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Banishing laziness (suggestions welcome)
January 2nd, 2012 by Christie

I am not a prolific writer.

I look at people like Genevieve Valentine and Ken Liu, who have stories everywhere, all the time, and I’m just in awe. Or Matthew Sanborn Smith, who is working his way up to one thousand stories. I wonder how they do it. Matt has done this while raising two teenagers on his own and working full time; Ken has a young daughter, coauthors software with his wife, and works a day job that would leave most of us gibbering on the floor at the end of the day; Genevieve accomplishes so much even while working, writing a novel, and consuming hours of media to review on her blog.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just fundamentally wired differently than they are; other times I wonder if I’m just fundamentally lazy. I’m leaning toward the latter.

I’d like to change that this year. I’m not sure if this counts as a last-minute resolution, but maybe.

Creating new habits is hard. Limbering up the brain is hard. What’s the best way to do it? I want to focus on the novels this year, but I also want to write more short stories. Stop being so lazy. Get something done. Should I commit to spending half an hour a day on short stories before I work on the novel? Should I commit to a specific series or theme, to limit the paralysis that comes with having the entire universe, real and imagined, to write about?

Artist Galen Dara did a project a few months ago in which she asked her writer friends for characters to illustrate. She did one every day. What’s the writerly equivalent of that? It occurs to me that John Remy’s use of tarot cards as prompts might be a good way to start.

Have you faced this problem of lack of proliferation, and if so, did you find a good way to solve it?


6 Responses  
  • Jamie Todd Rubin writes:
    January 2nd, 20126:48 pmat

    I, too, am in awe of how prolific some short fiction writers can be and still maintain high quality. (You named a few. I’d add Robert Reed to your list.). What I am doing this year is:

    1. Dedicating myself exclusively to short fiction. No novels.
    2. Writing 500 words of new fiction every day. 366 days of that adds up!
    3. Getting the fiction writing done before anything else (blogging, etc.)
    4. Working on multiple stories as once. If one isn’t going well one day, shift to another,

    If it works, then next year I’ll call it my “how to be prolific on 500 words a day” method. :-)

  • Matthew Sanborn Smith writes:
    January 2nd, 20128:36 pmat

    Thanks for the shout out, Christie. Just to set the record straight, I only have one teen at home, The Boy. The daughter lives fifteen minutes away so I do get to hang with her a lot. However, The Boy is the problem child, so he’s almost like having two at home. ;)

    I still need a lot of improvement on the productivity side. The only advice I can give to others is to keep looking for ways to change things for the better. Sometimes a lot of little adjustments can be as good as one big one.

    The most recent thing I’ve done that has made a difference is to make myself responsible to somebody else. I send a friend all my self-imposed deadlines, and then I feel obligated to meet those deadlines. I am awesome at letting myself down, but not quite as awesome at letting others down, so this has helped me a lot.

    Also, I just saw this little article on improving yourself on Daniel Pink’s site that might help someone.
    http://www.danpink.com/archives/2012/01/how-to-make-a-new-years-non-resolution

  • Clare Deming writes:
    January 2nd, 201210:55 pmat

    Hello Christie – I struggle with the same dilemma and I think it is partly a time management issue. I procrastinate, so deadlines help me. But for my own work, it’s hard for me to take a self-imposed deadline seriously.

    This may be an individual thing – I have found that I can only work on one piece at a time. So it would be tough for me to work on a novel and a short story at the same time – I can only keep focus on one world/plot/characters at once.

    The other thing that seems to help with the time management (for me, at least) is to know what I’m capable of and be realistic. I know that if I just worked a long shift at work, I shouldn’t expect myself to write a ton of words right after that. Especially if there are other obligations or stress. If I acknowledge this and give myself permission to relax and read a book for an hour or take a nap, then I’m better able to sit down with a writing project later.

  • Patrick Hester writes:
    January 3rd, 20121:29 amat

    Hi :)

    My suggestion is that you set aside time every day to write and you stick to it no matter what. For me, it’s lunch time. I take my laptop to the dayjob and when lunch rolls around, I leave the building and go write. Make sure your family knows the time that you have set aside and that they respect it as much as you do.

    As for some of the comments above, I would add a couple of caveats.

    Jamie said: 4. Working on multiple stories as once. If one isn’t going well one day, shift to another,

    This does and doesn’t work for me. In the past 2 years, I created over 50 writing projects but completed 1 novel and only a couple of short stories. That doesn’t help. I would pick just a couple and focus on them exclusively.

    Matt said: The most recent thing I’ve done that has made a difference is to make myself responsible to somebody else. I send a friend all my self-imposed deadlines, and then I feel obligated to meet those deadlines.

    I’ve found that Scrivener, which has already made me far more productive as a writer than I was previously, helps also to keep my on target. With the Project Targets feature, i can set a word count goal and a deadline, then Scrivener tells me how many words I need to put on digital paper each day to meet that goal. When I don’t meet the daily goal, Scrivener recalculates. Also, I feel guilty when I don’t hit my goals. Just the other night, I was tired, it had been a long day and I had three hundred words to go. I closed the laptop and started to go to bed, then felt guilty, opened it back up and pushed through to hit my goal and felt wonderful for having done it!

    The other thing that I did was build a spreadsheet with all my projects listed along with when I started them, when I last worked on them, how far along they were and how many words I’d written. Then I prioritized and chose what I was going to work on and have kept myself focused by using a reward system. If I hit my daily wordcount goals, I can play a little Batman: Arkham City. Finish a project and I can have dinner at my favorite restaurant. (My current goal is to finish a draft of my next novel by Jan 31 – if I do, I am having chimichangas with friends at Hacienda Colorado!)

    ~P
    @atfmb

  • Ben Godby writes:
    January 4th, 20121:21 pmat

    It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution, since I started a few months ago, and it wasn’t so much a resolution as an anti-resolution: but I’ve found that consciously obliterating all conceptions of “what must be done” with my writing has made me a better, more productive, and more interesting writer; and, far more importantly, someone who enjoys writing a lot more. I’m currently writing a novel long-hand, but who knows if it it will get done? Who cares! I haven’t written a new short story in about a month and a half, but I did just put up two new eBooks, and I wrote some fantastic short stories in the fall in a new, more mature style (at least, I think so). I’m reading some great stuff, writing some essays instead of just fiction, and, uh, playing a lot of Skyrim.

    But, all that said, I think my writing is getting better – namely because I enjoy doing it when I do it. Goals and objectives all too often create the underlying subtext of “need,” “want,” and “force” that erase any possibility of delicious, tasty art, because the production is tied in with necessity instead of pure will.

    But… that’s just me, and if my own experience has taught me anything, it’s that everyone’s got to do the writing thing their own way.

    Good luck with your writing in the New Year, Christie!

    -bn

  • John Burridge writes:
    January 6th, 20129:19 pmat

    I think it’s helpful to know your own work rythems and structure your day around those if possible. If you’re a night owl, write at night; if you’re a morning person, write then. This can be difficult if say your Day Job or Family Duties are jostling for prime writing time.

    I’ve heard some people say that having a writing nook helps them and other folks say that Real Writers should be able to write anywhere. My stance is that physical objects and rooms can be a stimulus to write, and if you have a place where you write and only write (no e-mail, no “research”) then you’ll be more inclined to write. Or maybe your stimulus could be a special “I’m writing” pen or notebook. (I wish I had a writing nook… I have a cramped writing closet… hmmm (eyes drafting tools and…))

    One writing discipline I’ve used (especially when writing with others) is to divide the hour into 45 minutes of silent writing and 15 to 10 minutes of making tea, stretching, going to the bathroom, etc. We use a bell to signal the change in activity focus.

    In terms of cognative behavior tricks, when ever there’s a public record involved, people tend to ease up on the bad things (cigarettes) and improve on the good things (word count). I’m not sure how long this measurement effect lasts, but maybe posting a daily word count would help improve the word count.

    Someone wrote about individual rewards and accountability. At one point The Wordos had informal cookie groups: usually three or five folks would choose a weekly goal (usually word count, but also stories in the mail). If _everyone_ in the group made their goal, then they got to split a cookie. If someone missed their goal, then no one got the cookie.

    In order to write, you need time. If you need time, it’s important to see what you can ease out of your life that’s taking your time. I think this one is hard because I don’t want to turn into a hermit with no hobbies… but (looks at Twitter and Flipboard and the floor plans for the Super Writer’s Writing Nook of Writerly Solitude) there are some things I could cut down on.


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