When it comes to writing, I obsess a lot about keeping productive. I do this because at heart I am a lazy, unmotivated person. People who see my list o’ projects might think otherwise, but believe me, if I could lounge around all day I would. That, and I am a horrible, horrible procrastinator. It’s not that I don’t love writing — I’m absolutely passionate about it — it’s that I’m allergic to work and obligation. I can jump into something with great vigor and tear through a project like it’s the only thing in the world, but once I decide it’s a Real Project and not a Fun Distraction it becomes work, and I don’t like to work.
So needless to say, I struggle with staying productive. Managing the trick can be a real slog, but you’ve absolutely GOT to do it. I do this through routine and a healthy dose of momentum. They are the two most essential ingredients in keeping myself working. Without them, it’s all too easy for me to lapse into spells of inactivity.
This is self-explanatory, isn’t it? Every night I sit down in the same place at the same time and I write (or edit, which is a major part of the writing process). What I write or edit doesn’t really matter, as long as I’m working. Sometimes I’m doing some PR stuff I do on the side. Sometimes a novel. Sometimes something else. The key is, I’m working. Fingers on the keys, head as far in the game as I can get it. When you make writing part of your routine there is no waiting for “inspiration” or struggle to drag words out of yourself. You just sit down and DO IT. For me, I manage to fit about 90 minutes a night into my life. It’s not enough to accomplish all I want to accomplish, but it’s what fits.
Find how much you can fit, turn it into a routine, and your productivity will soar. If all you can get out of your day is an hour, make that hour count. But more importantly, make it your routine. Treat it like exercise. You’re going to sit down in the same place, at the same time, and you’re going to WORK. Every day. It will take a few weeks, but before long it will become second nature. No “inspiration,” you’ll just sit down at the appointed time and the words will come out.
This goes hand-in-hand with routine. Once I get rolling on a project, it’s important for me to keep steaming ahead. A break can grind me to a halt. And when I halt, well, I’m often halted for good. Just ask my wife. I’ll spend the entire day doing some big household project, falter at the 85 percent mark, and never look at it again. This is death for a writing project. How many unfinished novels do you have sitting around in your files? The answer is probably “too many.” That’s certainly my answer. In order to avoid building an ever greater pile of stuff I’ll never finish, I have to keep up the momentum on my project of the moment.
One of the ways I do this is to keep a brief journal of each day’s writing — and a journal for other people to see. The idea is to put pressure on myself. After all, who wants to fall on their face in front of other people? In my case it’s on a private message board, where friends can scold me if I skip a few days. “Day 23. Worked on X, Y and Z tonight. Hope to wrap up the first draft by Monday.” That sort of thing. Maybe post samples once in a while. You can do the same on your blog, or Facebook, or wherever. The point is that by regularly logging what you’re doing, you’re both establishing your routine and helping maintain your momentum.
These minor adjustments in how I look at writing helped me go from eight years working on my first novel (now in a drawer) to about two months on my second, or about six months if I account for the differences in length.
If you want to write but are faltering, take a look at how your work. If writing is not something you’re doing every single day the same you see that same jogger on that same stretch of road at the same time every day, well, consider changing your approach.