When it comes to writing, and more importantly finishing, momentum is everything. Like they always say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion while in object at rest tends to stay at rest. It’s pure science, ya’ll. Another universally known scientific fact? Procrastination is a disease. The good news? It’s not incurable.
Without my routine I’m like a buoy in the breeze, my direction and motivation constantly changing according to my emotions, my circumstances, and whatever interesting website I happen to stumble upon on the internet. It’s a dangerous environment and while “freedom” is, in so many people’s minds, synonymous with creativity and inspiration, the truth is the muse must be harnessed like every other beast of burden. The muse should work when we say it’s going to work and not the other way around but the only way to accomplish this is to stop making excuses and start cracking the whip. This means that setting crystal clear and achievable expectations is a must. But not just for each story or each draft but for every minute of every day.
Holidays always have a tendency to derail my focus and sometimes it takes me weeks to find my motivation again. But just because something’s been displaced doesn’t mean it’s been lost. In my opinion, finding your focus is all about the preparation. Every day I sit down at my desk and I know everything I’m going to accomplish that day and in what order. Lists and plans don’t wok for everyone but having a clear direction is crucial. But not only do I know what I’m going to accomplish and when, I also know how long I’m going to spend on each task. In the mornings I give myself an hour and a half to write 1k-2k on my contemporary romance and then after lunch I give myself four hours to write 3k-4k on my YA series. If I don’t reach my goal in time, I leave it be. But what I’ve realized after setting these benchmarks for myself, is that after a while I tend to rise to my own expectations. When I’m out of practice it would take me up to six hours to write three thousand words but after getting used to my routine and my self-imposed obligations, I’m cranking it out in half the time.
But maintaining a routine isn’t just about showing up every day and doing the work, it’s also about finding balance. Some days the internet swallows me like a black hole and when I finally find my way back out, the laundry’s turned sour in the washer and my lunch has calcified. It’s a dangerous place, and as temperamental Creatives who are constantly looking for an excuse not to do the one thing we love most in the world (Can you believe how messed up we are?) it’s imperative that we learn how to navigate every distraction in a healthy way.
When we find ourselves getting easily distracted, or seeking out any excuse to avoid writing, it usually means one thing–that we’re lacking balance. Everyone’s heard the expression “work hard, play hard” but in the context of creative work, these lines can sometimes get blurred. When I’ve hit my writing stride, I can hibernate for days with a story, typing until my fingertips are raw and forgetting to engage in even the most basic necessities such as eating and sleeping. And I think a lot of us find ourselves working in this same pattern of extremes. When the writing really gets going we gorge ourselves on words and the second we hit a roadblock, we starve ourselves to death. But no one can survive like this. It’s not natural and if you keep telling yourself that this is “just the way I am” or this is “just how my muse works” I’ve got news for you. You’re wrong. So wrong.
When it comes to your life and your creativity, you make the rules. And whatever rules you set, the muse will adhere to as long as you’re stringent about the consequences if you falter. So set deadlines. Schedule every hour of every day, and not just your writing time, but also the amount of time you’ll spend reading or watching TV or surfing the internet. For every forty-five minutes I work, I spend fifteen reading weird news stories on the Huffington post–just enough time to give my brain a break, but not enough to break my stride. I know it may sound counter-intuitive but when it comes to creativity rules are crucial and boundaries are everything. So don’t be afraid to set out every day with a plan, to make a schedule, to create boundaries, and to set expectations. Because who knows? After making them a part of your daily declaration and creating a solid plan of attack, you just might actually reach them.