Greetings, friendly octopi!
I (GeGi), have been struggling to find inspiration for this week’s topic. It’s not Writing’s fault; my life has been quite full with Other Things lately, and I’ve been letting the Other Things have all of my attention. Thus, I was quite pleased when someone sent me an email requesting the following writing advice:
So what’s the usual tips to achieve writing productivity? Do you have some web sites or something? How to find time to write, how not to over edit, etc. I suppose I just Google it, but I figure you have better ideas.
Obviously, the logical course of action was to shamelessly steal much of what I wrote in answer, and then expand on it for the blog. Thank you, dear sender of the email, for saving me from having to think up another topic.
First off, there’s no easy way to find more time in your life to add a New Thing.
You must decide the New Thing is important enough to give up time doing something else in exchange for doing the New Thing. Then you need to fill your life with reminders to Do The New Thing until it hopefully becomes a habit. That’s pretty much the entire secret of Being Productive.
A lot of people suggest setting aside the same time every day for writing, but it rather depends on having a dependable schedule in your life to begin with, not to mention being the kind of person who responds positively to routine. For some people, it might end up feeling more like an obligation or chore instead, which is a less-than-ideal mindset when it comes to positive reinforcement. For others, it will become a time to look forward to, and having the “official writing time” set aside consistently might be a relief from the ever-present struggle of carving the time out from other day-to-day routines.
Setting up accountability with someone else can help, too. Again, this depends on the individuals involved. If it causes feelings of obligation or resentment, it might not be the method for you. On the other hand, it might turn into a running joke which spawns a new blog about (for example) writing advice and octopi.
Personally, the causal accountability I have with endever*, combined with constant reassurances to myself that I’m not a failure when I don’t write, seems to be the best mix at the moment. It gives me motivation without creating extra pressure on myself. I’m actively working at separating guilt from the act of not-writing so that when I do write, it comes from a place of love instead of obligation. It helps me look forward to writing, and helps the writing flow easier when I finally get around it. It all really just depends on what works best for you; try different things until you figure out what it is you need.
The biggest thing is just making up your mind. Declare to yourself this is what you’re going to do and follow through on that decision. It’s what it all comes down to in the end. The rest is just tools, which may or may not be the ones you need.
On to the question of Editing.
For those of us prone to perfectionism, editing is both joy and bane. We — or at least I — love the process of getting it Just Right. Yet there’s no such thing as Perfect when it comes to, well, anything. At some point, we must learn to embrace the flaws. Well… some the flaws. A few of the flaws. One or two. Maybe. Accept them, anyway. Tolerate them. What I mean is, things are eventually as good as they’re going to get, and we have to learn to recognize that moment and move on.
Writing is basically this huge ongoing mental game of tricking ourselves. By telling ourselves we can Do The Thing, and then trying over and over to actually Do The Thing, we eventually learn how to Do The Thing for real. But the only way of getting there is by pretending we already know it. Obviously, this applies to more than just writing, but for now let’s just stick to writing.
Editing is a huge part of the learning process. Without editing our words, we severely limit how much we can improve, not to mention limit the quality of our end results. Yet learning to stop editing is also a big and important step. We need to know when to let go, or else we’ll stagnate and never produce anything new. Which, again, limits our potential for growth and change and learning. (Okay, never mind about that sticking to writing bit I said earlier; all of this works as a metaphor for Life. We’ll just pretend I’m really insightful. Carry on.)
There’s a couple bits of advice I’ll give for the Knowing When to Stop Editing issue. One is to set goals/limits: I will edit for problem X only, I will edit X number of times only, I will only make X number of changes per edit, etc. This is especially useful when you don’t want to accidentally edit yourself into an entirely new story (which is an issue I know nothing about I swear it’s not something I do all the time always honest). A variation of this is to set aside the piece for X amount of time so you can come back to it with fresh eyes, and see if those problems you’ve been struggling with are actually still problems, or if the entire thing is more decent than you thought when you were still buried in it.
Other advice is having a beta reader. Once you get a piece of writing to a certain point, all you’re going to see are ways to tweak it, regardless of if it’s good enough or not. The workaround to this issue — besides the “set it aside” thing I just mentioned — is getting someone else to read it and tell you how it looks from an outside-your-own-head point of view. There are multiple ways to go about this, of course. You could ask another writer for a detailed critical analysis, you could ask a non-writer for a pure reader reaction, or any variation in between. Just remember to be respectful of your beta reader’s time. Offer an exchange or compensation, perhaps, or at the very least heap them with praise and thanks.
The last bit of general productivity advice I’ll leave you with is to keep a running list of any topics/ideas/to-dos as they occur to you. They may or may not be what you end up writing — but that part doesn’t matter. What matters is, when the time comes to sit down and write, you might find looking over the notes helps get your brain going in a fruitful direction, and makes your time spent on the project that much more useful!
If you have any productivity advice/tips/tricks, or other ways to get yourself to stop editing when the time comes, leave a comment below! Also, we gladly welcome questions and topics you’d like us to cover. Ways to contact us are listed in the “Contact and Links” page, or just tell us in the comments.