Why Writing is Like Dieting

A hearty welcome to guest blogger Graeme Ing, a writer of fantasy and SF novels, both adult and YA. His current novel, “Ocean of Dust”, is a YA fantasy, scheduled for publication at the end of 2012.

Hands up…who loves being on a diet? No takers? Not surprising, but as writers, we can learn a lot from the discipline and tactics that diets teach us. Both pastimes, if I may refer to a diet that way, require us to master the secret of hard and consistent work, that if followed for any length of time is certain to bring success and happiness. Wow, that’s a tall order isn’t it? No, I’m not a spokesman for a weight-loss program, but I’ve done my share of diets. So what am I talking about:

First, sensible diets are based upon the simple premise of a little bit every day. It’s a long haul game. Lose just a pound a week and that adds up to 12 pounds after 3 months. Pretty nice, huh? Similarly, write 1 page every day, and you’ll have a typical novel in a single year.
“But that’s too slow”, most dieters claim. “I want results fast!” You could starve yourself, go crazy on an exercise regimen and up the ante to 3 pounds a week. Now you’ve lost 36 pounds after 3 months. Incredible! Such a plan comes with a risk – you’ll get so hungry that you’re bound to sabotage yourself or quit.
While many writers can churn out incredible quantities day in, day out, most of us are not so prolific. We have to fight the demands of our schedule and family, battle the fear of failure and procrastination. It might feel good to write 10,000 words over a weekend, but if you can’t sustain that, you’re going to feel a failure and get frustrated. If you put that much pressure on yourself, you’re setting yourself up to be miserable, and worse case: quitting your book. And writing is supposed to be fun!
A diet is great if you have iron willpower to stay on track and never cheat. That’s not most of us. We lose a handful of pounds and eat out to celebrate, or we just can’t resist that ice cream or glass of wine. Such lapses are quite all right. We’re only human! If we can stick to the diet even 90% of the time, we will succeed.
So it is with writing. We all know that creating words every day is the key, but we must accept the fact that we will fall off the wagon a day or two a week. Don’t despair, don’t beat yourself up. Think of it as taking a creative break, and get right back to the keyboard as soon as you can.
But don’t get too relaxed about it. Keep your eye on the prize. Some things in life require work. A friend of mine seems to have been dieting for the last five years, on and off. “I’ll get there one day.” If you’re that laid back, you’ll be forever trying but won’t ever get there. Hands up who knows a writer or two that has been “still writing the book” for a decade? My hand’s up, because that was me, and I got tired of being on a journey without an end.
Finally, I bet you need a calculator to count the number of diet plans and schemes, every single one of them toting evangelists proclaiming how it worked for them. They probably all work (well I’m not sure about the “cookie diet” but it sounds like fun), but are not for everyone.
Similarly, there are libraries full of advice on outlining, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc. Do what you would do when selecting a diet: research carefully and reject those incompatible with your ideals or lifestyle. Experiment, and select what works for you. Then apply it rigidly and make it a habit. Don’t overthink it. To lose weight, you simply have to consume less calories than you burn. The finesse is in your choice of foods. Being a writer requires greater skill and craft, but it really boils down to sitting down and typing words.
Set yourself a goal. Instead of 30 pounds by Christmas, maybe it’s 80,000 words by Easter. Develop a habit of working toward that goal every day. One pound at a time, 1,000 words at a time. If you miss or blow it, don’t beat yourself up, just return to the plan tomorrow. Millions of people have done it, so can you. You will finish that book! Good luck.
Born in England in 1965, Graeme Ing lives in San Diego, California. His career as a software engineer and department manager spans 25 years, including the development of a dozen computer games for consoles, home computers and online. He is also an avid D&D nerd, armchair mountaineer, astronomer, mapmaker, pilot and general geek. He and his wife, Tamara, share their house with six crazy cats. Graeme is currently working on his second book, a YA fantasy starring a young necromancer in a world of vicious undead and political machinations. Look forward to it if you enjoy dark fantasy with a healthy dose of sarcasm. You can find Graeme on Twitter or Facebook.