Why Novelists Should Eat Dessert First

Ever feel like no matter what your novel writing gets squeezed out of your schedule?

Graphic with photo of L. M. Lilly and pen. Why Novelists Should Eat Dessert FirstFor some writers, including me at other times in my life, solving that requires seeing novel writing the same way you see your day job. You do it whether you feel like it or not, rain or shine, and no matter what else is going on.

But what if that stops working or never worked for you? It's tempting to blame yourself for not being disciplined enough. Not having enough stick-to-it-iveness (no, I'm not sure that's a real word).

It might be, though, that the problem is just the opposite. You're too disciplined. Too responsible.

Being Responsible Can Undermine Your Writing

If you're a responsible person — someone who eats your vegetables first as my mom would say — you may be unconsciously seeing your writing as the least most important task on your To Do list. Put another way, on some level you probably feel you need to do all your other tasks before it's okay to take time for your novel.

That means paying bills, feeding your kids, grocery shopping, finishing that project for your boss, working the overtime hours, starting the next work project, exercising, and so on all need to be done before you write.

The challenge with that is obvious when you read the list. Most of these tasks are never really finished. Kids need you every day. Your day job likely requires you to show up every day. Maybe every evening, too.

As a result, pushing your novel writing to the end of the line might feel like the right thing to do nearly all the time. Especially if for you, like me, fiction writing is an escape from day to day life. Or a totally absorbing activity that at times puts you in a Zen state that feels wonderful.

So what to do?

Doing What You Need To Do

If other people depend on you, whether for caregiving or to show up at a day job, you need to fulfill those responsibilities. It's no doubt important to you as well as to them. Plus, most of us need to earn money at something in addition to writing.

You already decided, though, when you set out to write a novel, that it mattered enough to include it in your schedule. That means that short of genuine emergencies, which sometimes happen, it's worth the effort to make sure you don't push aside your writing time.

And here's the good news. It may be less about making the effort and more about shifting your mindset.

Happiness And Your Novel

So long as you see novel writing as the same type of task as the others on your To Do list — as just another responsibility — it's almost guaranteed to be low on the priority list.

After all, which tasks matter most to the people who depend on you in the short term? If you skip something on your task list, which is more likely to disrupt your life right now?

The answer to both questions is rarely novel writing.

So instead, try seeing novel writing as a joy. As happiness. As dessert (if you're a dessert fan, as I am). Even if writing sometimes feels like a chore, you can do that by asking yourself what, at its best, fiction writing does for you.

Does it make you happier? Help you escape worries for a time? Allow you to deal with your emotions more easily? Exercise your brain in way that feels great? Give you a world where, for a little while, you control everything?

In other words, focus on what you love most about writing. See it as dessert.

Now that novel writing is in a happy category, let's look at why it's a good thing to include it in your life. Not just for you, but for all the people who depend on you.

Eat Dessert First

When you feel stressed, tired, or frustrated are you in top form at your job? Or do you feel overwhelmed and take longer to finish each task?

If you're caring for other people, do they feel better or worse when you're stressed and frustrated? When you're in a bad mood, does it take more or less time to pay bills, grocery shop, or cook?

These are leading questions, of course, and might seem basic. But it's amazing how often in life I've felt certain that powering through is the way to go even if I am overloaded, frustrated, or tired. Despite that on a logical level I know if I take a break or get some sleep, I'll be able to do everything more quickly and easily after.

So imagine starting your day, or finishing the previous day, by happily immersing yourself in your novel. Or, if it works better, starting or finishing your week that way. What kind of tone does that set? How much more might you get done from your task list if you already feel like you're sailing along?

Might you be more inspired in your day job or with your kids if you've given your creativity free reign in a fictional world? Could you deal with life's ups and downs more easily if you've spent a little time on that one thing you love?

There's an added benefit to eating dessert first. Once you start working on your novel, whether for half an hour or half a day, you're cueing your unconscious mind to keep creating while you take care of your other responsibilities. When you  come back, you'll likely find the words flowing more freely than ever.

I hope that's helpful. Good luck with your writing!

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Feeling stuck with your plot? Not sure your story's moving fast enough? You may need more conflict right from the start. My mini-course module on creating a protagonist and antagonist with strong opposing goals may help. Click here to learn more.

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