As I strive to move writing from Expensive Hobby to Underpaying Career, I’ve had to up my production. This hasn’t been easy. Mainly because I love to brood. Over the perfect word, or the right character name, or a title that dances between the poetic and the arrestingly vulgar. Only thing more fulfilling than finding the perfect word is finding that perfect word after a month-long search.
After much navel-gazing, I’ve decided I am brooding and brooding is me. Take away my brooding, and you take away my joy in writing. And so, in order to allocate creative time for brooding, and still finish novel-length works more often than once a decade, I’ve had to improve my productivity rates in the non-brooding aspects of drafting.
Here are some of my better tactics:
1. Butt in chair. Writing .doc open. Yeah, yeah. This might have been a hot take back in whenever B.C when Apelles was barking about Nulla Dies Sine Linea. But here’s the thing: it’s not so much the everyday aspect, as the line part. Writing just one line, at the very least gets another line into the draft. And more often than not, once I’ve opened the .doc and I’ve played around with a few lines, I stick around. That one line turns into a paragraph, a page, a re-worked opener. Writing begets writing.
2. Making writing dates. Getting myself hyped about writing, about having a few hours dedicated to opening a .doc and just getting my type on. Reminds me why I chase the muse; why I spend perfectly good free time trying to find a word that means the same as “curve” but is a bit prettier, and preferably starts with a S; why I started a story in the first place. I’m pretty sure this is part of the reason why writing retreats and the like work so well for most people. Sure, the lack of interruptions and responsibilities help, but the anticipation and the feeling of YAY this time is special helps as well.
3. Carrots, carrots, carrots. Writing time gets the good coffee, the shower before a writing session gets the spendy salon conditioner. Pavlov-ing myself, sure. Creative work can be hard on self-esteem sometimes. Small indulgences help.
4. Whips, whips, whips. Mornings I don’t write; no coffee shop coffee. Only at home brew. No writing session; no conditioner that smells like edelweiss. Only Target conditioner that smells like the purple jelly beans taste. It’s not so much punishment for not writing as saving the carrots for writing times. Preserve treats as treats.
5. A paper dictionary and paper thesaurus. I know lots of advice says the opposite, don’t stop writing to look up a definition or a synonym. But, for me. I will. I must. Brooding, my dear. And using a paper copy sitting nearby is a thousand times more momentum-saving than logging onto the internet for an online dictionary. For therein lays social media and What Trump Just Did and pictures of Sebastian Stan’s new haircut and all that is productivity murdering.
6. Stuff happens. That morning writing date gets pre-empted by a calamity at work, the coffee shop is closed because of a burst pipe. There’s only one hour for writing in today’s schedule, so of course, thousands of people are finding reason to call, text and knock on your door. Twice in the past year, I’ve walked out my front door, laptop bag on my shoulder, intent on going to the coffee shop to write, and found my car smashed from a hit and run. It’s easy to write off a whole day, and sometimes for self-care that’s exactly what should be done. But remember: writing careers are not built on what happened at the last writing date, but what gets accomplished at the next one.
7. Be an Artistic Little Pill. Ask the boss to leave early on a later day to make up for the calamity-induced early arrival. Write at the not-as-good coffee shop down the road. Call the insurance company about the car and make a cup of at-home coffee (there won’t be any cream in the house either) and write.
Yes, suffer through all the indignities and trials of an artist upon which the fate flings its cruelties. Think of the Just Darling stories to be told during those Late Show type interviews—yes, the book will be that good and successful—“Oh, ‘The Blonde Knew Her Killer’! That little book was wrote at the not-as-good coffee shop (wait for the audience to gasp before continuing) Yes, that coffee shop. The one where they don’t refrigerate the cold-pressed coffee so I have to wait five or so minutes for my medium to get icy cold. And there’s a regular who slurps his coffee and make a weird gurgle when he swallows and it’s audible through headphones.” Such brave tales of artistic perseverance are bound to utterly charm your fellow Late Show guests Helen Mirren and Anthony Bourdain.
8. Like what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. No, this isn’t any Write For Yourself bullshit. What I mean here is like what you are actually doing while you are doing it. Yeah, any endeavor is going to have some drudge involved. At least any non-getting a back rub from a Marvel Chris endeavors will. And some drudge (transitions! Editing! Final spellcheck!) must be done before a work is ready for public consumption. But if that drudge doesn’t actively affect the words on the page, and can be ditched, then ditch that drudge.
Here’s a little story. I belonged to a writing group that had a very annoying member. That person talked over everybody, routinely dismissed other group members’ writing, preferred genres, expected a ton of accommodation while giving none, and most damnably, told really long, really boring stories. After a year of dealing with that person, I noted I was finding reasons to show up late to group meetings and having trouble settling in to work once I got there.
Reader, I decamped with a splinter group. From then on, I arrived early and got into deep work right away. Improving the quality of my writing time improved the quality and quantity of the my output.
9. You Do You. Creating should bring well-being. If it’s not, figure out why. And no, the answer isn’t you’re a no talent hack p.o.s. Figure out when/where the joy in the doing the work got kicked to curb, and then figure out a way to call it home.
I go through periods of good productivity and bad. Lots of reasons for each, but when I am really into a project, I *find* more times and means to write than when I’m not. It’s so easy for the narrative of creative workloads to turn negative, especially with other artists. Remind yourself of your love of creating, your love for a particular story, your love of the good vibes writing a story gives you.
10. Remembering the nine points above. For me, low productivity often pals around with me feeling down with myself in general. In those dreary times, I could lambast myself for not writing. I do. Oh boy, do I. But if I can scrape up some reasonable behavior, and look back on the past couple of days sans self-deprecating- colored glasses, almost every time, along with other self-sabotaging habits, I haven’t been doing much of the above. Engaging in just one, just like making myself write just one line often guides me back to my creative path. Self-care is empowering.