According to Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, commitment means “the state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to an ideal or course of action.” Emotionally or intellectually are good words for the writer to fuse. To keep on writing requires both an emotional and cognitive desire. A writer feels pleased and almost propelled to use writing as a way of thinking and gets emotional pleasure from the process of thinking in writing. Ultimately, she receives information about her life during the process of writing.
It is one thing, though, to know you need commitment, and quite another to have or develop such a thing. Many of us begin by behaving as if we did have the commitment, felt the compulsion, had to continue. By acting “as if,” we help ourselves toward authentically feeling that way. I once read that for some action to become a habit, one must repeat that action about twenty-one consecutive times. After those twenty-one times, the behavior becomes habitual and there is no resistance to doing it. So, if you are going to write daily, you have only twenty-one days of “as ifing” it, and if you are going to do things weekly or somewhere in between daily and weekly, you have a longer but not by any means overwhelming stretch of “as ifing.”
Each time you sit down to write anything, do something afterward that helps you feel delighted to be writing in your journal or working on an unfinished piece of writing or starting a new piece. This might be accompanying the journal writing with a favorite cup of tea or coffee, listening to your favorite music as you write, or promising yourself a long phone conversation with a friend when you have completed your writing time.
You might also combine writing with an activity you already enjoy doing habitually. You could write during a bicycle trip by keeping a pen and notebook in your bike bag and stopping to write along the route or just when you have completed it. This holds true for those of you who take long walks. Or maybe you like to park your car by the ocean or a lake or a favorite park and watch the people or the birds or the clouds. Take your laptop or tablet, or notebook and pen along or, of course, even your phone (as long as it is not in service and all you can do is dictate or type onto the screen).
Combining your writing time with other pleasure time might help you keep building and sustaining your commitment to both of them.
Another factor in developing commitment is the feeling of competency. When we feel we are doing well at a task, it is easier to stay committed to doing that task. It is not that the task is easy, but that we are capable of facing its difficulties and continuing. All writing offers a glimpse of something new to us if we have the eyes and ears to see and hear what our words are leading us toward or are instead sitting on it like the cap on a tube of toothpaste we might be squeezing and squeezing. Even if you can’t tell immediately where the words are going or how they are working hard not to go there, each time you stick to your writing habit, you will discover more about what your writing is revealing that is in need of further examination. That is required of mastery.
To keep commitments, we have to believe in what we are going to gain from having them. In writing, I value gaining a listener and confidante who will prompt me to speak from my own voice and become a companion as I move through the flow of time. As I draft, my writing, if I let it, doesn’t judge me but grows rich with recorded experience.
Instead, though, we sometimes come to the page afraid of what we might see in print, afraid that what we feel may be transitory but made frighteningly permanent in ink. We are afraid that we don’t have the right to say what we might say in our writing. We are afraid that our observations are unimportant in the scheme of things, even to ourselves. We are afraid we might sound petty or whiney or closeminded or uninformed or dull. Or we may fear we’ll discover that something is close to the surface that we wish had already been laid to rest. I know no better way to calm these fears than to say that you must write through them. What keeps me going and keeps me from being trapped by issues of my tone or sense of disenfranchisement is my belief in the power of sensory detail. I strive to remain aware of the way I see, hear, taste, touch and smell what is around me or in my memory. Whenever I resort to detail that comes in through the senses, I feel empowered to write my experience. I don’t feel alarmed that I am judging because the images speak for themselves. I learn from my words.
How can you help yourself believe in your writing and take it seriously enough to continue? Start by remembering some writing of another’s that you cherish. Imagine that writer sitting down like you are to write. Imagine that writer wondering if anyone would care to read her writing. Remember how much you care about that writing.
Now, switch chairs. You are the writer whose words will someday be cherished by a reader. How do I know? Because I have seen that happen again and again. Because that is what writing is for–to articulate human experience and reach some of the humans out there–magazine readers, newspaper readers, novel readers, writing group members, friends and family–who will be moved to tears and to laughter and will nod their heads yes as they experience the release and exhilaration of identifying with someone who understands the world as they have whether or not they could articulate it.