The Art of Commitment

Commitment. Alcatraz_prison_jail_1009101_h

To me, the word conjures up images of confinement to a mental hospital or a jail, which gives you a good idea of the negative cast I imbue it with.  And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.  We creative types like our lives free and easy, unshackled by any kind of constraints.  We want to be free to create when and where we like, on the spur of the moment, or not for months, whenever the spirit motivates us.


Turns out that old "don't box me in" attitude really isn't the best for a regular creative practice because it can foster a tendency to soar completely away from your writing.  And it turns out that a healthy dose of commitment is exactly what is needed to keep you at it.

So let's talk a bit about commitment and what it looks like:

1.  Commitment isn't big, it's little. It's about returning to the page, over and over again, even when it's really difficult and you don't want to because you don't know where to go next.  Commitment is about making the decision to write again and again and again, and it is measured in minutes, the minute it takes for you to decide to do it, not hours.

2.  Commitment might be painful. Because it's sitting down to write at the appointed time when you've got a terrible headache and would really rather go take a nap.

3. Then, too, commitment might actually feel good.  You're making regular progress on your novel.  You write every day on your memoir and suddenly you see the arc of your life in a way you never have before.  You're making great progress on the WIP.  These are all things that will make you feel good, and fuel the desire to keep writing.  But they only happen through commitment.

4. Often the worst part of commitment is thinking about it.  Your brain can actually trick you out of committing to a writing session, if you start thinking about how you don't know what the next scene should be or how to write it.   Sometimes you sigh and wring your hands and worry about the writing and then when you get to it, everything is fine.  And you wonder what all the fuss was about.  Obsessing about it is way harder than doing it.

5.  Commitment is satisfying. Yeah, it's hard, and your brain will try to trick you out of it, convincing you that cleaning the kitty litter or mopping the kitchen floor is a necessary activity, but ultimately if you keep up with your commitment to your writing, you'll find enormous satisfaction in it.

6.  Commitment is a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

7.  Commitment is the only thing that gets the writing done.  Because without commitment to the craft, there is no writing.  Period.

How do you get committed?  What tricks or techniques do you use to get to the page regularly?

**If the project you've made a commitment to write is a novel, consider signing up for my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which begins August 14th.  We'll discuss all the things you need to know to write a draft, and also talk about the writing process.  It's going to be great fun!  Go here for more info.

Photo by kathycsus.

11 Responses to The Art of Commitment

  1. Patrick Ross 07/19/2012 at 04:12 #

    As you know, Charlotte, this post finds me at a good time. I’m having to force myself to remember the rules of commitment. This one speaks to me: “Commitment is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” Yes. I’ve been “exercising” now every morning around dawn for six days. Today was the first day I felt really in the groove with the writing. But when the alarm came on at 5:30 am, I can’t tell you how much I wanted to go back to bed.

    Great post.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 07/19/2012 at 06:34 #

    Thanks, Patrick.  I'm impressed that you are getting up every morning at 5:30 to return to your muse!  I must heartily concur–that is commitment!  Thanks for weighing in and good luck with that.  Knowing you, you'll be back in the swing of things right away, feeling like your old writing self again.

  3. Sandy 07/19/2012 at 11:08 #

    The one thing I think scares a lot of writers (I know it did me) when they see or hear the word ‘commitment’ is that its this huge thing and every time they sit down to write they have to churn out pages upon pages of flawless prose to feel truely commited.
    It took me a long time to realize that I could sit down, write three sentences or a page of dross and still be commited and feel like I’ve made progress.
    Of course, I’d love to write more than three sentences and not the page of dross, but even if I do, I am confident in the belief that I’m making progress and improving my craft and that makes the commitment to sit down and write the next time that much easier.

    I hope that made sense. My muse is still on vacation. :-)

  4. Charlotte Dixon 07/19/2012 at 11:36 #

    I think that's an excellent point, Sandy, that the word commitment can be a big, scary deal.  Even though I know better, I sometimes do the same thing–look at other writers and imagine them getting up and making huge progress on their books every single day.  When really, all writing gets done a word at a time.

  5. Zan Marie 07/19/2012 at 12:01 #

    So well said, Charlotte! We have to committ or nothing gets done. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 07/19/2012 at 12:08 #

    You're so welcome, Zan Marie!  Thanks for commenting.

  7. Barbara Shallue 07/19/2012 at 17:11 #

    Oh, this is all so true! Lately I’ve been keeping that writing journal handy, where I log time on my book. It keeps me accountable!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 07/20/2012 at 06:44 #

    I've been doing that, too, its really helpful.  Thanks for commenting!

  9. Barbara Shallue 07/20/2012 at 22:09 #

    I think I was reminded to do it on your site! Thank you!

  10. Fear of Writing 07/22/2012 at 09:25 #

    Great post! I love the image of the prison cell you put with it. That gave me a bit of a belly laugh.

    Being an overachiever, I have some habits that are quite the opposite to what you wrote about. But I heartily agree with everything you say. In fact, it was learning how to commit that (in part) cured my fear of writing.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 07/22/2012 at 17:35 #

    Good to know that commitment is what cured your fear of writing, Milli!  I really want to hear that story some time….

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