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Tips for Staying Productive as a Writer

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 3

overcoming inertia, procrastination and the inner critic

Writers are artists, like painters, musicians and actors, and as such we are often subject to the same highs and lows of such professions. Our work can be brilliant one day, and mediocre the next, and its often a challenge to find ways to stay motivated and productive in the "valleys" of our careers while we wait to reach the "peaks" once again.

There are some very common pitfalls that uniquely trap writers however, and the solutions to them can be elementary. Even if you have been diagnosed as clinically depressed, you can have a prolific and successful writing career if you recognize these three common pitfalls and employ simple strategies to overcome them.

1.  The first tip is to have a writing plan for days when other things go unexpectedly wrong in your life - when the vicissitudes of life crap on your day. Writers by their very nature are good at drawing up written plans and goals for what they want to accomplish, but often neglect the fact that the outside world is going to intrude on those carefully crafted project schedules. Accept the fact that the quantity of work may be reduced during such days, and focus instead on quality. It's said that Margaret Mitchell rewrote the ending to Gone With The Wind 17 times before feeling that it was right, and its considered one of the greatest endings in literature. Sometimes quality has much more of a bearing on the feeling of accomplishment you get as a writer than quantity, and days when you can only spare a few non-interrupted minutes to write are suited best to rewriting and polishing work. Consider these days like commercial breaks for writing in an otherwise tumultuous television soap opera of daily affairs. A lot more can be accomplished in a break of two minutes and two seconds than you might think.

2.  Ernest Hemingway once said, "Write drunk, edit sober." Whether this is sound advice or not, writers tend to be subject to particular forms of self-flagellating procrastination. These include overuse (though moderation is yummy if you keep it legal!) of alcohol and other drugs, oversleeping  (how many afternoon siestas do you really need if you live 600 miles north of the equator?) and a psychological tendency for displacement. It's amazing how appealing cleaning the toilet bowl suddenly seems when you're confronted by the blank page or big white eye of the word processor. The key to controlling these tendencies is to first recognize they exist, and then use them to your advantage by making them rewards instead of punishments. Complete one chapter, take a nap, clean the toilet bowl, imbibe... Work, reward (no punishment), repeat, work, reward, (no punishment)...  In small increments this can work wonders, and its much better than getting caught in a loop where you find yourself writing something like "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over...and over.

3.  The final tip to maintaining a productive writing life is to recognize that there is an innate distortion in your perception of your own work and the future it offers you. As writers, we are highly imaginative beings, and this often includes imagining great disaster that will befall us if we disrupt our schedules and the world's demands on our time to live for the moment and simply write. Scientists call this bias in how obsessively driven types see the world the Sheldon Cooper Syndrome. SCS can cause a nasty cognitive loop in your mind from which there appears to be no hope of escape. Remember that this is just an illusion. Writing is important. Its a valid occupation and real way that people make a living. The world will make a place for you to write if you demand that it do so. Remeber that its much easier to be the Sheldon than to see the Sheldon. In due time your inner critic will be revealed for the neurotic, deranged, conniving little individual he or she is, and you will be rich and famous! (Well, at least you'll have something for someone else to read that you are proud of!)



Mar 28, 2012 9:36pm
This was very interesting, I had no idea Margaret Mitchell rewrote the ending to "Gone With The Wind" 17 times! I also like the idea of "work, reward (no punishment), repeat, work, reward, (no punishment)."
Apr 2, 2012 1:17am
Actually MM rewrote almost every section of the novel many many times including the first chapter. She never expected it to be published in fact (it was picked up by a visiting publisher in a disheveled, handwritten form with crossed out sections and so on and he read it and loved it). She thought it was too racist to be published initially...

(I'm an aspiring novelist so I have read alot over the years about how famous novelists complete their work. The one I find most original is Dean Koontz. Apparently he progresses through his books essentially one page at a time. That is, he rewrites the page over and over and over until he feels its perfect, then he moves on to the next. This way, when he gets to the end of the book he knows that its trully done for good)...
Mar 31, 2012 10:28am
This is an awesome article to keep all us writers positive. It isn't always easy, but it can be done.
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  1. Julie A. Fast & John D. Preston Get It Done When You're Depressed. New York, New York: Alpha Books, 2008.

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