Tuesday, November 22, 2016

300 Productivity Posts - Celebration and FAQ for ambitious writers

Welcome to the (more or less) 300th How To Write Fast post. I still haven't run out of things to say. In fact, in addition to weekly posts, I'm deep into a book on writing productivity that will be out in the spring. 

In the meantime, now's a good time to celebrate. (I'm taking a break from the Write Who You Are Series. It will continue next week) I can't think of a better way to share the moment than to answer the top questions I get in my classes.

What's the best thing I can do to improve my productivity?
The most effective positive action I've seen with students is to 1) Set a timer 2) Type words that push your work in progress forward from the time it starts to the time it finishes.

No rewriting, no researching, and as little pondering as possible. The goal of drafting is to capture a complete work with a beginning, middle, and end. It isn't to capture a final work, polished and perfect.

What's the commitment? I've cut it to the bone, and for most people the minimum is about 20 minutes a day, five days a week. This provides the habits and continuity that are essential to storytelling. It is extremely helpful if sometime during the day before, you write down a prep sentence for the work. Then you'll know each time you sit down what you're going to write.

What's wrong with rewriting as I go along?
There is nothing morally wrong with writing any way you like, and what works for you works for you. Also, please note: With the exception of people who hire me as a coach, you will not have me standing behind you and groaning as you loop back to previous paragraphs or chapters to "just get them right."

With that said, looping is the most common practice I see getting in the way of completing stories. It is the stumbling block that keeps people who write every day from getting past the first few chapters of a novel or from having the productivity they want.

The reason for this appears to be that revising comes from a different part of the brain than drafting. So switching back and forth saps energy. It also leads to discouragement as progress is slowed and the editor in your head is always stepping up to the lectern to criticize and berate you.

If you are a happy looper or you've determined it's the only way to write a quality manuscript, who am I to disagree? But if you loop and are unhappy with your productivity, take steps to break the habit.

Why do I have to stick with my Work In Progress (WIP)?
I get it. People who write regularly get new ideas all the time. Some of them, invariably, seem better that what's happening in the WIP. And it feels good to do something else when the WIP work gets difficult or every sentence feels stale and weak.

The problem is that forsaking your commitment to the WIP and chasing the next shiny thing is too easy and rarely helps you gets you where you want to go. If you doubt this, check with your fellow writers who do this and ask them how many have dozens of unfinished works around or worse, how often they dither about which work to take on.

It is perfectly okay to explore a new concept. It is fine to get notes down on a dream that felt like the next O. Henry Prize winner. You can cheat a little on you WIP and still get it finished. The trick is making sure that five days a week for twenty minutes on each of those day, you are faithful to the WIP, moving it forward to completion.

How do I choose the right project?
This depends on where you are as a writer, what commitments you have, what you hope to learn, where your passions lie, and what your career goals are. Any or all of these can drive your priorities and which manuscript becomes your next WIP. My recommendation is that you explore these and other factors and explicitly write out your criteria for choosing a project. You may then (if you are as geeky as I am), develop a way to score potential projects and order them according to the results. If all this sounds like too much, just list potential projects and go with the one for which you have the most passion. Trust your heart. Make the commitment. Move forward. Get it finished.

How do I have fun with my writing?
Sadly, this is not really a frequently asked question. Perhaps the Puritans have left their mark on too many of the writers I meet (and it's not a coincidence that they are concerned about productivity). Yet, it belongs here. Your enthusiasm, your engagement, and the endorphins released as you get into the flow of your writing are not inconsequential to your productivity. Writing can be frustrating, emotionally painful, and tedious at times. But if writing is drudgery most of the time, you're not doing it right. You need to step back and rediscover the joy.

Why did you want to write to begin with? What have been your best experiences? What inspires you? And, perhaps most importantly, what are you afraid of? Because, if you have come to dread sitting down and bringing character to life, chances are you've created unreasonable expectations or you're afraid of being judged or of failing.

Try these:
  • Think of the scene you most want to write in your WIP. Write your prep sentence, and then write that scene tomorrow. 
  • Write something related to your WIP that you'll never use directly in your finished version -- an interview with a character, a description of the coolest place in your world, a complete scene written in the style of you favorite writer.
  • Do your writing in a different way -- with music if that not typical or in longhand or in comic sans font.
  • Write a scene from the point of view of an intriguing character whom you've never given a voice.
  • Create a storyboard for one of your pivotal scenes.
In other words, take the pressure off. Shake things up and do something that "doesn't count." Make amusing yourself a project.

Okay. That's five questions and answers. I'm happy to answer your specific question in comments.

Next week, I'll write the 301st blog post, continuing the Write Who You Are series.

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