Four flaws that could slam the brakes on your writing career
Maximise your writing time and establish positive writing habits
**This wasn’t intended as a COVID-19 article but here we are (in lockdown, most likely) and I couldn’t think of a better time to share this advice in these trying times**
Ever wondered how the Pareto principle can be applied to amplify your writing productivity? Or what about how you can hone your craft at an unprecedented rate from the comfort of your own home?
But before we dive in ….
This article will assume a couple of things: you already have a safe, distraction-free writing space (more on that here) and a work-in-progress, which you are truly committed to completing sooner rather than later. Because if we are being honest, finished books are the only currency that matter when it comes to a writer wishing to charge headlong into the fray that is the publication world.
These flaws and deficiencies are just what I have learned about myself and the frustration I encountered – and conquered – on the way to publishing my debut novel The Pharaoh’s Curse. Perhaps some of them will not apply to you. Perhaps none, but I am sure we can all agree on the most beautiful part about this community, here at Jericho Writers, is that we can all help each other. After absorbing the following insights, I implore you do exactly that and contribute your own efficiency hacks in the comments.
Alright, here we go.
Flaw #1: Not using your writing time effectively
Does this scene sound familiar?
It’s finally arrived—your day off. No bill-paying job to attend today (and pretend not to wish you were writing instead) because you’ve hustled hard all week successfully scheduling various appointments, gatherings, and chores to gift yourself this blessed day: your writing day.
Except it’s already 11am and you are yet to make a start. You’re milling about on Twitter like a distracted fool when you know better than anyone how precious your writing time is. You might salvage this after lunch and punch out a few scenes, you might not. However, one thing that is for certain is that the big dose of self-loathing heading your way is wholly unconstructive.
Let’s better equip you to avoid that counter-intuitive behaviour.
This approach is two-fold. First, set yourself up with an accountability partner. Preferably a fellow writer, but any person with a business or side-hustle will do. Arrange a 10-minute phone call with them at a mutually convenient time, to be held weekly. Sunday’s have worked well for me. During this conversation you will each lay out your writing and/or other goals for the coming week. Start each call with an honest assessment of how the previous week went and over time you will learn when you are slacking or biting off more than you can chew. With the right accountability buddy, you will look forward to these calls and it works even better if you can spare a couple of minutes for a mid-week text to check in for an update.
The next one is even simpler and does not require anyone other than your beautiful self. It’s a principle many entrepreneurs know as: Win Tomorrow Today.
In essence, you establish and prioritise your goals for the following day before you go to bed. Yes, write them down. When you wake up, you already know what is required of you so you can channel that all-important morning energy to actually, you know, doing the writing. The most surprising thing I’ve discovered since adopting this tactic is that I have generally achieved my writing goals for the entire day before 11am! And that I’m still oozing with energy to complete “bonus writing” later in the day.
Implement these two strategies and watch your writing time flourish. The hardest part of any writing session is getting started. Free yourself from the shackles with a little forward-planning and preparation.
Flaw #2: “But there aren’t enough hours in the day”
We all have unique circumstances. Some of us writers have full-time jobs or children to consider. Some with both (not sure how you manage it, but I salute you super people). Most of you are probably already using your commute to good effect to get in your reading time, whether that be actual reading or consuming audiobooks. However you squeeze it in, it is critical to your ongoing development as writer.
But nor do you want to sacrifice valuable writing time to make it so. Let’s save you some time, then. You’ve worked hard, you deserve it.
As a society, we are all consuming content at an unprecedented rate. Whether for educational purposes, such as the wonderful writing courses right here at Jericho Writers, or through an entertainment platform like Netflix. What if you could consume it faster? That would save you time, right?
Yes, you can, and yes, it would.
Install a plug-in for your browser, such as Video Speed Controller, which gives you control over playback speed.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to follow any sort of video at 1.2x speed. Don’t believe me? YouTube has this as an inbuilt feature. Try viewing a video at 1.25x playback rate and see for yourself. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a way to mesh this with Chromecast capability. For now, you would be best connecting a laptop to a TV using a HDMI cable (or whatever the alternative is for you Mac types)
Pro-tip: don’t reinvest any time saved from consuming media at a faster rate into more of the same. Remember: writers write.
Flaw #3: “But I only have 15 minutes”
Writing is comprised of many activities that aren’t all directly getting words down on a page. There are necessary planning tasks to be done, such as outlining, character development, story research. The list really could go on, but it doesn’t need to. Just the takeaway is what is important.
Complete your secondary writing tasks when you have shorter amounts of time.
Flaw #4: “But I need to let my Twitter and Instagram followers know about …”
The Pareto principle was promised and here it is: 20% of your writing activities produce 80% of the income. Read that again. Do you agree? Even if you don’t, hear me out. Pareto, an Italian economist, found a disproportionate relationship between cause and effect. The 80/20 rule can be applied to many areas of life.
20% of the roads cause 80% of the crashes.
20% of the students cause 80% of the behaviour issues.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not applicable to every writer. However, in the past I was guilty of this, and many new writers are too. The real source of the problem was not with social media per se, but not truly being able to distinguish between activities that were progressing my career as a writer and those that were creating the illusion of doing so. Maybe social media isn’t your vice, maybe it’s something else but what we all should be able to resonate with is this: finished works in the form of novels, short stories etc. are the only currency that really matter.
Write a list of all your writing-related activities. Evaluate which ones are contributing to your goal to become a financially viable writer. Ignore the rest, or at the very least minimise their distraction, and focus on the ones that pay. I.e. writing! This is not to go against the point made in the previous solution. Sometimes a writing session is not suitable, and that’s ok.
Be mindful of time spent on social media and other writing-related activities that aren’t actually moving you closer to a finished work.
About the author:
C.J. has been writing steady for four years and draws much of his inspiration from the wonders of past civilisations. If he is not planning his next trip to visit one of them, he is writing about them. Pompeii and the view of the Bay of Naples from atop Mt. Vesuvius... wow, just wow!
Reading wide and far, he also coordinates a writing club at a local high school, where C.J. teaches students the discipline and skills required to progress from idea to publication.
He currently has two works-in-progress and can't wait to set them free in the world.