Like a lot of things, I go in waves with my writing. For awhile everything inspires me, and pretty word combinations float effortlessly through my mind. Then I’ll hit a slump, and fall out of practice. Something else might be consuming my time. I might not be reading much. I might be too happy or too sad or too busy. Writing’s a slog.
There have been extended periods of my life where I write in large spurts, even once taking a stab at fiction (which was awful). But in recent years other things have largely replaced my writing habit. However, since writing is on the upswing at the moment I thought I’d share my current method for productivity.
The most basic self-imposed rule I follow is to write 10 minutes every day. I started this habit about three years ago, suspecting that I would be more consistent if I was time-driven rather than project-driven (in other words, not pressuring myself to complete anything). While I have gone through several lapses during that time, I have more or less found it is the system that I can stick with the most consistently. It best suits my lifestyle for the time being. It also fits with my life’s ultimate philosophy, which is keep all things in balance. Ten minutes is manageable. It doesn’t cut into other important goals and pastimes, yet I can still accomplish a surprising amount in that time. In fact, sometimes I’m amazed looking at 10 minutes worth of words. On the other hand, on days when I’m just not feeling it, 10 minutes isn’t daunting. It takes 10 minutes to take a shower, fold the laundry, find and put the kids’ shoes on.
This 10 minute rule can be applied to many tasks you’d like to accomplish, but find yourself dragging your feet about. Reading, exercise, searching for new opportunities, learning a new skill, even cleaning the house. Keeping the time commitment small ensures that you won’t get overwhelmed by the prospect. You may find yourself getting into a good flow and going over your time. If your life is already so jam-packed that you can’t spare 10 minutes, try five. Something is better than nothing, and over time these minutes add up.
So, back to the specifics of the writing. When I’m suffering from a streak of writer’s block or have no audience but myself in mind, I’ll just stream-of-conscious whatever’s in my head without pausing to develop or beautify anything. This gets things going. When I’m having a creative streak and want to create more polished pieces, my method gets more specific.
I try to give myself one week to craft one post or article. For that week, every day, I’ll return to the same piece and take another ten minute whack at it, ideally finishing around the seventh day with something complete.
The first day is often just a stream-of-conscious outpouring, an internal dialogue about what topic I’m feeling inspired by that week, and what directions I might take with it. (I keep a running list of future topics, ideas in my head waiting to be developed, books or movies or articles that have prompted thoughts of my own. Sometimes I spend the first day of a new project simply reflecting on multiple topics and watching which emerges as the most interesting.) Sometimes I start a loose outline in an effort to explore what angles or insights I might have, an effort not to forget points. Sometimes I just start full steam ahead without a planned route.
Occasionally, I’ll find myself in a flow and reluctant to stop. Because I have other daily goals and responsibilities, I try to force myself to quit without going too far over the ten-minute goal. Other days I find myself staring at the clock after just a few minutes, only one directionless sentence down. If I’m interrupted by the kids, I just add minutes to the clock. It can feel like pulling teeth. But one week is usually enough to get something completed, though quantity and quality greatly vary. I’m about as rigid on the one-week rule as I am on the ten-minute rule. It’s a good rule of thumb, but occasionally something needs an extra day or two. Or doesn’t need as long.
I’ve noticed key ingredients that help my writing productivity:
–Realistic daily habit (10 minutes) with eye on the time and forgiving of the quality of the product
–Read, read, read, always be reading something
–New experiences with my eyes OPEN and observing
–Quiet, alone time with limited external stimulation (such as long drives). This is key for my mind to formulate its own, unique thoughts. Having kids seriously impedes this though!
–Daily exercise and healthy diet for energy
Writing, for me, is a lifelong hobby. Although at times it feels like a chore, overall, I love the process of it. I love losing myself in the flow of it, finding the perfect word, feeling satisfied with a finished product, connecting with people through my written words. I try not to take it too seriously, but I do like to develop and sustain it the way a golfer works on her game. I just like to write and it makes me feel good. For readers with similar hobbies, what are your tips to productivity? What keeps you going? Why do you do it?