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).
Books about writing
Over the years I have read a growing number of books and articles about writing. I still have quite a pile to finish; some I haven’t even started. Funny thing is that the pile never seems to diminish. When I was doing my Master of Arts (creative writing) degree I devoured many quite wonderful books about writing. Here and there I picked up little gems of wisdom from great practitioners of the craft.
The key to success
Over the last decade I have also trolled the internet for that magic bullet, a priceless pearl of wisdom, or the key to open the door to success as a writer. I am still looking. I am slowly coming to realise that I should have looked in the dictionary first. Work – hard work – is the only real key to success.
That is not to play down the importance of reading about the craft of writing in books and on the internet. Much can be learned from these sources. Every now and then I come across a sentence, or a paragraph and even a whole chapter or article which makes an immediate impact. Putting that wisdom into practice is the hard part.
Lists, lists and more lists
One thing I have noticed about internet and blog articles in particular is the love of lists. It seems like hundreds, maybe even thousands, of writers are making lists. 10 ways to be a better writer. 7 sure ways of getting published. 9 methods of securing an agent. The ‘list’ could go on and on.
No; I am not going to write a list. (Confession: I have been known to – see here.)
Instead, I am going to reflect on a list I read a few days ago. The article is called Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing. I will comment on just a couple of them.
Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
I understand what the she is trying to say. Sometimes a group of fellow writers can muddy the water, and they will make suggestions which are not only not helpful, but are downright harmful. An example occurred with one of degree supervisors; she didn’t understand the climate of the country where my novel was set. Generally however, I find that belonging to a writers’ group can be very beneficial. Many of my reasons are included in articles here and here and here and here.
Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
Guilty as charged.
I spend – often it is waste – too much time checking and reading my email, Facebook updates and Twitter feeds. I guess I should regard that wasted time as lost income from writing.
Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
Dealing with this one is far more difficult for me. While my wife encourages me by giving me the time and space to write, most other people regard me as retired. Sure, 10 years ago I retired from classroom teaching. Now I try to be a full time writer. That has been very difficult over the last few years when my wife was caring full time for her mother and left me to deal with the housework. We were also without a pastor at church, so I was spending 10 – 15 hours or more running the church. Both of those situations have now changed, so I am without excuse.
- Join a writers’ group
- Another benefit of joining a writers’ group
- Fun at my writers’ group
- The importance of a writers’ group
The photo below has nothing to do with this article. I just think it’s a lovely flower.
The Melbourne Writers’ Festival starts next week. I can’t make it this year but some of my readers might be able to get there. You can access all the details here. I’ve never attended this particular festival, but looking at the programme it seems like a very interesting time in store for everyone who attends. There is an excellent line up of writers attending from many parts of the world. There is a charge for some sessions, but looking through the list of free events I’d say that there is something in that long list for everyone.
I must try to get to it sometime in the next few years. The same applies to the Sydney Writers Festival, and I missed all of the sessions of this year’s Adelaide Writer’s Week. Roll on March 2014. In the meantime I plan to attend several local regional festivals here in South Australia.