One Sunday my wife suggested that we go for a hike, and we convinced my son Forrest to come with us. Now, I like to go for walks, but I’m not big on “hikes.” I’ve had too many unpleasant experiences on them, from taking accidental detours that forced me to walk an extra 30 miles, to getting lost, and to getting shadowed by a curious mountain lion. But we’d decided to take an “easy” hike.
Really, my wife took a hike and the rest of us just slogged along in her wake. We went to an unfamiliar area and just walked up a road used only by mountain climbers and four-wheeling enthusiasts. Our son Forrest was sweating vigorously within a mile, though I never did break a sweat. (I follow my wife on hikes an awful lot.) But even as we hit the two-mile marker, I still didn’t want to go.
Oh, sure, there was a part of me that wanted to be in shape, that wanted to hike, that wanted to climb a mountain. But it was only about 20% of me. The other 80% of me was an inert blob of fat that wanted to stay that way.
But I went for a hike. It felt good. It wasn’t a huge hike—maybe four miles at most. We didn’t see anything cool, just climbed up rocky roads. But when I was done, I felt that I had accomplished something. And we even dragged our son along.
So often I hear of writers who can’t seem to “get started” on their writing for the new year. They want to do it, but not enough to do it by themselves. But I know of many authors who will get together for short retreats and “bang out a chapter” or short story on their computers in a few hours. I’ve done it myself.
Very often when we hear of people succumbing to peer pressure, it’s a bad thing. But it can also be a great power for good.
So how can you use peer pressure to your advantage? Try setting some simple goals.
- Try renting a cabin or a hotel for a weekend with a couple of writing buddies. Don’t just give yourself permission to write during that time, spend a couple of mornings writing, and the spend some afternoons critiquing one another’s work.
- Join or start a writing group, but make sure that it is a real “writing” group. Make a simple rule: if you don’t bring something to critique, then you can’t come. Make it clear that every writer in the group is required to produce on a weekly basis.
- In our writing group, create a Sargent at Arms who sends text messages to other members a couple of days before your meetings, reminding them that “Your ten pages are due by the end of the week.” In short, create a little pressure on yourself.
- Give yourselves awards for a job well done. For example, at the end of a meeting, applaud those in the group who wrote the most, wrote the most powerful passage, or did something unique and interesting.
If you do this for a year, writing just ten pages per week, you’ll write a novel in the course of a year. In that time, you’ll most likely go from an “unwilling writer” who is just dragged along by your peers to becoming a self-starter.
I know a lot of young writers who are producing a lot of good work. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that nearly all of them belong to writing groups, and feel just a bit of peer pressure to keep their focus on writing.