I know from several decades of taking my writing seriously that I experience seasons of high productivity, followed by leaner times. It is during those times when writing is a struggle that we prove to ourselves what it takes, and the price needed to be paid. I am currently coming out of a very lean period, a dark, season of little output and plenty of discouragement.
In the early 1990s I read the Stephen Covey book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I devoured the contents of this book, and those he subsequently wrote, and successfully applied many of the principles to my own life. It changed many things about the way I lived, including my writing. At the time I was teaching full time and the books also influenced how I approached my teaching career. (Note to self: time to reread those books – and any subsequent books he wrote.)
I recently came across a short article called The Habits of Highly Effective Writers. While this article didn’t go into great depth on the subject, the author has some valuable principles from which all writers could benefit.
Productive writers don’t reach for excuses when the going gets hard. They treat writing like the job it is. They show up, punch the clock, and punch out. Nothing romantic about it. They give themselves a quota; sometimes it’s butt-in-chair time, sometimes a word count. Simple math allows you to figure out how quickly 1,000 words a day adds up to a book-length work. These writers know how to use deadlines, whether external or self-imposed, to stay on track.
I guess that I have, in part, been using the excuse of illness in recent months for not making as much progress with my writing as I would have liked. To be fair to myself, there were many times when I was nearly doubled up in pain due to a stomach ailment, or being unable to even sit at my computer for any length of time due to back pain, or even falling asleep in mid-word at the keyboard due to the effects of sleep apnoea. Despite all these hindrances, I pushed on as best as I could, but achieving far less than I had hoped. It was a frustrating time.
Apart from still some back pain, these issues are in the past – I hope – and now the reality to those dark days fading into the distance is being realised. I have reset my goals and look to the coming year with great anticipation. I dream that this will be my best year of writing ever, eclipsing the year I achieved my Masters degree. All I have to do is put in the hard yards – and quite a few miles as well – and those dreams may turn into reality.
Do you make “To Do” lists?
I do. I generally find them not only useful but sometimes quite essential to help me to remember to do important tasks. It also helps me to remember those unimportant but essential things like putting out the rubbish (garbage) bins on the right night ready for collection the next morning. These lists are important in helping me to also prioritise tasks needing my attention.
I keep all kinds of lists relating to my writing, lists such as
- tasks achieved each day – to keep me focussed
- hours and words written each day – to keep me accountable to myself
- writing goals – to know where I am heading and to keep on track
- publication successes – to encourage me when I feel depressed
- income from my writing – to show me that I am not entirely wasting my time
- lists of blog post titles coming up – as a part of my forward planning
This is just a sample of some of the lists I keep. None take more than a few seconds to fill and all those statistics show me where I’ve been, how I am currently going and – most importantly, where I am heading with my writing.
I strongly encourage all writers to make, keep and regularly update whatever lists they deem necessary.
WHAT NOT TO DO
My To Do List
- Make a list
- Cross off item #1 on this list
- Realise that I’ve already achieved 2 – no – 3 things on my list.
- Reward yourself with a nap (in progress).