Face it: When you don't feel like writing, trying to do it is excruciating. You sit there in front of your computer (or holding your recorder), and nothing happens. You type, delete, retype, save, surf, sigh ... and when you give up on it, you feel like you aren't a real writer. You wonder when the lightning will strike and words will gush off your fingertips. This is the agony of being an author.
But what if it was really in our heads? What if our habits as authors make determine our ability to be productive? Some of us think of writing as a craft, that's fueled sudden infusions of inspiration, causing us to fall in flow and finish our manuscripts. It's unexplainable and magic. When we are denied "the moment" we lose our minds a little. But really, that's just stuff from the movies (like The Shining). When I look into the history of the writers behind some of my favorite books, I realize that they work hard to control the creative process, and not let the elusive meme control them. They found a way to plow through, and craft great works.
William Faulkner once wrote, "I only write when I'm inspired. Fortunately, I'm inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." I took this saying to heart when I was writing Today We Are Rich in 2009. I had a short window (6 months) to complete the book, and had to navigate around a busy lecture schedule as well. I didn't write on-the-go, as travel puts me in the wrong frame of mind to write, given the distractions and poor working environments. I had, at best, three days a week at home, blocked off to write. So insinctively, I put myself of a production schedule. I do by best writing mid-morning, so I blocked out 10am each morning to write for two hours or 1200 or so words. After lunch, I edited and researched. I calculated that I would product 150% of the necessary content that way (my contract had a word count clause), and assume that a big chunk of it would be cut out by the end of line editing.
One of Nolan Bushnell's favorite sayings is, "the deadline is the inspiration," and he's right! In the beginning, I was inconsistent in my ability to plop myself into a chair at 10am and find 1200 words worth saving. But soon, inspired by the schedule, which gave me daily deadlines, I developed a routine that got me back on track. I would get up at 7am, do some review of research from the day before and around 8:30 or so, I'd outline what I was going to write today on my whiteboard. I'd take a picture of it on my iPhone, then plug in ear buds and putter around in the side yard or walking around my neighborhood, listening to music and looking at my outline. I didn't check my email and turned off my cell during this time period. Often, I'd dictate what I was going to write into my phone, then listen to it, thinking about how the words sound against the outline. Invariably, at some point I'd realize I was ready, drop my putter and scramble into the house to sit down at my laptop and do my job.
David Lynch believes that "it takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done." My goal was to cut that in half! By the second month of my writing cycle, I was finding my inspiration on schedule, and often times, producing 2000 words in a furious session of flow. I finished the book one month earlier than planned, giving me time to find new stories and integate fresh insights into the final manuscript. Of all my works, this is the one I'm the most proud of. I'll never write a book any other way!
The lesson here is three fold: Have a publication date or a final deadline. Create a production schedule that includes daily deliverables and then quickly organize each day's work. Develop a personal routine that brings out your creativity, be it physical, aesthetic or mental.
I think writer's block is really the outcome of a lack of preparation, where we expect the words to fall out of the sky. If we realize that we can open the sky with our diligence, we can write anytime we feel like it. NOTE: Some days I was more inspired than others. But I never was devoid of inspiration by 12noon or typed less than a few hundred words. Sure, I deleted some content here and there, but you'd be surprised at how much of the best stuff came during times I felt only mildly inspired.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays