“adventure is just
one mistake away.”
e horne and j comeau

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

not too proud to need to hack my own brain
Wed 2021-02-24 23:45:22 (in context)

I actually feel good about posting to the actually writing blog today, because today I actually wrote. I got stuff done! I submitted a whole bunch of things! I wrote a whole bunch of words! I wrote down this morning's dreams, which were 1500 words of detail right there. I hit every item on today's timesheet, and that's not an everyday occurrence! ("It's OK, to-do lists are aspirational" is my latest affirmation.)

On top of all the good writing stuff that went on today, John and I succeeded in finishing off Holland's bi-monthly "bunny tune-up" checklist (which is not aspirational but obligatory). This involved John holding him while I cleaned out his scent folds, and, I tell you what, Holland is not nearly as cooperative as the bunny in this instructional video. Holland bore a bit of a grudge for, like, a whole hour, but after that he was back to bounding around the living room and nudging my ankle for treats.

I'm almost feeling too good. I'm a little suspicious of the feeling. So how about I sabotage it by making a shameful confession? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Well, OK, let's put this a bit more positively. Since I'm feeling so good, I've got a bit of resilience stored up, so now's a good time to confess to something that would normally make me feel a little ashamed of myself. Irrationally, I will add. Without provocation. But it's so easy to get down on oneself about so many things that, when you really get right down to it, don't matter in the least. Right, writers? Y'all know what I'm talking about here. But I've stored up a lot of Good Feels today, so let's reveal some of the shameful underbelly of the beast we call Niki's Process.

First, though, let's provide some context. As a writer, I live or die--well, write or don't write--by my mind-hacks. That's enough of a confession right there. As a Baby Writer, I heard enough Wise Elders proclaiming that if you need mind-hacks, you are obviously not a "real" writer. Real writers write because they just! can't! not! If it's ever hard to get started, if you ever find yourself in the throes of avoidance or so-called writer's block, such that you need to trick yourself to get the writing done--well, the Wise Elders said, that's a sign you should give up and go do something easier, like web programming or accountancy.

Thankfully, I've gotten very good at calling bullshit on that particular bit of gatekeeping nonsense. I suspect such Wise Elders as being akin to that Twitter Pundit who tweeted (and then de-tweeted) the following crock-o-feces: "HARSH WRITING ADVICE: Your writer friends are also your competition. Sorry." I'm happy to say that a bunch of my writer acquaintances, colleagues, and, yes, friends, pounced on this ill-informed bit of hogwash and turned it into fun and games, and also actual good advice.

Point is, I think it must be the sort of writer who sees other writers as primarily their competition who also thinks it must be a good thing to expose Baby Writers in their infancy. Y'know, so as to have fewer writers competing with them for eyeballs and dollars.

So! It is therefore decided: Mind-hacks are fine. Whatever it takes to get you writing and, hopefully, feeling good about yourself, hey, an it harm none, do what ye will.

Mur Lafferty talks about mind-hacks in her podcast I Should Be Writing. In Season 17, Episode 13, around about timestamp 7:25, she warms to the subject...

"There are lots and lots of tricks that you can do to fool your head into thinking it's enjoying itself.... The thing I'm learning about habits, and making new habits that you may not want to do, is, attach it to something you do like."

Which is great advice. She talks about eating an M&M candy for every 200 words, or how one of her listeners might use a visit to their horse as incentive to get some edits done. Heck, I did a thing today that's right along those lines--I got myself and my squad of Pikmin poised to descend to the next level of Hole of Heroes that I hadn't visited yet, then hit pause, telling myself, "You get to continue after you've done your freewriting and your Friday Fictionette work for the day." And so I did!

But there's another "attach it to something you do like" trick I do, darn near daily, which feels less defensible. I, er...


...I use Rewarded Play to earn Barnes & Nobles gift cards. And I use that as an incentive to do my Morning Pages.

Argh. It's so stupid! Just when I get less cringey about admitting that I do Morning Pages (from reading too many Wise Elder Writers poo-poo'ing The Artist's Way as so much woo, I suppose), now I get to confess that I have a hard time making myself do them sometimes (at which confession the Wise Elders pounce: "A-ha, that's because you know deep down that it's a stupid waste of time!" No, you jerk, it's because Morning Pages force me to confront the contents of my brain, and my brain is not always a happy place), and that I get around this by indulging in a petty exercise of "Yay I got free stuff I could have just paid for because it's not like we're not well-off enough to buy books."

I suppose it's not that weird. Some people like gambling in casinos; I like doing stupid clicky things to earn gift cards. I have a Swagbucks account, too. It's a meta-game, OK? It is possible this is an offshoot of the benign family tradition of Ha Ha I'm Clever I Got Away With Something. I don't know. But then you add Rewarded Play's daily streak bonus, and BOOM, you're just playing into my obsessive completist side that begins instinctively to treat making the daily 5K points as an obligation. Like, gotta do my Morning Pages, gotta do my freewriting, gotta make 5,000 points on Rewarded Play.

So at some point I got into the habit of running the app during Morning Pages. I start up one of the rewarded apps, set the timer on my flip-phone for 4 minutes, then scribble in my notebook until the timer goes off. Pause the scribbling. Close the app. Confirm that Rewarded Play awarded me my daily usage points. Then start the next app up and another 4-minute timer.

Lather, rinse, repeat until three pages of longhand scribbling are done.

The whole process sort of soothes that one particular set of brain weasels that's like MUST! ALWAYS! BE! MULTITASKING! Which, fair. Four minutes multiplied by twenty-three apps equals a lot of time; if I can get some of it done at the same as another must-do-daily thing, well, cool! And despite it being such a mechanical, brainless, non-essential task, it still results in a vague sense of accomplishment...

Which could be dangerous, actually. Non-essential playtime tasks that result in a sense of accomplishment run a real risk of checking off the mental "I got stuff done today!" to-do list. Like little cuckoo nestlings, they can eat up all the sense of urgency and obligation that ought to have pushed me to do my writing. But that's the other good reason for attaching fun things to the (hopefully also fun but not always) writing things. If I don't do the playtime thing before the writing thing, then I don't risk getting my daily done of sense-o-accomplishment exclusively off the playtime things.

So I wake up, and I don't wanna get out of bed, and I definitely don't wanna do Morning Pages. "But if you start Morning Pages, you get to start the Rewarded Play daily usage points too," Smart Me wheedles. "Also, you get your cup of tea. You want that cup of tea, don't you?"

Lazy Me allows as how yes, now that Smart Me mentions it, a cup of tea sounds very, very nice right now. A cup of tea might even make up for this whole worthless getting out of bed shinola.

"Splendid," says Smart Me. "Let's get to it."

And so we do.