2011 is slowly drawing to a close and since it is never too early to start thinking about resolutions, I have decided to make up my own list of rules that I need to adhere if I want to become a more prolific writer. This short list is mainly based on other pieces of writing advice as well as observations on my own writing habits. After some thought, I believe these are the rules that make the most sense for me personally. Some of these may be painfully obvious when you read it, but just because something is obvious doesn’t mean that I will necessarily do it, so it’s always good to write them down as a reminder. Speaking of obvious…
1. Stop procrastinating
We might as well get the most obvious one out of the way immediately: that is to stop procrastinating. My MBTI type is INFP. If it was possible to pursue a career in procrastination, INFP’s will probably be the leading experts within that field.
The only real answer to this issue is that I should become more disciplined. I have proven in the past that I am capable of doing that, albeit in short spurts. For the last few weeks, I have been setting aside a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday to write. It’s not yet close to where I want to be in the end, but it’s a good start and it’s exactly the type of discipline I need. Now I have to slowly expand the amount of time I spend on writing until I am fully into the habit of writing almost every day.
Registering for writing classes can be greatly beneficial as well. I’ve already signed up for an online one starting from December 15th, and I intend to return to the Writers Studio next term in January. I’m also thinking about going to a writing retreat next year instead of going on a normal vacation.
2. Spend less time working
To spend more time on writing, that means I have to spend less time on other activities. I admit I still waste too much time browsing the Internet aimlessly and checking Facebook updates, so there are some quick wins there. However, the real potential gain is the amount of time I spend on working. For the last couple of months with a few exceptions, I basically wake up around 7:00 – 7:30 am before heading off to work 30 minutes later, and by the time I get home it is already 8 pm. By the time I have dinner, it’s around 9 pm. On top of that, I regularly work a couple of extra hours during the weekend. I like my job and all, but this is just too much. And it’s not just the time I actually spend on working, but I find myself mentally completely drained during the evenings, and I have trouble thinking straight, let alone writing anything half-decent (hence all the aimless Internet browsing).
So starting from January 1st 2012, I vow to work a normal 40 hours a week, and only more if absolutely necessary. That will leave me with much more time and energy to write (not to mention other activities like ironing my clothes or cleaning the house once in a while).
3. Focus, focus, focus!
I often find my thoughts jumping from project to project when I’m writing. I would try to write a certain story, but then I keep thinking about all the other stuff I want to write about. It could be other stories I plan to write somewhere down the line. It could be something I plan to write for my blog. Or it could be an idea I just came up with. The result? I end up spreading myself too thin and I am not able to make any significant progress on any single project.
As is often the case with me, the solution really just boils down to discipline. Pick one story to work on and focus on that (perhaps pick a second one but do not work on them simultaneously). It’s really as simple as that. If my mind drifts off, bring it back to focus on the task at hand. I can indulge in my daydreams all I want about other projects when I’m walking down the street, taking a shower or lying in bed. But when I’m actually sitting down behind my desk to work on a story, I need to focus.
4. Do not worry about the technical stuff
Spelling. Grammar. Finding le mot juste. Those things are not important during the first draft. Does the writing sound horribly off-key? It doesn’t matter. Just keep on writing. Get my ideas and thoughts on paper. Bring the characters to life. Let the plot unfold. These things just do not happen when I wonder whether I should use a comma or a semi-colon. There’s plenty of time to worry about that stuff after the first draft is done.
I really do know all this for a long time already. Yet this remains to be one of my greatest weaknesses. But I guess it’s just a matter of habit. Be on the lookout for this weakness, and iaf I catch myself worrying too much about the technical stuff, just bring my thoughts back towards the story. Do that often enough and it will come more naturally.
5. Hold longer writing sessions
One particular thing I noticed about myself is that I have a lot of trouble getting started during a writing session, part of which may be related to the previous point. The first 15-20 minutes is usually quite non-productive, and most of that time is spent on hemming and hawing as I stare frustratingly at the page lying in front of me. But inevitably I will start to slowly get into a flow and the words will come out at a more natural and rapid pace. This also occurred during some exercises in writing classes, when the exercise required me to write something in 20 minutes or something like that. I’m just not able to do it and I struggle to put anything meaningful on paper.
So the advice here is quite straightforward. Try to avoid short writing sessions if possible. This is not a hard rule. After all, stealing 30 minutes to do some writing is still better than not writing at all. This is more about planning ahead and setting up schedules for myself. This way, I don’t need to start panicking when after 20 minutes I still haven’t written anything yet, because I know there is still more than enough time for me to get productive.