When I don’t have a deadline, I invent one. Yes, I add a whole layer of self-inflicted stress. But it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
My creativity is often like a massive wave of indistinct clutter. Ideas, images, characters, article elements pour out of every news story, biography, TV show, and weird looking rock. I love it, and I don’t.
Given enough freedom, I spend more time relishing in that cacophony of curiosity than I do actually reaching conclusions. I steer frantically from one topic to the next and generally leave off after a few pages. Without some sort of guardrail, I simply jump out and let the writing sail off wherever it will.
My own unbridled creativity can be a deadweight.
It was tough to admit that a few years ago. Writers feed on creativity, after all. But I also noticed how I rev up a notch with deadlines—they’re like literary coffee. Tell me to get something to you in a week, and my mind starts throwing down an outline. Tell me I can get it to you whenever, and you’ll probably see a few unfinished drafts—maybe.
So, I made some changes in how I approach my writing. I had to if I wanted to be serious about it. Here’s what I did:
- I stopped thinking of writing as just a creative endeavor. While there’s creativity at the core, writing is also a process and a business. It’s going from idea to finished product—and then selling that product. That’s not as cold and lifeless as it may seem. Changing my outlook has made me far more productive.
- Deadlines are now mandatory. As I mentioned, I don’t work on anything if there’s not a firm deadline. Unchallenged, I can be a slacker. So, I started a blog with a set schedule of at least a post per week, and I make myself stick to a deadline for anything that I work on. If you need support, find someone who will hold you accountable. And start small, as well—a page in a week, for example.
- I’m training myself to pick out the good ideas quickly. If you’re like me and have tons of ideas filling up notebooks and Google Docs (and your head), tossing out the ones that won’t work is essential. The more I read, the more I write, the more I’ve honed that instinct. However, I still keep even silly ideas in a file. I just focus on the ones that seem to click instead of all of them.
- I write—and submit. Successfully submitting something to an editor is a huge motivator. Even if I don’t get the work published, the act itself reminds me what I want for my writing. And then I want to do it all over again.