I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the creative process and how to make my writing time more productive. After a year of many changes, I finally feel I’ve settled into a comfortable rhythm. I’m able to balance my new job, family responsibilities and writing in proportions that feel right to me. But still I struggle with this nagging sense that I’m not writing as much as I’d like.
Carving out more time didn’t really work. I cut television and movies — yes, almost entirely — from my life over two years ago. I see my friends just often enough to ensure they remain friends. (I hope.) Date nights are a rare treat. Cutting out exercise was a bad idea; ditto for sleep and housework. So. I’m left wondering this: if I can’t work longer, how can I work better?
Last week I read an article on The 99 Percent called Getting Creative Things Done: How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule. The rules are simple but powerful:
1) Set aside time each week for creative work. I already do that.
2) Block out that time on your calendar and treat them as unbreakable appointments. Okay. Sometimes writing gets pushed aside for errands. Or sunshine.
3) Set rules for that time. For example, no email. Hm. Yes, I probably should stop checking my email when I’m supposed to be writing. And Facebook. And my Google Reader. Maybe I shouldn’t run downstairs to throw the laundry in the dryer, either. Or walk to the store for a jug of milk. These things tend to happen when I get to a stuck spot, and I’ve been in a lot of stuck spots lately.
4) Focus on process, not goals. Oh, how I love this. For the last year I’ve been setting myself goals that I miss most of the time. It’s really hard to estimate how many hours it will take to revise a scene. Sometimes it’s one. Sometimes it’s twelve. But that doesn’t stop me from making an optimistic guess, and feeling demoralized again and again when I disappoint myself. Or worse, rushing to finish a scene, doing a crap job and having to rewrite it all later.
So, thank you, Cal Newport. I’m taking these steps starting today.