Tolkien was a notorious procrastinator and look at what he accomplished! It’s all too easy to find excuses to procrastinate on writing. This was true even in college creative workshops, where the structure and deadlines were meant to guide students into finishing projects. But I remember deadline mornings were synonymous with baggy eyes, the stench of black coffee, and still unstapled, freshly printed paper. Many students didn’t heed advice to allocate work. Outside of workshop settings, with nothing to steer us away from the grinds of everyday life, creative projects often get pushed aside. As Tolkien said, we’ve got to figure out what to do with the time that’s given to us — from finding inspiration, to now, figuring out ways to be more prolific. Here are some tips:
Download (writing) apps. From comparing prices at the grocery store to tracking running distance to checking movie times, there now seems to be apps for everything on your to-do list. Add some writing apps to that list. Need help organizing acts or character traits? Try Coggle, a free mind-mapping program — all you need is a google account. Wonder if your dialogue is too wordy or prose unclear? Put it through Hemingway, which analyzes blocks of text that may be hard to read. If writing isn’t a matter of life or death for you, try using Write or Die, in which you set word count goals; if you don’t meet them, there are various consequences, including annoying sounds and jiggling spiders.
Set specific goals and deadlines. With vague deadlines, it is tempting to keep pushing work aside for an indefinite amount of time. I’d jot down a note to write two scenes by the end of the week, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, I’d forgotten with nothing on paper. So instead, try daily goals, allocating specific (yet realistic) times each day for writing. When I set deadlines like, “Write one scene on Monday,” I don’t think to myself that I have more time. Instead, with less leeway, I feel obligated to cross it off the list.
Start with the simple. I find figuring out the climax of my story the most daunting when I first start a project. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work around that, making a story more manageable in turn. For instance, I might shape smaller events, write lists of characters’ traits, or detail setting descriptions. I think of the process like a sculptor patiently chipping away a block of clay, stripping the peripheral and working in, rather than jumping straight into molding a defined, facial expression.
Find a creative community. It doesn’t matter if your community is “just a few friends” with the same interests as you. What matters is that there are people to bounce ideas from and share your work with, especially because we all know writing is such a solitary act that can get quite lonely. I love having other writers (or interested friends) who help me work out plot alternatives or force me to clarify story themes. They keep me accountable. Outside of classroom workshops, my college town had monthly readings of creative work and free film screenings and festivals. While it’s just not possible to keep in contact with every single person you meet, these events helped connect me with fellow peers, and being supportive of one another and their new ideas. Also try local, city meetups, and resources like Shut Up and Write! — not only will you meet new people, but you also get writing done during their timed meetings.
Mark down schedules for reference. It’s easy to lose track of how much you have (or have not) accomplished once the months pass by. A friend, working on her first novel, went through a slump period in which she realized the days were all becoming a blur. So she got a timer and began marking the time frames she spent writing each day. Through consistency, she now has all her scenes finished. By using a framework, you can see the progress and isn’t that what’s ultimately satisfying about writing?
Guest post for ScreenCraft from Tiffany Lew. Tiffany is a recent graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She covers arts and culture.
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