August 31st, 2012

[Raymond] Chandler had his own system for turning out The Big Sleep and other classic detective stories: “Me, I wait for inspiration,” he said, but he did it methodically every morning. He believed that a professional writer needed to set aside at least four hours a day for his job: “He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines or write checks.”

This Nothing Alternative is a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task. Although your work may not be as solitary and clearly defined as Chandler’s, you can still benefit from setting aside time to do one and only one thing. Just follow Chandler’s regimen:

“Write or nothing. It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school. If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.”

The rest comes of itself. That’s the seeming effortlessness that comes from playing offense. Chandler was incorporating several of the techniques we discussed earlier. The Nothing Alternative is a bright-line rule: a clear, unmistakable boundary, like the no-drinking vow… Chandler’s particular rule – If I can’t write, I will do nothing – is also an example of an implementation plan, that specific if-x-then-y strategy that has been shown to reduce the demands on will power. p. 254-5

From Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney


Found in my electronic chapbook.

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