We’re looking at how writers can become super productive—and that’s determined by actual output. You aren’t a productive writer if you’re not producing anything.
Writers complain to me all the time about not being productive. Not finding time to write or finish that book they’re working on. We all make excuses, and some are valid. But I would venture to say there are few excuses that preclude the possibility of being super productive.
Take a minute to consider your “valid” excuses for not writing. And don’t say “I work full-time.” Seriously, that is the lamest excuse ever—pardon me for offending you, if I’ve done so. But countless productive writers work full-time doing something other than writing (a job or homeschooling kids or volunteer work—whatever). Another saying of full of truth: “You always find the time to do the things you love.”
You do. You can. You will, if you make up your mind to stop making excuses.
What I believe is that we often make excuses because we can’t stir up the motivation to write. Honestly, writing is daunting. It takes intense focus. Sometimes we just don’t wanna put that effort out.
Fine. You can either push yourself to write when you don’t want to and write garbage, or you can find a hack around your attitude and write well. Before you can come up with useful hacks (workarounds) to your bad attitude, you need to do some self-examination.
Seriously, do you want to be a writer? A successful, productive writer? Then take a look at your excuses and stop making them. First off, at least identify them.
We Need to First Identify Our Excuses
Author David Estes quit a job he hated to pursue writing full-time, and he now he lives in a tropical paradise. Estes didn’t expect any of that to happen, of course. He spent ten years working as an accountant/operational risk officer.
When Estes’s wife began encouraging him to write, he decided he’d aim for one novel. Almost six years later, he’d written twenty-eight books and published twenty-three of them.
He says, “While I was still working full-time, I was writing two solid hours every day. After my wife and I left our corporate jobs, I continued to write about two to three hours a day, so that didn’t change much. More importantly, I was able to focus more on the marketing side of things, which is what really helped me to break through. As far as my ‘secret,’ it really just comes down to commitment—to my stories, to my characters, to a dream, and to my readers, both present and future. I have so many stories I want to tell, so many characters waiting for their chance to come alive in the pages of my books, and I don’t want any of them to get lost in the netherworld of untold stories.”
People told Bethany Claire that one can’t make a living being a writer.
So, when a successful romance novelist told her during a college writing workshop that her manuscript was ready for publication, Bethany just set it aside and kept working on her teaching degree.
“Right in the middle of the lecture, I just quietly got up and marched myself to the registrar’s office where I withdrew from the university on the spot,” she says.
Bethany threw herself into learning all she could about the publishing industry. She attended the Romance Writers of America conference and left with the belief that she could make a living as a writer—and with the knowledge of what she’d need. “One piece of advice that every single successful author said was ‘write a series,’ so the one book I had completed quickly became Book 1 of my Morna’s Legacy Series.”
In May 2014, about a year after her big leap, Bethany landed on the USA Today best-seller list, and her momentum hasn’t stopped.
She currently has seven novels, two novellas, two box sets, and five audiobooks out, with plans for more next spring. “It requires hard, hard work—much more than the normal forty-hour workweek. It requires focus and drive and the refusal to fail, but I can truly say that I love everything about my job, and I know how fortunate I am to be able to say so.”
I have a friend who works full-time as an attorney in San Francisco. He has a family (which includes a special-needs child). He commutes on the BART (local rapid transit train) one hour to work and back five days a week. I’m not sure if he still does this, but when he was publishing two novels a year, he spent that commute time on his computer writing his scenes. One hour on the way to work in the morning.
One hour on the way home. That’s the only time he wrote—because he had other responsibilities, and he knew how to manage his time to lead a balanced happy life and not destroy his joy or his family.
Is he more naturally productive than other writers? More determined or diligent? Maybe he just has the type of personality that can handle a heavy load and lots of stress and hold it together.
Maybe. Maybe not. But what I’ll venture to say is this: he took the time to analyze his life, his biology (I’ll get more into that later too), his personality, and his habits, then figured out the best way to be a productive writer . . . because he wanted to crank out those novels.
Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison worked full-time raising her sons. She carved out time to write during work breaks, before dawn, and on the weekends. Was it hard? Yes. But she wanted to write novels. And she did.
You see, you have to think hard about what you want. Do you really, truly want to be productive? Or are you just saying that? Is it just about the dream, the enticing picture in your head, of what that successful career looks like to you?
Because if you don’t really want to get there, you may be making a lot of excuses for why you are watching reruns of Friends every night instead of writing a scene in your novel.
Just Do It
I’ve written a lot about procrastination (and if you feel those posts would be helpful for you at this stage, go to the search bar up top and type in procrastination) because it’s easy for me to procrastinate. Me—the super-productive writer who puts out numerous books and hundreds of blog posts and email blasts a year (not to mention online courses and charts and worksheets)—a huge procrastinator.
And one key thing I’ve learned about procrastination is it won’t go away all by its lonesome. Ignoring your excuses won’t make them disappear. Every time you think about sitting down to write, that excuse is going to pop up. Or some other one (“Wow, I can see how dirty the floor is—I better get the mop”). Why? Because you haven’t learned the technique of getting out of your own way.
You are standing on the narrow path to productivity, high walls on either side, and there’s this person blocking you. You can’t get past. So you throw up your hands and say, “What’s the use?” Then you turn, head down, sulking, and amble back to wherever hole you came out of.
You have to change the picture. Instead, face yourself down and say no. “Get out of my way.” Push yourself aside, squeeze by. “Just do it” as the saying goes. Or, to quote Yoda: “There is no try. Do.”
This is an attitude shift. It’s hard. But if you are in your own way, no one is going to move you to the side but you.
And, as I said last week, some people have serious limitations or demands, and their excuses are very valid. No one should accuse or pressure others or him/herself to produce more when it just isn’t humanly possible without severe negative consequences. Everyone’s situation is different, so keep that in mind. You want to push yourself, but don’t be hard on yourself when it’s not “productive” to do so.
We’ll talk more about getting out of your own way in next week’s post. But in the meantime, think about the excuses you make that keep you from writing. Share your thoughts in the comments!