Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Diets for Writers, and Why They Don't Work

Ok, this isn't really a diet post.  I'm not going to tell you to eat cabbage for a week and drink 200 glasses of water for a day.  This is a post about how writing can sometimes turn into a diet, and, well, diets don't work.

So I recently joined Weight Watchers, and for the first time EVER, I was the one who came prepared to the meeting with a photo of my fridge as we'd been asked to do.  So ten women were huddled around my phone staring at my surprisingly clean fridge (Mr. Albin organized it last week) and we were discussing all the ways you can set up your fridge to help you succeed.  LONG STORY SHORT, I mentioned that I really like the WW ice cream bars and plan my points so I can have one every evening.  One of the women nodded and said, "yes, and that's what you are doing —planning not rewarding."  She continued on to point out that most people who are trying to lose weight reward themselves with junk food and snacks and booze.  "You," she said, "just plan it in to your day."

I could go on and on about Weight Watchers, but the truth is that I've realized something since I started attending those meetings: there is power in a plan.  I'm not giving anything up doing WW, I'm just paying attention to what I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat and making better choices as much as possible.

And that got me thinking about writing.

Too often I've gotten caught up in crash writing and rewards systems (I may or may not treat myself to a day shopping when I finish a draft).  The thing is that systems like this can easily be too much like crash dieting and that's not good.  Crash dieting is an act of desperation. "I must get these 5 lbs off before vacation, so I will subsist on cranberry juice and deli turkey."  It's not healthy, and worst of all, it's results aren't long-term.

Now, dear readers, you may be thinking is she telling me to avoid word sprints and events like NaNoWriMo?  NO.  And you want to know why?  Planning to do a daily word sprint can be a great way to get going on your project (@stdennard and @sjmaas are doing daily word sprints on twitter).  Joining NaNoWriMo is a commitment to a plan of writing everyday.  It's whole premise is to help you build a habit.  Just like ice cream bars these are aspects of your plan.  They're totally cool when you plan  for them. The problem is when you come to rely on them to fix everything instead of creating a plan to help you succeed.  Raise your hand if you've drown your sorrows in a gallon of ice cream.  It makes you feel better for a moment, but then the sugar crash comes and you realize that all you've done is eat ice cream and avoid the problem.

Now what if you could be productive and eat your ice cream bar, too?  Ok, I'm mixing metaphors a bit.  But you get the point.  WW is working for me because I'm learning to plan.  I make better choices throughout the day and plan for the things I like to do.  So what if I could apply this idea to my writing life?  I think I can clearly equate ice cream bars with twitter.  I could spend all day on twitter, but what if I planned my day better.  Instead of twitter being a reward for writing 1k, I plan my time on twitter throughout the day.  Suddenly I'm less likely to find myself rushing through other tasks to get back on twitter, because, let's face it, twitter is more addictive than ice cream bars.

So what to do?  Create a plan.  I'm loving this post from Marissa Meyer on creating a business plan for writers. It's useful for thinking about what your long term goals are for the year and a great place to start.  I think, though, that a daily plan is just as important.  The thing is that a writer's schedule is always shifting around events and edits, so when I say a daily plan, I mean sit down at the start of each writing day and create your plan for that period.  It may seem time-consuming, but I think you'll find you have more success when you have a course of action to follow.  Getting too caught up in looking at the whole week and plotting each move means that when something comes up, you have less flexibility to deal with it.  That's why diets fall apart.  When we start looking at each day as an individual chance for productivity and change, we have more success.


  1. So funny that I ran across this today. I just saw your book at Barnes & Noble today and ventured onto your website... and I too am on Weight Watchers AND I live in Kansas City. SMALL WORLD! Can't wait to read your book!

  2. Loving this analogy! It has me thinking about what kinds of plans tend to work for me and which don't... Good stuff. :)