Not every writer requires or desires a deadline to get their work completed in a timely fashion. Some authors, especially if the project is of an artistic nature, prefer to write when the mood suits them, meaning when the muse is magically whispering the words in their ear.
This practice doesn’t always lead to productivity, though. As E. B. White once put it: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
Now, that may sound a tad melodramatic, but I think you get his point, which to put it in simpler, less dire terms: if you want to be a writer, you need to sit down and write, regardless of uncomfortable circumstances.
For instance, Ernest Hemingway wrote every morning. Of course, he was Ernest Hemingway, so that routine was probably easier and more lucrative for him than most mere mortals.
Establishing a strict schedule might be a good start, though sticking to it will naturally be the hard part.
The late Robert B. Parker, creator of the popular Boston private eye Spenser, and author of over 70 books in all, started out writing five pages a day, and later, as he gained confidence via success, increased it to ten. But once he reached that daily goal, he stopped. His writing regimen not only allowed but demanded time for other pursuits, including leisure. That's wise, so one doesn't feel overwhelmed by work, even work you love.
For Kurt Vonnegut, a typical workday (as related in his Letters) consisted of first awaking every morning “at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.”
Writing as mental exercise routine? That’s literally a healthy approach. But perhaps this rather loosely structured technique is not for everyone, especially everyone who isn’t of Kurt Vonnegut’s stature (like you and me).
For those of us that have mundane but money-making day jobs outside the literary or academic field (meaning almost every writer in the world, throughout history), here are a few quick if not easy suggestions:
1. Set Your Alarm – this may seem rather athletic for something as sedentary and cerebral as writing, but if nothing else, it will help you keep track of how much time you’re spending on a particular piece, and more over, give you an idea of how much time you need.
2. Mark Your Calendar – your client needs an assignment turned in by Thursday? Plan to finish it by Wednesday. Put a big X on the calendar right by your desk, like it’s a doctor’s appointment or some other urgent matter. Of course, if it’s already Wednesday, you may have to resort to other methods…
3. Creative Visualization – whether you’re writing a fictional story limited only to your imagination, or a research article dependent on verifiable facts, imagine your work as an unfolding movie, even if that means writing the best part first, then working your way backward to how your got there. This process may prevent your from boring your readers by keeping the pace lively, too.
4. Prioritize– perhaps the hardest thing to do: rather than relax after a long day in front of the TV, or going out for a drink with friends, sit down in front of your computer and just stare at it until you get tired of looking at a blank screen – so tired you decide to start filling it. Make sure you eat dinner first or during, though. An empty stomach can drain your brain, too.
5. Reward Yourself – you will order that pizza or mix that martini or catch up on your favorite TV show or otherwise treat yourself as soon as your work load for the day is finished, as compensation for the sacrifice of your social life. Basically, it’s like throwing a dog a bone after it’s successfully performed a trick. Except you’re throwing it to yourself. It’s all about self-motivated, creatively conceptualized incentive.
Of course, acclaimed author Nathan Englander offers perhaps the most sensible, simplest advice: “Turn off your cell phone.”
What are some of your methods for getting your writing project to the finish line in a timely manner?
PHOTO: MICHAEL MCCULLOUGH