Motivating the cognitive miser

It has been a busy summer so far. I’ve spent a week in Key West, then a week in Atlanta on business and finally had a wonderful visit with my daughter and grandson here in Raleigh. I allowed myself to break my writing schedule during these activities, but now I’m more determined than ever to make the final edits to my young adult novel.

I’ve found a writing schedule that works for me, after several unsuccessful tries (over the course of a year) to fit writing into my busy life. Back in December I thought I had solved my scheduling problem. I made time to write. I pieced together hours in the evenings and on weekends. I even wrote an entry titled “Finding time.” But I wasn’t productive. I would walk away from the computer disappointed, having accomplished little. And when my husband asked, as he frequently does, “When will your novel be finished?” I had to admit to myself, maybe never. And then I chastised myself. I’ve read about other writers who wrote their first novels while working full time. Why can’t I?

Then one afternoon at work, I was reviewing at test question about the conservation of energy and the solution hit me like a bolt of lightning. My internal Scrooge had been conserving my mental energy. It isn’t finding time to write that is the problem at all. It is finding the energy.

If humans are cognitive misers, and I know that I am, then we expend the least amount of amount of mental effort and attention possible, and that includes channeling our mental effort into spinning a yarn or two. We run out of steam to do what is important to us: write. When I expend my mental energy throughout the day on errands, and even the day job that pays my bills, Scrooge comes in and shakes his mental finger. He says you will not plot, build characters, build scenes or think creatively. I won’t let you. It takes a great deal of mental effort to write that tough scene or rewrite the paragraph that just isn’t working.

And then I ran across this E-book: Tame the Day Job Monster! Find the Energy to Write and Work. While I didn’t download the book, I enjoyed reading the first chapter for free. Tame the Day Job Monster is all about finding enough energy to write – while you also work for a living. If you’re just too tired to think about writing anymore, it’s time to get the day job under control.

While I find my day job rewarding, and am happy developing tests, I think when I reached an energy balance between work and my writing I began to be more successful and happier. I’ve modified my writing schedule so that I’m writing in the morning before work two or three days a week. That works for me. I am a morning person, so my cognitive miser is a little more willing to allow me the energy to think creatively first thing in the morning.

I am optimistic that I’ll actually finish my young adult novel in this lifetime. And I’ve accumulated so many ideas for stories during my writing hiatus: the car that my coworker told me about with the speedometer that only works if the lights are on, but you can’t tune the radio unless the lights are off. That would make a spooky story. Or the man sitting across from Harry and I at Abbondanza Italian Restaurant in Key West, too drunk to eat. His story would be interesting to tell.

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