Don’t feel like reading? This post comes with a video!
Last week we discussed how writers may be able to overcome their fears, but fears aren’t the only thing that holds us back from our work. What do we do when we just don’t want to write? I’ve found that laziness is at the heart of the struggling writer. It takes a certain amount of willpower to get those stories out in any way we can.
Think about how often have you found yourself saying something like, “Oh I wanted to write today but it’s too late and I have work in the morning”, or “I used to write pretty regularly but then classes started and I’m just too busy to write”.
First of all, I can sympathize with you. Bills don’t pay themselves. And grades don’t come easy- But it doesn’t change anything. No matter what you have to do, whether it’s overtime at work or six hour labs every day- if you are not creating then you are not productive.
As someone who worked during school while writing a novel- I know how hard it can be- so I want to share with you 5 things you can do today to make sure you’ll finally get back to your work.
#1 Listen to Tim Clare’s Couch to 80k podcast.
My brother is an excellent writer who’s opinion matters to me- and one day he said to me “Hey I’m doing this podcast thing that I think you should check out”. He described how it made him consider writing prose despite his dedication to poetry, and how it helped him form a habit of daily writing.
Initially, I was not so much skeptical as I was lazy. I was working a dead end job at a hotel- and though I took three months off from everything else just to write, I found myself all too often sleeping in and playing Doom or reading all day. That three months turned into one month of solid writing and two months of video games, books, and meaningless work. I got so tired of this that eventually I said, alright I’ma do the thing.
So I went ahead and for the first time heard Tim Clare’s “HELLOO! I’m Tim Clare And welcome to Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp..” And I was hooked. All you do is listen to him go on for a bit, and then give ten minutes of writing. And you do this six days out of the week for long enough to form the habit of writing. His boot camp first gets you into the habit of writing and by the end you actually start your novel. This is what helped me finally finish my first draft of Adebayo’s End over the summer, despite outside work and distractions. Tim Clare’s voice is beautiful and his podcasts are endlessly entertaining. I wouldn’t stop here, as he has valuable advice for writers in his death of 1000 Cuts podcast, and he has a growing presence in the poet community. At the very least he’s a damn good start.
Whether you show up grumpy or excited to work, you’ll be happy you did it. Click here for the podcast. I highly recommend it both for beginning writers and seasoned writers who’ve lost their touch or for anyone who wants to form the habit of daily writing.
You’re probably looking at me like, seriously Alexander? You want me, a writer, to exercise? Well, yes, yes I do! Here’s why.
Most of us feel too tired to write because we save it for the end of the day. Aside from the major error that you make in putting your work aside, let’s say you’re stuck with the consequences of that decision. What do you do? Increase your heart rate! And don’t just use coffee, because that only masks the problem. It’s easy do some jumping jacks or move around a bit, and all the while say to yourself, “I’m doing this so that afterwards I get to write.” This gives your exercise a purpose and focuses your mind on writing. You’ll get back from your short run or your fifteen push ups with dilated pupils and a mind ready to put some thoughts on paper. Don’t believe me? Try it, it works!
There are also a ridiculous amount of health benefits to regular exercising that I feel need to be mentioned. If you make any conscious choice in life, your best one would be to opt for regular exercise, I promise you it will help.
#3 Schedule your day so that the stories come first
In the morning you’re more likely to do the thing that needs to be done today, and push the things that have no deadline back and back until it’s too late. Anyone who’s ever written an essay knows how to procrastinate. It is the easiest thing to do and all of us do it. That said, procrastination is the reason so many of us fall behind in life.
The solution? Split your tasks into 4 quadrants. This is known as the Eisenhower Grid. At the top you have your important tasks, at the bottom you have your unimportant tasks. The left side is urgent and the right is not urgent.
Quadrant 1 are things that have to be done today. Quadrant 2 are projects that need to be finished later. Quadrant 3 are things like eating, cleaning- unimportant tasks to your work but required tasks for life. Quadrant 4 is useless activities which will be different for all of us- like 4 hour phone calls to someone you see daily, or shopping trips.
While most people would tell you to focus on quadrant 1, schedule quadrant 2, delegate quadrant 3 and eliminate quadrant 4- my research has led me toward a different key.
The key is to stay in quadrant 2 as much as you possibly can. That is, do the long term daily tasks that aren’t immediately urgent. And do everything you can to cut quadrants 1 and 4 out of your life. This means that by the end of the day, you will have worked on the things that are due next week, and you will have skillfully procrastinated the things that are due today such that you finished them quickly and were able to complete both task sets! It sounds crazy, but it works, gradually you’ll have to do fewer and fewer urgent tasks per day and procrastination just doesn’t control you anymore.
#4 The moment you decide not to write, ask yourself the happiness question
No one wants to work. No one wants to spend the rest of their life in mediocrity and have a name that no one remembers either. Yet there are seven billion of us and we aren’t all going to be household names.
That means we have to find our own happiness in life, and happiness, like success, requires work. You can’t wake up and be happy one day, you have to actively choose to do things that you know will make you happy and successful. This is a lesson I’ve learned from The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. The Dalai Lama says that you need to distinguish between what will give you pleasure and what will give you happiness, that they are two distinct and separate values in life. Pleasure is always temporary, but happiness is a long lasting result of doing the things in life that make us proud to be us.
So the next time you find yourself about to spend time in quadrant 4, ask yourself, “Is this just a temporary indulgence, or will this help me achieve my success or happiness in my work?” If you think about it carefully enough you’ll know the answer. It’s up to you to decide which is more important.
#5 Get in touch with someone you know will hold you responsible for your work.
I have a habit of telling everyone what my schedule is. The reason is that people really hold you accountable for what you say you’re going to do. Lately I only tell Moose, because my income depends largely on my productivity. Even if she doesn’t want to see it, she has full access to my weekly schedule and I do what I can to accomplish everything that’s on it without wasting time- because Moose holds me responsible. The last thing I want to do is answer the question “did you work on your book today?” with “No.” And even more painful is hearing “You need to hurry up and finish that book.” It’s painful because it’s true, and it reminds me to focus on my goals and improve my life.
I know personally how difficult it is to do the simple things in life. But that is no excuse. Right now, our generation of writers has it easier than any generation that has come before us. There are millions of job opportunities for people like us, and thousands of new ways to get our names and work out there. It is so simple that we make it difficult for ourselves! So the answer I have is this, contact a friend, a family member, a lover, or another writer. Ask them to help you produce.
Remember that You will never make it as a writer if you do not create. You don’t have an unlimited amount of time, you only have now- so get up and get back to work.
Keep writing, my friends!