Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
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by Mridu Khullar Relph
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Deadlines give me a certain kind of thrill, much like the kind you get after you've lived on chocolate for a week. And I'm not half as bothered about these deadlines until it's the day before the assignment is due and I have yet to find interview sources. That's when I freak out, glue my butt to the chair and somehow manage to pull off a minor miracle and get the work done.
But I know, just as you know by now, that it's only a matter of time before I'm going to miss an important deadline and hurt my chances of landing something big. So I've turning my work habits around and making the transformation from Procrastination Princess to Deadline Diva. Try these tips; you just might find yourself achieving more, too.
Create a Productive Environment. Sure, it's easy for me to say. I don't have three kids running around in front of me, while the cartoon music blares in the background and every hope of my sanity ever returning grows dimmer and dimmer. But like it or not, that's exactly the kind of atmosphere that causes procrastination. If it's the disorganized mess that's keeping you from work, take a day off and clean it up. If your kids take up most of your time, hire a sitter for two hours a week and use that time to tackle difficult projects. If you're bored by your environment and need a change of pace, head off to the local coffee shop or library.
Set Your Own Deadlines. For every task that you're supposed to finish in a given week, fix specific deadlines. If you're supposed to write a press release for your book, give yourself a due date and then when that deadline arrives, make sure your work is done. Similarly, slide deadlines to a few days in advance of the actual deadline. If an editor has asked you to send something in by the 10th, mark it on your calendar as due by the 7th. That way, when you finally freak out on the 5th and realize that you've goofed up again, you'll still have sufficient time to do the job well. (This will not work for book-length projects!)
Break it Up. Whenever you get an assignment, break it up into mini-tasks. Give each of those mini-tasks a deadline. This technique comes in very handy when you're working on longer projects like books, but can also be used for articles and essays. For instance, when I get a go-ahead on an article idea, I'll assign specific dates by which I should have completed my research, interviewed experts and written the first draft. That not only gives me enough time to get the project done but also makes for less hectic schedules.
Give Yourself Permission to be Imperfect. Ever found yourself in "the mode" when your brainwaves are working faster than your fingers can type and your muse is producing work that you never thought yourself capable of? It's fantastic when that happens. It feels like magic and great words come with seemingly less effort. The problem is, many writers keep waiting for the muse to strike and end up not forcing themselves to write in the process. End result: procrastination.
As a professional writer, you need to understand that writing isn't always so easy. Perfect prose doesn't just come in one sitting -- it needs to be worked upon day after day. Good writers aren't people who wrote perfect first drafts; they're people who polished their writing again and again. So don't get defeated by a bad first draft. Instead, make it your aim to produce as much as possible. You can always edit it later.
Taking up Too Much or Too Little. It's easy to get uninspired when you have little work coming in and no money in the bank. The opposite however, is more frequently the case. Since writing doesn't exactly pay great money, especially in the beginning, most writers take on more than they can handle. And procrastination will often set in when you have so much to do that you don't even know where to start! The solution to this is simple though. Make a list of things you need to do in order of priority and start working on that list one by one. When you get bored or need a break from this priority work, pick up something enjoyable to do and work on that for a few minutes. Once you're back to being inspired, it's back to the priority list.
Go on a Writing Date. You know how there's always something that has to be done at a certain time each week (like watching American Idol)? If you miss it, well, there's no going back. Set a similar date for writing. Each week on Thursday from 5-6 p.m., you have to write. Everything else needs to wait. Start off slow with once a week, and then increase the intensity to at least once a day. That way, whether you like it or not, you'll be forced to work on the projects that need attention.
Face Your Fears. The number one factor that makes writers, stall on pending projects is fear. But identifying that fear and facing it can do wonders for your productivity and your professional life. What's holding you back? Are you afraid of failing? Of succeeding? Of being judged? Of writing a book and then having to do book signings? Of having an editor say that your manuscript is laughable? Most of the times, these fears are rooted in insecurity. So find out what's paralyzing you and then do it. There's nothing better than facing the fear to get rid of it.
Get a Goal Buddy. Nothing makes me work harder than the fact that I have a goal buddy to report to each week. Knowing that I don't want to look like a doofus in front of her gets me working extra hard (especially on that last day before I'm supposed to send in my weekly report). Sure, I can keep making excuses to myself, but she's a little harder to convince.
Focus on the Positives. The reason you are procrastinating may be that the particular assignment you're working on is something you're not interested in, but were forced to take up due to monetary reasons. Now you're supposed to do it, and you don't want to. So what do you do? Bite the bullet, honey. Such is the freelancing life. Sometimes, you need to take up projects that don't satisfy the soul, but put money in the bank. Until you can afford to turn down projects that you don't like, just do it. Look at it this way -- the sooner you're finished with the assignments that put food on the table, the sooner you're free to pursue the writing that you love.
Make a Freelance Journal. This is by far the most effective technique that I've used in my entire freelancing career. It takes care of the three most important things that may be holding you back -- goal-setting, accountability and measuring productivity. Every day, while I'm working, I'll keep my journal open and note down whatever I'm doing that day. Sure, I vent and express frustration when I've received a rejection or feel low, but I also record what I'm working on, which editor wrote back to me, things I was supposed to do that day and didn't do, etc. At the end of each day or each week, I look back at the journal to see how much I've achieved each day. Trust me -- it can be an eye-opener!
Do this for at least fifteen days to be able to figure out where all your time is going, which projects are being put on the back-burner and where your focus is. You'll easily be able to see what projects you're avoiding and why!
Use these tips and soon you'll find yourself on a procrastination- free writing road, too. Good Luck!
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, TIME, CNN, ABC News, and more. She runs The International Freelancer website (http://www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com) and will happily share 21 of her best query letters with anyone who signs up for her free weekly newsletter.