As a fantasy novelist, who is currently working on an ambitious (hopefully one day) fifteen book series, I have been learning a thing or two about productive writing. In this modern era, at this stage of my life, working productively on anything is a task. There are so many distractions and other obligations that cut into your writing time, the internet comes to mind first, school (especially those in high school and college), work, extracurricular activities, good old fun and of course, the necessary maintenance of some scrap of social life.
However these "distractions" while important and necessary functions of everyday living, need not be an EXCUSE for poor writing habits and performance. Even those with very tight schedules can usually find a gap of time to use to their advantage.
So here are some common distractions and problems that plague the burdened, busy writer, and solutions to combat them.
1) THE INTERNET - the bane of every writer's existence
The internet is a huge problem for me, I am absolutely ADDICTED to tumblr and I love just being online. It's pretty bad. Like most kids, my days (and nights) are often spent surfing the net when I could be doing something important and productive ( reading, drawing, working, WRITING). Alas, I suffer the same internet addiction that plagues most of my generation, and I am loathe and hard-pressed to kick the habit.
But that doesn't mean I can't.
The first step to beating the internet addiction is to TURN. IT. OFF.
Oh sure, it sounds easy in theory. There have been plenty of times when I gleefully pat myself on the back for my strength of will in unplugging the wifi and opening the word document. I get in a paragraph or two, riding along on a euphoria of self-pride, smiling stupidly at my "perseverance" and "strong character".
But then come the little internet demons. You know them. Those little guys who sneak into your mind and start suggesting to you all the things you may be missing with the internet turned off.
What if so-and-so has replied to your comment/message?
What if your post on tumblr has some new likes or reblogs?
What if you have a new email? Or a facebook notification? Or maybe a new tweet?
The list can go on. Pretty soon your confidence and resolve starts to slip, your fingers slow down on the keyboard, your thoughts begin to turn from your work to the web and your social networks. Eventually you come to a standstill, you're not sure about a word definition, or a particular grammatical structure.
Perfect! The internet demons shriek. You deserve a break anyway, you've been working so hard. You go check out Google for the answer to that question. Oh, and you might as well check out your newsfeed while you're there!
An hour, a email reply, a quick look at all your pages, and a new tweet later, you are ready to get back to work. But now you feel uninspired, empty and honestly, not into it. So you shrug and click the 'x' and save the document for "another time".
If this sounds even remotely like you or a situation you've been in, then no doubt you are part of the practically 100% of writer's who suffer from IDD. Internet-Distraction-Disorder. This is a serious disease that affects pretty much all of the population, not just the writers. There are no campaigns to raise awareness, no support groups, no outside help whatsoever. Despite the fact that everyone seems to be afflicted by this problem, it can often feel you are alone with it. A failure and a loser who can't turn off the wifi for even thirty minutes. Kind of discouraging. To me anyway.
However, you are NOT alone. Not by a long shot. Pretty much anyone with internet access suffers from IDD. So don't feel discouraged because you think you're the only one who can't deal with this problem. This is my problem too, and the problem of many others, a major problem that I think society needs to work to change.
But what can you personally do to combat IDD and start writing more productively?
- Start simple, and shut the wifi off. Unplug, get off the internet and stay OFF. It's hard to do, but worth it in the long run.
- Ignore the "internet demons". Don't let them get to you. Ask yourself, what's more important? My book/essay/short story/poem/etc? Or twitter?
- Go a little more extreme and take a sort of internet purge. Get offline and stay offline for a set amount of time, a week, a month, vowing to ignore social networks until such and such a thing is accomplished.
- To kick the internet habit in general, get OUTSIDE. People don't get out enough anymore and it's sad. Not only is it healthy for you in every way, leaving you feeling refreshed and revitalized, but it will also fuel your imagination and sometimes bring your closer to your story and characters, or help you experience a revelation that you weren't able to before when cooped up in a cramped office space.
2) FULL SCHEDULES - the problem of life
If you've got the internet out of the way and still have a tight schedule, then you need to take some more drastic measures to get some productive writing done. Between, school, work and actually trying to do some socializing, writing can definitely be pushed to the back burner. But if you are serious about writing and want to pursue it, then you will be able to find a way. I promise.
Schedule is key. Really. Plenty of people roll their eyes at the mention of the word "schedule" or "organizing" but as you get older, this becomes a rather necessary part of getting through life. I personally LOVE making schedules and organizing things and just being neat and tidy that way. Not everyone is that way though, and that's fine, but I can honestly say that my life is much less stressful and easier to deal with when I have even a small outline of the days events. It also helps me be more productive.
- Google scheduling and organizing your life. There are thousands upon thousands of tips and tricks to get yourself organized and on track.
- Buy a day planner. And USE IT. I love my day planner, seeing all my life's events laid out for a quick view. Calenders are good as well. I like to record all the schoolwork I've done, the chores and other farm jobs I've completed, and what I read, watched and wrote that day.
- Set a writing time and STICK TO IT. In the winter I like to get up at 7:00 and write until breakfast. It really helped me after I chose a set daily time, I was finishing chapters on a weekly basis and getting lots more accomplished than before.
3) MAKING USE OF IDLE TIME - using some of those extra moments
If you ride a bus to work or school every morning the time you spend there is ample opportunity for you to glean thoughts and ideas for your work. The world outside our doors is absolutely overflowing with things that will bring life and character to your work. The people you meet, the places you visit, the things you do, all of it contributes to your life experience, and the richer that is, the richer your writing will be, because your imagination will be well-fueled and your horizons well-broadened.
There are lots of things you can do to fill up those extra moments. Once you get thinking about it, the opportunities are endless!
- When your out and about, observe. People-watching is a great way to glean ideas for your characters and your plots. There are countless faces I can recall that have inspired me in this way. It's a really cool thing to be able to pick out a face in the crowd and find them almost familiar because of the way they remind you of one of your characters.
- Bring a notebook. Everywhere and anywhere. Never leave home without some sort of writing utensil or device. A notebook and pen, a computer, a phone, whatever! Just so long as you can jot down things quickly and easily when those unexpected ideas pop up in your mind.
- Besides observing when you're out of the house, thinking and brainstorming is a really great thing too. Play out scenes in your head, imaging your story developing like it might on a movie screen. I've been led to great plot developments by doing this. Your imagination is your best friend!
4) BE COMMITTED - being diligent to the end
Finally, it is very important to be committed to your work. Meaning that you are willing to do all or some of the things that I've suggested to change your lifestyle and get more done. If you truly desire to finish that novel, or short story, or essay, or whatever it is that you've been working on, you will make the changes and stick with them. Even when it's hard. Nobody ever said being a writer was a walk in the park, it's not. But if it's something you sincerely love and enjoy, it will not be hard for you to go out of your way to make it work. Always remember that hard work pays off in the end.