Writing Tip: Set a time and stick to it

I am inherently lazy, which explains why I program for a living (at least until this writing thing takes off). Anything that can be described by a mathematical algorithm can be done by a computer, and there are few things in this world that cannot be described by an algorithm. Creative writing is one of them, so I have a difficult path ahead of me. Steven Pressfield would classify laziness as a manifestation of Resistance – the thing that, by whatever means possible, prevents you from creating. Fortunately there are ways around it.

The reason I was able to publish The Dragonslayers v1 this year was because I followed the advice of a writer at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2011. There was a Publishing Day seminar on something or other (I forget the topic, but that’s not the point), and afterwards I asked one of the panelists what time of day he thought was the most productive. I wish I could remember his name so I could honor him properly for his wisdom. He answered astutely, saying he wrote best at night (as in two in the godforsaken morning) but that it was different for everyone and that if I was having trouble making time for writing (my Resistance at the time) try different times of day.

Like an idiot, I sat on the advice for a couple years. Finally, after several years of looking at the manuscript for DS1 and wondering if it was going to get done on its own, I realized it wouldn’t unless I followed the panelist’s advice. I set my alarm and went to bed early enough to force myself out of bed the next morning at 5:30. When the phone went off, the only thing that saved it from a sudden death were (1) it was an almost-new phone, and (2) I had set up the coffee machine to be ready at the right time. I sat down with the coffee in front of the computer and channeled my rage at being awoken into my writing. “Kill your darlings,” says the writer’s adage, and the slaughter began. The clever phrase was snipped and replaced with actual wit, ‘that’ was removed wherever it appeared, and plot chunks were deleted in their entirety. I stopped a couple hours later when I needed to get out the door for work, but was able to renew it the next morning. And the morning after that. And so on.

Like the panelist said, the time that worked for him might not work for you, as it certainly wouldn’t work for me. But experiment, try different times, and be consistent. We are creatures of habit, and repeated tasks become easier the more they are repeated. Before you know it, the manuscript (or the editing job) will be done.