I know I haven’t posted a lot of writing tips lately, and I hope to get back to that soon, but today I’d like to focus on my second favorite topic of conversation: productivity. Writing is great, and all these techniques are useful and fun, but it’s useless if you can’t sit yourself in a chair and do something. Productivity gets your story written. Productivity dies when you get writer’s block. An enormous part of learning how to do art is learning how to be productive.
My life has a lot of deadlines in weird places through the day. I might spend six hours of the day out of the house, driving, meeting people, whatever needs to be done. In all that time, I am physically unable to produce. Those hours are black holes that devour the three-second flashes of inspiration that come with menial work. I might be ready to write in the middle of the drive home, but when I get there, that urge is gone.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make the time at home extremely productive, and the time away my recharging time? I’ll think a bunch, talk to people, glean ideas from my surroundings, and come back ready. But that means the time at home has to use that creative energy, or else it goes to waste. I need to be productive when I have the opportunity, and allow myself to rest when I can’t be productive.
One cool thing about productivity is that it breeds productivity. You’ve experienced it before. You have an hour until you have to leave the house, and you haven’t done any work yet. You sit down, put your hands to the keyboard, start forcing words out, and suddenly you’re flying along. You look up and you have five minutes, but you’ve never typed faster. If you had three more hours, you could get so much work done— but the deadline comes in the way. Productivity breeds productivity.
But it’s hard, isn’t it? You get all your other tasks done first and clear your schedule so you can write, but when you sit down to work, you start procrastinating.
The funny thing is, you’re already in work mode— you’re just not in writing mode. You could do school, or clean, or blog extremely efficiently right now. You just can’t write what you want to write.
Here’s the thing: in terms of productivity, we get into modes where we can work on a certain thing very efficiently for a long time. Then we switch modes, and we can work on that for a long time. The easier the task, the longer we can work— and the earlier in the day you begin working, the longer you can work.
When I start reading or watching TV shows, it’s really difficult to stop and be productive again. Experiencing stories takes almost no energy from me, so I can do it all day. Going from that to creating stories is difficult.
But once in a while, I wake up with an image in my head. I start writing hard and only stop when my body starts screaming for breakfast. During that day, I am on a productive high. I finish my requirements and get three times my normal amount of writing done. No, I don’t always get to read during that time, but which is more important, reading or writing? Because I started with what I really wanted to finish that day, I manage to be extremely productive.
Contrast that day with the opposite. I do all my school, finish everything that’s required of me, and meet all my deadlines. I get home at nine or ten o’clock at night and fire up my laptop. Even though I haven’t written at all yet today, maybe I can bang out a paragraph or two before bed. I start writing.
It’s 1 AM when I stop, with two new scenes and a Workaholics Anonymous membership card. Great, I’ve been productive, but at what cost? The next morning is terrible, and I get almost no work done.
Sleep resets you. It refreshes you to a better state of mind. If you start with that and begin working, you get yourself into a mode that lasts all day. Yes, you wake up feeling tired and groggy, but once you start working, that passes within five minutes.
Does this mean you have to write first thing every day? Of course not. It’s going to be different for everyone. But the mind is always fresher after a good sleep— if you merely shift the most important thing in your schedule to the first thing after breakfast, you’ll begin doing better at it. I’ve done this with writing. I’ve done this with calculus. I’ve done this with physics. Where do you need a push? Do it while your mind is uncluttered.
As the day proceeds, your productivity is going to wane a little. Beginning the day with writing doesn’t mean spending the entire day writing. As time wears on, things pile up and you get tired again, less eager to write. But that’s okay— you’ve already been productive. Now you can focus on other things like reading or menial labor.
Productivity is not equal throughout the day. It doesn’t peak somewhere near three o’clock, and things go downhill after that. At the beginning of the day, the possibility for productivity is high. As you live and things start cluttering up your mind, you slowly get less and less productive until finally, when you think it’s writing time, there’s almost nothing there.
The easy fix is to schedule writing time somewhere in the day, but if you’re like me, you write whenever everything else is done. Don’t focus on that. Focus on writing first, and the entire day will be more productive.