Many writers struggle with timetabling, scheduling, planning (in terms of planning to ‘get stuff done’), and, like I said last time, this has much to do with the fact that writing is mainly a solitary activity. Most of us are loath to let others down when it comes to meeting deadlines or other kinds of work-related expectations, but we feel much more liberal about letting ourselves down — a chapter not written today ‘can always be written tomorrow’, we say to ourselves, not fully cognisant of the reality that we may well say the same thing again to ourselves the next day.
So what can we do about this?
One thing we can try to do is make it much more unacceptable to ourselves to let ourselves down — and one way of doing that is to make what we are doing as a career a much more serious activity.
Apart from pasting a ‘To Do’ list to our screens, then, we could try to come up with answers to the following and then pin them to a nearby wall:
1. What is the theme of my life? i.e. is there a pattern or message in what I do as a person, which is reflected (adequately or not) in my writing?
2. What am I trying to accomplish as a writer, artistically, spiritually, commercially?
3. What am I trying to get done this current year?
4. What am I trying to get done this month?
5. What habits or routines am I attempting to establish?
Make some notes and sketch out some possibilities in answer to the above. The answers will remind you what it’s all about, so you don’t get lost in the Forest of Procrastination, or the Swamp of Apathy, or the Desert of Distraction. Post it on your wall, or on your screen, or by your mirror — and occasionally change its location, just so you don’t blank it out over time.
Because you are working for yourself. You don’t have a senior to remind you of importances, to push production, to demand that you overcome obstacles. Importances will drift; distractions will arise; obstacles will crop up — in the absence of someone pointing them out, they will pull you off course. You have to take compensatory action if you want to make forward progress.
Here’s the thing: without some attempt to name where you are going and what you are doing, your production will wander and decline. It’s built in to the way human beings work. You have to have something to aim for, and you have to want that something enough to overcome the natural barriers that will arise to getting it.
Think of yourself as the protagonist in your own story: you’re moving from where you began, driven by the vacuums created by desire, towards the known goal of overcoming your antagonist, who in this case could be described as ‘failure’ or ‘loss of goals’ or ‘not being a writer’.
Your mentor or senior, the one driving you on to accomplish your goals, is encapsulated in the answers you came up with to the above questions. You can even post a picture of Yoda or Gandalf, telling you to get on with it, if you like. The point is that, in the absence of a senior, production demand has to come from you in some way.
Maybe this won’t work for you, maybe it will. It really doesn’t matter how you get your stuff done, as long as you get it done.
Try it and see if it helps.