This Procrastinator’s New Outlook: Disciplined Writing

DisciplinedWriting

I replied to a Tweet the other day asking what my procrastination device is. My reply: It’s in my blood…so, life. I find reasons to put off just about anything. Laundry, returning phone calls, making appointments to get my hair cut. Gracious, I even put off going to the bathroom, which usually leads to passing people at a breakneck speed in the hall at work with a wave of the hand and some quick muttering of, “Yea, yea, Bob. Great idea. Let’s set up a meeting…ok, great, yea, gotta go.” 

Here’s another admission. When I sat down to write this post, I planned to lay out a not-so-detailed campaign for how the un-rhythm of a writer inflicted with tendencies for procrastination could be leveraged into a mastered craft. If I’m going to admit to putting things off, my ego requires me to throw out a defense and puff up a bit. But something happened during my research. As I began reading back over some of my favorite bloggers who write about writing, it became hard to ignore the fact that I am wrong.

Gasp.

just do it, ALREADY

Jeff Goins is a writer and blogger after my own heart. He sets out to “wage war on the blank page,” and help others find passion, purpose, and (hopefully) success in their writing. In Why You Need to Write Everyday, Jeff turned my non-existent writing schedule on its head.

Spending five hours on a Saturday writing isn’t nearly as valuable as spending 30 minutes a day every day of the week. Especially when you’re just getting started. The idea is repetition — developing a discipline of showing up, making this a priority, and working through The Resistance.

If you want to get this writing thing down, you need to start writing every day. No questions asked, no exceptions made. After all, this isn’t a hobby we’re talking about; it’s a discipline.

Uh, yea. What have I been doing the past several months? Hunkering down on a Sunday for five hours to binge write. Sure, I get things done. I usually work through rewriting two or three chapters. It’s productive, but is it constructive? Jeff really hit home with a line that follows, “…habits practiced once a week aren’t habits at all. They’re obligations.” Working through my manuscript has, indeed, become an obligation. Something else on my “I’ve got to fit that in” list.

I am a wife, mom, full-time professional communications director, and friend to a few great women who deserve my time. Notice I didn’t include “writer” on that list. Until I self-define myself as writer, the priority has no chance of leading to discipline.

Becoming Disciplined

Books and Such literary agent, Wendy Lawton, hits home with a post about how important it is for writers to “write through” the excuses.

There are always excuses– illness, appointments, family issues, demanding jobs, money crunches, homeschooling, disappointments, dust, dishes, and laundry. Dilettantes [definition: a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge] write when the spirit moves them. Writers write through.

It’s time to shed the dilettante cloak and strap on the writer suspenders. How might we become more disciplined in our writing?  Here are a few tips I’ve collected and plan to put in to place. Maybe you’ll find them helpful too.

  • Chose a prime writing space. In her recent article Six Simple Tricks for Building a Strong Writing Habit, Ali Luke’s #1 tip is to “make the place you write work for you.” Find a place with the fewest distractions that you know will allow you to be productive. If chores or young children at home keep pulling your attention away from the screen, retreat to a place void of such distractions. I’ve been a single mom when my husband was working out of town, so I know this can feel nearly impossible. But ask for help. Your friends and family want to support you. I promise.
  • Be prepared. The Boy Scouts had it right, being prepared can increase productivity. One Sunday I ventured out to my favorite writing spot, a downtown coffee shop, but discovered I had forgotten my laptop’s power cord and my headphones. I wasn’t prepared and didn’t get much writing done. Since then, I have a check-list whenever I leave the house to write.
  • Set aside time. As a creative, scheduling time for my craft feels uninspired. I fantasize of a world in which I drop what I’m doing whenever inspiration strikes and put pen to paper. Life doesn’t work that way, does it? (Gnash your teeth with me, creatives.) Literary legend Alice Walker offers this advice in a 2010 interview with Writer’s Digest, “Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and the time set aside.” I’ll be thinking of what time I can set aside on a regular basis to create possibility.
  • Have a Plan-B to nurture your writing without writing. Sometimes when you set aside time, life does get in the way. You’re tired. You’re sick. You’re simply not inspired when your writing time comes around. Have a back-up plan for keeping the momentum going and avoid the guilt of not writing. This nagging guilt is a hazard for me, and one I have to watch carefully. Author Patricia Cornwell also shared advice with Writer’s Digest, quoted in “A Better Approach to ‘Write Every Day.” It’s worth a full excerpt:

    “Treat your writing like a relationship and not a job. Because if it’s a relationship, even if you only have one hour in a day, you might just sit down and open up your last chapter because it’s like visiting your friend. What do you do when you miss somebody? You pick up the phone. You keep that connection established. If you do that with your writing, then you tend to stay in that moment, and you don’t forget what you’re doing. Usually the last thing I do before I go to bed is sit at my computer and just take a look at the last thing I was writing. It’s almost like I tuck my characters in at night. I may not do much, but I’m reminding myself: This is the world I’m living in right now, and I’ll go to sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”

These are just a few tips I’m mulling over as I begin to think about my discipline as a serious writer. If it’s important to me, which is it…if it’s part of who I am, which it is…then there needs to be intention, priority.

If you’re settled in to a productive writing disciple, I’d love to hear what works for you. If you’re like me and need to flex your discipline muscles, let me know what’s the hardest part for you to overcome. We’re in this together, you and I. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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