FAQ: How do you make yourself write so much and not get distracted?
This question comes most recently from a school visit, but I get variations on it a lot. (“Isn’t it hard to make yourself work when there’s no one to make sure you’re doing it?”) It seems like an appropriate post for New Year’s Day, when everybody’s busy making resolutions and promises to themselves!
The brief answer is: I just do. I make myself work because for me, writing beats any other job I could have. And to make it work I have to work.
But the question’s really asking about discipline and willpower, and given that those were never my strong suits, I completely understand what this genre of question is getting at. And I do have ways to fake it ‘til you make it, so to speak.
This is my personal strategy. I’m not saying these methods will work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with productivity or focus, it’s worth trying. It’s worth trying everything once, even if you don’t think it’s for you.
1. Write every day. I know, I know. Everyone hates this one. But it’s true. I set myself a very low minimum word count (500 words) that I have to meet every day when I’m drafting, no matter what. (EVERY DAY. If you let yourself miss even one day, it ruins the momentum and makes it much harder to get it going again.) For me, 500 words is so easy that it’s not daunting to have to sit down and do it, but it’s long enough that usually, by the end of it, I’ve gotten into the right headspace and I end up writing more like 1-3k on an average day.
2. Be accountable to someone who’s not you. Everyone fudges things a little, and if you’re especially good at procrastination like me, the person with whom you’re best at bending the truth is yourself. So make someone else who you trust the person who holds you accountable. Make sure they know that they are not allowed to let you off the hook. Start by actually sending them the writing that you’re doing (they don’t have to read it, just check it’s there). Then just report in that you’ve done your words. Eventually you won’t need to report into them at all, because the habit will be formed.
3. Limit your resolutions. If you make ten different resolutions (write every day, lose weight, start getting 8 hours of sleep, cook five nights a week) the change in your lifestyle can be quite dramatic and hard to stick to. And as soon as you crumble on one resolution it’s exponentially easier to crumble on the others as well. Figure out your priorities. If other things are more important right now, focus on those first. When it is time to focus on writing, make that your only lifestyle change. Let it settle, give it time to take root. Let your mind and body adjust to this new commitment without burdening them with half a dozen other changes. Wait until you can’t imagine NOT writing every day before you go on a weight loss campaign or decide to take up badminton.