I am going to shift into infomercial mode and sell you on a concept that I believe can make career-altering changes in the quality and quantity of your work.
Here is my pitch: If you write on a professional writer’s schedule you can drastically increase your productivity and effectiveness.
I am aware that very competent and sometimes brilliant writers have oddball habits and schedules that work for them, and there is no point in arguing with success. But I’ve made something of a study of writing methods, and firmly believe that these recommendations are as good as any and better than most:
- Put yourself on a regular quota. Four or five double-spaced pages a day is a good target. Even one page a day is better than nothing. One page a day can translate to a book a year. Schedule work time. Clearly, the demands of your job may take scheduling out of your control, but you can find time if you really want to. The problem with waiting for inspiration is that it may never come. And, as artist Chuck Close noted, “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.”
- Don’t over-do or under-do. The utility of a writing quota is that you don’t give yourself an out; you have to produce the four pages or wither to a skeleton in your chair. But there is a carrot as well as a stick: When you finish the four pages, you’re done. Turn off the computer or go to YouTube and watch cat videos or do whatever you like. I try not to keep going after reaching my quota even when I want to, even when I’m on a roll. If you stop when you look forward to continuing you are more likely to actually continue the next day. But if you press to exhaustion, you are less likely to climb back on the horse, and if you do get in the saddle, you’ll plod from fatigue.
- Create the environment where you work best. If that environment involves a mahogany desk and fancy leather chair, go for it, but remember that your goal is production, not opulent surroundings. If you look at the desks of the men and women who really crank out quality manuscript, you’ll usually notice a blue-collar aura about the setup. Find out what helps your productivity and incorporate it. For me, it’s two or more computer screens, with the ability to cut and paste from one to the other. Even on a single screen, I generally divide the electronic real estate in two. Personally, I don’t see why any writer would want to be limited to one screen, flipping back and forth between source material and manuscript. I also like plenty of light, and more than one observer has remarked that my office looks more like an operating room than a study.
- Get up early. Night owls may disagree, and they may be right, but I believe most people write better in the morning, especially when they have “slept on it” (meaning their work) the night before. There is some scientific basis to the benefits of letting your subconscious work on a problem overnight. Perhaps my preference for the morning writing is simply that my brain is too cluttered and clouded at the end of the day to be productive. I usually lay out the next morning’s work at night, take note of what I hope to accomplish the next day, and extract myself from the bed as early as I can manage.