Gumption Traps and Writing

This is the first time in over a month that I’ve blogged on two consecutive days. In contrast, I posted for 42 days in a row between late May and early July. I simply lost blogging interest for the last couple months. And it occurred to me that the best term to describe this decline in interest is “gumption trap,” from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I haven’t brought the book here with me, so I won’t be able to cite anything (you’re probably glad for this anyway ;)), so I’ll see how much the Wikipedia page jogs my memory.

A gumption trap is what makes you lose motivation and interest in something. It could be that whatever you were working on burst into flames, or you found you could have done it in a much better way, or you simply got bored.

Carl Larsson - The Lazy Corner

It would go too far to say that life is a series of gumption traps, but I have observed it a lot in my life. I’m a chronic non-finisher: I’ll start a project with a complete, well-formulated idea, and I never finish it, or even continue it after a certain point. I suppose that makes me chronically gumption trapped.

When I talk about projects, I don’t mean those for school. I am referring mostly to writing or programming projects, where I try to create something original. My last two writing projects, a play and a novel, have both been gumption trapped, one whose first draft is 50% done and the other 25%.

Incidentally, I planned out a short story as I thought I might actually finish one of those—however, instead of working on that I’m writing this blog post. This is where I will tie in my last post, on multitasking. The vast majority of my novel-writing happened this summer in China, where I could sit down and write without distraction. Right now, as I am typing this blog post, I am in the Olin Library, and I find I am much more productive here than in my dorm room. Writing in general is hard.

As fiction author Holly Lisle warns in Mugging the Muse on full-time writing:

Writing is a business for self-starters. It’s hard. If you don’t know beforehand that you can sit down and make yourself produce pages in spite of weariness, boredom, lack of inspiration, or over-abundance of distractions, don’t kid yourself that writing full-time will magically cure this.

I don’t remember where it is—maybe it was Trimble’s Writing with Style—some author observed that when you are writing, your body will automatically try to distract you from it, even if it just means your body is trying to make you feel like taking a break. Either way, writing is an art full of gumption traps.

In light of this, I’m making a plan to improve my ability to resist gumption traps in writing. This is first going to involve regular blogging again, perhaps not on a daily schedule, but at least three times a week. That’ll be my goal for the remainder of the year.

*Just a side note: Outside of writing, I’m not as bad in falling into gumption traps. There was one project that I had virtually stopped, and then picked back up one-and-a-half years later, and continued it for the next two years. Since both of my large fiction-writing attempts were recent (in the last five months), I hope I’ll be able to find the motivation to continue those in the future.

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