Three tips to help you sit your butt down and write

 In Humor, Productivity for Writers, The Writing Life

This is a new part of my blog -- I'm calling it Productivity for Writers.  Each post will be geared for writers, rather than readers, and focus on how we writers can write more and better by improving both the quantity and quality of our productivity. 

If you write, perhaps you know the feeling:

You say that you’ll begin writing at a certain time, like say 8am.  When the clock strikes eight, you nod to yourself and say, “Right.  Let’s get cracking.”

But then — a flash of insight.  You know what would probably make you more productive today?  Cleaning the house first.  Because everything is starting to get messy, and it’s hard to feel creative when you feel dirty dishes and dusty chandeliers calling to you, right?

So you clean.  For thirty minutes.

At eight-thirty, you decide, “Okay, this is it.  Time to write.  For real, this time.”

You sit down.  You open up your computer.  You remember you haven’t checked email for the day first, so you decide to do that first — “Just five minutes,” you tell yourself.  But once open, you find an email from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while.  Your heart warms at seeing their name in your inbox, and you gobble up their email quickly.  You start writing them back (“It should only take another minute or two”), and in the process, you want to share a link with them of something that recently captivated your attention.

“Now where was that…?” you wonder as you begin trawling the Internet looking for the book / blog post / YouTube video / song that you want to share with your friend.  You find several other captivating things on your journey, but you never do manage to find that link you so enjoyed the other day.

Then your partner texts you, shocking out of your web search, and in the process of replying to her, you see the time displayed on your phone.

9:04am.

“Nine o’clock?!?” you think after you hit send on the text message.  “How did it get to be nine o’clock already?”

Rather than silencing your phone and saving the email for later, you of course text with your partner for a couple minutes, and then you get back to writing your email.  You finish it ten minutes later.  Sans the link you were looking for.

“Okay!” you declare out-loud.  The dogs / cats / children / you yourself give you a funny look.  “Time for me to get to work.”

You open your drafted work back up.  You start to read what you wrote yesterday, just to catch up to the thread of the story.

“Oh no,” you moan internally.  “This is crap.  Complete crap.  I’m going to have to rewrite all of this.”

You go back to a few earlier scenes, just to see how deep the damage goes, and your morale falls even lower.  You start to open your email back up, just to ease the pain of having to look at your bad writing, but you stop yourself, reminding yourself that the time for distractions is over.

Around nine forty-five, an hour and three quarters after you originally said you would sit down to write, you type your first word.

“The.”

Don’t worry; it happens to the best of us.

If the scenario above sounds at all familiar, don’t worry.  You are not alone.  It seems that most — if not all — creatives suffer from the same few problems.  You are not uniquely handicapped in this regard.  Resistance for us shows up in various forms — procrastination, endless re-reading, endless editing.

I was listening to a podcast this morning (one of my favorites, it’s called the 5am Miracle), and the host was interviewing country music legend Lionel Cartwright.  He quoted Willie Nelson as having said something like,

“Writers will do anything to avoid writing.”

So true!

Get out of your bad habits by creating routines that work for you

In my last Productivity for Writers post, I mentioned one of my favorite books, Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Nearly every single writer, artist, and thinker profiled by Curry had some sort of daily routine for their creative work.  Here are a few ideas culled from these artists — but remember, it’s not about what THEY did that worked for THEM. It’s about finding and establishing your own “daily ritual” that works for you.

1. Train yourself like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

One of the profiles from the book that sticks out to me the most comes from W.H. Auden. Auden, you probably know, was a poet. And I don’t know what kinds of stereotypes you carry in YOUR head about poets, but I know for me, I think of poets as dreamers.  Men and women whose heads are in the clouds, who stay up late at night star-gazing, or who drink far too much to chase away a pervasive depression.

That was NOT Auden.

Here’s what Curry wrote of Auden:

The poet was obsessively punctual and lived by an exacting timetable throughout his life… Auden believed that a life of such military precision was essential to his creativity, a way of taming the muse to his own schedule.  “A modern stoic,” he observed, “knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”

Apparently, you could set your watch by Auden’s routines.  And in creating such a routine, it seemed he trained his mind to produce creative work on a regular schedule in a nearly Pavlovian manner.

Another artist who believed Pavlovian training was essential?  The composer Benjamin Britten.  In his own words:

I like working to an exact timetable. I often thank my lucky stars that I had a rather conventional upbringing, that I went to a rather strict school where one was made to work.  And I can without much difficulty sit down at nine o’clock in the morning and work straight through the morning until lunchtime…

2. Change up your environment.

Sometimes, working from home can be too distracting.  If you find that to be the case for you, you’re not alone.  Maya Angelou felt that way.  She never wrote at home.  Instead, she rented a cheap motel room and went there each day to write.

3. Get lots of exercise.

I already mentioned in my previous post that a surprising number of the artists profiled in Curry’s book were big walkers.  Charles Dickens was one of the biggest walkers; the writer was prone to walk up to twenty miles per day.

This is an interesting fact to note, because how long would it take you to walk twenty miles?  I know that, for me and my short legs, I walk about one mile in twenty minutes.  That comes out to about seven hours of walking per day!  With all that walking, who has time to write?

Yet many successful people — and not just artists — say that exercise is one of those things that ends up being a “multiplier.”  The famous businessman Richard Branson, for example, says that keeping fit doubles his productivity.  If it works for Branson and it worked for Dickens, maybe you, too, should consider adding exercise to your writing routine?

Alright, my friends.  Now that I have spent one hour and 1250 words writing this post for you, I need to… sit my butt down and WRITE!

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