing out on a whole heap of valuable information and celebration.

Speaking of celebration: a new book sale is quite helpful in the motivation department. Yay! It’s okay to crow a little, even though your mother told you it isn’t polite. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Helpful software: Last weekend at a local SCBWI program, I learned about using Scrivener. (Thanks, Kiersi Burkhart!) There’s so! much! Scrivener! can! do! and I’ve used it before and liked it, but now I’m inspired to use MORE of what the software offers.

What about Stimulants? Sure! Some coffee, some tea, a slice of cake. My tomato-shaped kitchen timer could be considered a stimulant—all that ticking! Lists. Goals. Friends. Students. Books!

Books? I know, who can keep up with all the wonderful books being published, but like most writers I know, I read like it’s going out of style. (It isn’t going out of style. Not ever.)

Is Getting Out of the House a “good idea”? Yes! I’m told it is. Mainly I go to the library, the bookstore, the grocery store, and my very part-time job. Typically I walk or run or ride my bike on these excursions because I live in the kind of wonderful neighborhood where that’s possible. Which leads me to…

Exercise: Something—a walk, a run, a ride— every day—is a must for me. I’ve never written so much, so relentlessly, so happily or so well as the time I upped the stakes on my regular running habit and trained to run a marathon. The discipline necessary for one pursuit helped with the other. My body and mind hummed companiably. My husband was doing a lot of childcare and cooking, because I was out running for three hours at a pop, and writing in many of the other hours. Life was good.

Life is good:  I agree. I love life. Writing is life.

That sounds pretty dramatic. You’re right, there’s a lot of life going on that isn’t, strictly speaking, writing, but—I think you know what I mean. It’s a way, one way–your way, too?– to experience life more fully.

And don’t forget what the poet William Stafford used to say to his students when they hit a bump in the writing road. Lower your standards, and keep going.

What about you? What’s been keeping you writing, lately?


Susan Hill Long is the author of Whistle in the Dark, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013, and Maggie, coming from Knopf in 2016.

7 thoughts on “Lower Your Standards

  1. Amaya Ells says:

    I have an app called self control I use for the internet. It turns off your connection to the internet for a set time and nothing you can do can turn your internet back on until its finished.

    Otherwise my motivators include the idea that people might be reading my stuff and waiting for more. As well as a firm belief that a first draft is a rough draft and doesn’t need to be perfect. I’ve found NaNoWriMo to be a good goal setter to get me to pump out my rough drafts in a reasonable time period.

  2. I’ll look into that app, Amaya; thanks. Isn’t nanowrimo a kick in the pants? I still drink tea from my old “Author” mug from the nanowrimo store. It reminds me to get out of my own way when I’m working on a first draft.

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