While making up stories might seem easy enough, it’s damned hard work. Oh, the daydreaming part may not require a lot of effort (letting your mind wander away from boring places and people is never difficult!), but once you decide to take all those ethereal, randomly conceived scenes and string them into an actual story—a real, written-down kind of story—the task can take on elephantine proportions.
Suddenly there are a thousand distractions. A million things that require your attention. You’ll just wipe the counters down first (or walk the dog or change loads of laundry or mow the law) and then you’ll get down to writing. But wait…maybe you should start dinner while you’re in the kitchen (and wow, the dog stinks—he definitely needs a bath; and you may as well change the beds if you’re doing laundry anyway; and if you’re mowing the lawn, you really should pull some of the weeds out of that jungle by your front door).
Perhaps you’re one of the gifted few who can ignore the physical needs of your surroundings, but you run into difficulties the moment you sit down at the computer. You remember that one email you promised your sister you’d send…or the blog post you’ve been meaning to write (I’m not avoiding work by doing that right now, nuh uh!), or the Twitter account you haven’t checked since yesterday, or …
Well. I think you get the picture.
The point is, creativity is only a part of the equation in writing. Because it doesn’t matter how gifted you are, if you don’t write down your story, it will never amount to anything more than a daydream. So how do you turn your daydream into a dream-come-true?
- Change or create your venue. Get away from the distractions. I write in a local coffee shop where I can’t see all that needs to be done. Other possibilities include the library, a city park on a nice day (if you have a laptop), or even an understanding friend’s basement (you can ignore her laundry!). Can’t get out of the house? Fine. Then designate one spot where you do all your creative writing and nothing else—whenever you’re in that spot, you’re there to write. Period.
- Get your butt into your chair—and keep it there! Set a fixed amount of time that you’ll keep it there, and then do so. Even if you spend the first few sessions staring at a blank computer screen and thinking about the laundry, do not give up. The point here is to develop a habit. Stick with it and eventually your brain will get the idea and begin to cooperate with you.
- Turn off the Internet. The coffee shop where I write doesn’t have Internet (well, it does, but you have to pay and I’m too cheap to do so!), which is another excellent reason for working there. If you’re writing from home, unplug your modem so you’re not tempted by its siren call and keep it unplugged for your allotted writing time or consider purchasing a software like Freedom, which blocks you from the Internet for up to eight hours.
- Set deadlines (even if they’re just your own). Write them down. Look at them every day and evaluate your progress.
- Even once your story is well underway, you may run into a block. If you’ve sat at the computer for three consecutive days without writing a single word and you honestly have no idea where to go next with the story, take a break. Try keeping it short at first: go for a walk; call a friend and go for coffee; get together with your critique group and brainstorm your issue; tackle your to-do list and catch up on some of the distractions that are the most nagging. If that doesn’t work, walk away from the desk for several days – but set a time limit. Five days tops (unless you’re going away on vacation) and then you’re back in your chair, back to your routine, and back to meeting your deadlines.
What about you? What are your tricks for staying on track with your writing—or any other pursuit? Are you naturally disciplined or do you have to work at it?