Self discipline is something no one else can teach you. You have to do it for yourself and find what works. For me, it was a simple phrase: you messed up, let’s try again.
I have a day job. Fortunately, it’s a day job I thoroughly enjoy, but it’s still challenging work and it does leave me drained at the end of the day. When I get home, despite all the new ideas and scenes rattling around my brain, the only thing I want is food and Tumblr, in that order. So I tell myself, just spend a little while on Tumblr, then go write. You’ll have plenty of time to write.
Cue obnoxious, braying laughter, because five hours later I’m still on Tumblr.
I am a selectively competitive person, and NaNo is always included in that selection, so I had to figure out a game plan. Social media, blogging, email, all those distractions and open tabs were too tempting. I would check one or the other, just for a second, and lose thirty minutes. When it happened in the morning before work, which was my prime writing window, I knew I had to make a change.
So, bye-bye internet.
I turned the wifi off. I tossed the phone (gently) to the other side of the room. I put on a music mix, and got down to business.
It was horrible. Like being Tom Hanks on Castaway and fixing your own dental problems. Like reaching for the bowl of chips and discovering you already ate the last one and didn’t realize.
In no way was this easy. I turned the wifi on multiple times in a fit of childish stompy feet. I justified it in every way possible. Then I sighed, acknowledged what I was doing, and turned it off again. I messed up, so I tried again.
And again. And again. And after a while I didn’t miss the internet. I would even forget I hadn’t turned it off because I got straight to writing, bypassing go, not worrying about the $200. It took time. It took doing it over and over. And it took being calm with myself, acknowledging that I didn’t meet my goal, but saying try again. This is writing, not open heart surgery. If you mess up, only fictional people may die, but they can be resurrected. You can try again. And again.
It’s become second nature to judge and taunt or belittle ourselves mercilessly when we make mistakes. After all, that’s all we see when we look at social media or the news or the people around us. It’s become “acceptable” and expected to kick people when they’re down, to expose their faux pas for all to see, and to rip them to shreds in a duel edged and misguided attempt to shame them into doing better while elevating ourselves as above them. Then, when we screw up, we turn the same viciousness on ourselves and become depressed and angry when it doesn’t help us improve.
I can’t work under that kind of negativity. I refuse to. For too long I did that to myself and to others and it did nothing but make me feel like dirt. It took years to come out of that. I love myself, I love my imperfections, and I screw up. I’m human, but my mistakes do not define me or my writing. So I just acknowledge that I fell short, that I need to dust off my knees, and try again.
And that was not meant to turn into some kind of inspirational rant, but whatever. Sometimes those happen, too. The main point is, NaNo helped guide me back into self discipline. Making a new habit, especially a productive one, takes time. Takes vigilance. But more than that, it takes guts to look at yourself with compassion and say, hey, you fell short. Let’s try again.