Are productivity and creativity mutually exclusive? Do deadlines help you write more effectively, or do you lose your creative spark in a mad dash to turn in your work on time?
I’ve certainly felt the crushing weight of deadlines before, but most of the time I prefer to have something that compels me to keep moving creatively. I’m simply too talented at procrastinating. After all, that laundry isn’t going to fold itself, my taxes aren’t going to get done without some serious effort, and that nap seems far too appealing to write the next chapter. Right?
The problem is that we’re creative people. We all feel that desire to make / write / improve something. We may come at it from the altruistic desire to add beauty to the world, or we may have a story knocking around in our heads that must get onto the screen – regardless of its impact on those around us.
To move from the idea phase to a completed artistic project, we have to be productive at some point. We have to sit down at our favorite coffee shop or library or wherever to get some serious writing done.
I find that the best way I can keep myself productive is to set myself a deadline by writing serialized stories with cliffhanger endings. I’m directly modeling my current efforts after guys like Sean Platt and David Wright over at Collective Inkwell, as well as novelist / podcaster Scott Sigler. These guys write stories that keep their readers and / or listeners coming back for more.
From the writing side, serialized storytelling helps me to keep on my deadlines in order to be able to meet up with reader expectations. If I left the audience hanging in Until the Debt’s been Paid, then I’d better get the next episode – The Indebted Army – out in a timely fashion.
This public accountability helps me stay productive and helps me to improve my writing. Serialized storytelling isn’t for everyone, but productivity is necessary for every writer.
How Productivity Helps Me
- Keeps Me Focused – I’m really good at coming up with half-formed ideas, and each one always seems better than the one that proceeded it. Giving myself a deadline and public accountability keeps me from running off after every whim that flits across my brain. Sure, I’ll write down the ideas that might be worth pursuing at some point, but I’m not going to obsess over it during the moment when I should be getting my next story or blog post done.
- Gives Me a Sense of Accomplishment – I enjoy the process of writing, but I love the feeling of finishing a blog post or story. If I spend my entire time running off after other ideas or simply not taking the time to keep up with my writing, I’ll never get to see the finished product. There are tons of good reasons to delay writing: research, revision, brain-storming, and many more. At some point, these delay tactics must give way to actual writing.
- Makes Me a Better Writer – If I never finished a story or blog post, then I’d never have the chance to get feedback from readers. And if you never get feedback, then you’re writing into a void. Writing that’s never read is never fully complete. Stories are a form of communication, and stories never read do not have the opportunity to convey their emotion and themes. Productivity figures into this after you get people’s responses. If you never act on the feedback you receive, you’re doomed to a static level of storytelling ability.
How Can You Increase Productivity in Your Life?
I would be a fool for prescribing a step-by-step set of instructions on how to increase your writing time. You face different struggles and responsibilities than I do.
Rather, let’s take a look at principles that you can apply. You decide on the exact amounts of time that can fit between responsibilities and make the best use of your daily energy.
Set aside time to sit in front of your computer with no other programs open than your word processor. If you can dedicate a half-hour or two hours, just find time for the intention of writing. You may only write for a quarter of that available time, or you may have to cut yourself short to make sure you get the rest of your responsibilities covered for the day.
Even if you can’t get the whole amount of time accomplished in the same sitting, sitting in front of your computer will help you produce something.
Try this on as many days as your schedule will allow, and see what you can produce in a week’s time.
Quick note: Don’t feel as if you have to schedule your writing time at the same time each day. I try to write in the early mornings, but sometimes I need the sleep too much to try writing at that early hour. Instead, I’ll wait till later that evening to have a more focused writing session.
Give yourself a deadline. You’ll hear me talk about NaNoWriMo quite a bit on this site. I talk about it so much because the book No Plot, No Problem! and the annual National Novel Writing Month were some of the key factors that led me to believe I could write a full novel. At the time, 50,000 words seemed an impossible feat, but the idea of a marathon month of 1667 words per day seemed to click in my goal-oriented mind.
What’s a deadline that you can set for yourself? Do you want to write a story that will feature a holiday prominently? Then you’ll need to have the story done before that holiday comes around?
If you can’t think of a deadline, then find a writing contest. Every contest has a entry deadline. This can get you writing, and you might even get some useful feedback from the judges.
Keep an idea notebook with you. One of the most intimidating aspects of writing is sitting in front a blank computer screen or blank sheet of paper. How on earth can you possibly generate a story from nothing without any preparation?
Instead of starting from nothing, keep an idea notebook or app with you at all times. I personally like having a spiral-bound notebook whenever I can, but I also frequently make use of the Evernote app for my Android phone. I sometimes even take photos of my hand-written notes so that I can keep them in Evernote alongside my digital notes.
When you’ve already done some brainstorming on what happens next to the character or about what the setting is like, you’ve put yourself a few steps ahead in the writing process. You can quickly build upon the thoughts you had in passing to create a cohesive story.
How Do You Keep Productive?
Do you have any tips or secrets that the rest of us need to know? Please share in the space below. I’m always looking for new ways to grow in this area.
Photo by pasukaru76