Productivity · Time Management

Schedules, Inspiration, and Words Per Day: Have You become Your Own Worst Taskmaster?

Maybe you’ve got a great idea, a story tumbling around in your creative brain just waiting to see life on the page. Maybe you’ve written a few things but are ready for a bigger challenge like a collection of short stories, an instructional book, or a novel. Your project is bigger than anything you’ve done before and you’re unsure how to tackle it. You’ve researched articles and talked to other writers.

The advice is abundant, but one thing keeps poking through: Daily Word Count. Great novelists do it, amateur writers do it, blogs and ‘How To’ lists espouse it.

Three hundred, five hundred, a thousand words per day; it’s often referred to as the Golden Rule to successful writing. You try it, and it goes fine for a few days, then something comes up and you miss a day, then you get back to it with fewer words, and a downward spiral begins until you look back with a heavy sigh to acknowledge that your word count goal failed. You feel like you’re not cut out to be a writer, after all, you can’t even complete the basic task necessary to succeed.

Stop.

Clear your mind.

Analyze.

Revisualize.

Don’t become that boss who walks in with a list of tasks and no idea how things really work on the ground level.

Does a “Words Per Day” Goal work for you?

Words per Day is general advice given by a broad spectrum of writers whose lives aren’t like yours. Just like you’d never take on a competition body builder’s work out routine to get back in shape, don’t take on a professional novelist’s daily word count. It’s likely that their lives aren’t like yours. Even if you have committed to writing full-time, you may want to look at your habits.

Find What Works for You

What should you do then? Instead of racing to impose some arbitrary daily word count on yourself, start with looking at what your schedule. Take a look at the stuff that goes on the calendar: work schedule, family obligations, and routine things that need to be done.

Think about the less obvious things like holidays and shopping, social events, and the work that keeps your home going. These things don’t follow a specific schedule but are necessary and can pile up on you before you can say, ‘Oh no! It’s my sister’s birthday this weekend and I haven’t even thought about a gift!’.

When you can visually look at your life in these terms, it’s easier to see your time flow. Don’t stop there and start filling in the blank spots with words per day. Look a little deeper. Think about the times of day you feel your best mentally. When does your mind feel free? Does your mind never feel free? It’s important to know these things because if the rest of your life is on fire, no amount of advice or tricks will help you with your writing project.

Figure Out What You Can Trim

Time management is at the heart of the matter and understanding how it applies to you, your writing project, and your life specifically is so important.  Once you’ve analyzed how you use your time, you can look at how you can reorganize your time. You can trim up some loose ends, identify some time wasters, and get ahead of some of the things that languish until the last minute.

When the train is rolling on smooth track, it’s less likely to derail. When life is rolling more smoothly, you can consider what kind of word count goals you want to make. You may find that an alternate schedule of words works better for you.

Maybe it’s “X” amount of words per week because some of your days are jam packed with necessary things. Maybe you set a monthly word count goal because your weekly schedule has some expected unpredictability in it. Whatever you find, you can be confident that it uniquely fits your life. From there, you can modify and change it as you go along to better suit your project goal.

As always, get to know yourself and be kind along the way.

Motivation · Productivity

Creativity in Crisis: Abandoned by your Muse

Guest Post from Roth Heisner

It’s been nearly a year since life, as we knew it, changed drastically. From the onset of a global pandemic to social unrest, topped off with a stormy political season, it feels as though the crisis level never went down. Many have found themselves working from home, or not at all, as unemployment surged. Suddenly many creatives found themselves with something they had always wanted but never seemed to have enough of before: time. People settled into long-term lockdowns and new home offices and turned their eyes to all the things they wanted to do but never had time for, only to find their creativity seemed to have abandoned them. I am one of those creatives, and I would like to share what I learned about loss, uncertainty, and creativity in unprecedented times.

Shifting Away from Silver Linings and into Small Actions

After realizing that my small independent contractor business wasn’t going to survive the pandemic lockdown, I immediately jumped to a ‘silver lining’ frame of mind. I told myself that I had all the time I always needed to draft story ideas, develop characters, and render art that had languished untouched. What I immediately found was that my muse had gone. No matter how often I sat down to work on ideas, there just wasn’t any inspiration for the creative projects that I had longed to do. My creativity had died in the mire of uncertainty and a feeling of being lost. I no longer had the schedules, clients, or social engagements to keep me going.

The ‘death’ of life as I had known it had changed everything, and I didn’t have a direction to go. I found myself wrestling with the loss for months, piling guilt on top of it to no resolution until I made the firm decision that just because I couldn’t do what I thought I should be doing with my time, I could still be doing something. Something is always better than nothing. If I couldn’t unblock my mind, I could unclutter my environment. I started a project to organize my home.

Clearing the Clutter and Renewing the Spirit

It seemed like such a practical and uninspiring thing to do, but what I found was that the more I did it, the lighter I felt inside. My space was opening, and along with it, my mind. I found notes, drawings, and letters that reconnected me to events of my past. I found myself mentally skipping through places of my youth and calling old friends. By the time I had finished, months later, I not only had a clean, organized home, but I also had a renewed spirit and a well of revisited experiences to draw from creatively.

I’m confident I’m not the only creative person to have found themselves lost in this drastically changed world. To those who have also wondered where their inspiration has gone just as they found themselves with the time, I’d just like to say; don’t underestimate the loss you’ve endured. Surely as our lifestyles have been locked down and reigned in, so have our spirits. Be kind to yourself. Understand that these unprecedented times affect us emotionally. Divert your attention from the projects you feel you ‘should’ be doing and try something different. It doesn’t have to be cleaning your space, it could be trying a new creative medium, a new hobby or activity, or reading more instead of writing.

Let the well replenish and you’ll find yourself with renewed vigor, a new perspective, and undoubtedly some new creative ideas too!