If you are anything like my students, the hardest part about writing for you isn’t the writing itself – it’s scheduling your writing time and working on your project consistently enough to meet your goals.
In this post I will share six time-management and goal-setting techniques that can benefit any writer’s life.
Discover Opened Mode
“Closed mode” is a mindset in which we are anxiously focused on our to-do list. In this mindset, we are impatient and have little room for humor.
In contrast, “open mode” is when we are childlike and playful. In this mindset, we are more able to be creative.
I learned about closed mode and open mode from a lecture by John Cleese on creativity. John Cleese is a comedic actor and writer from Monty Python, who was also responsible for many other fine movies and TV shows, like A Fish Called Wanda and Fawlty Towers.
In his lecture, he gives five steps for getting from closed mode to open mode.
- Space: The first step is creating a space away from the stresses of life. It can be helpful to have a particular workspace, and let the people in your life know they aren’t to disturb you there.
- Time: You also should set aside a specific amount of time. Cleese suggests thirty minutes. This can make it easier to relax into the open mindset because you’ll know that once it’s over you can go back to ticking items off your to-do list.
- Time: Yes, he lists time twice. This time he means to keep working at your project even when you feel stuck. It’s easy to hit a minor roadblock in your writing and go check Facebook or turn on the TV, but don’t do it. Keep working for the amount of time you set aside.
- Confidence: Write without worrying about making a mistake. There’s an old saying, “write drunk, edit sober.” While I wouldn’t literally recommend it, you should write your first draft confidently without looking back. We can come up with our most creative and original ideas when we write without fear.
- Humor: Nothing relaxes us more than humor. At its core, humor is finding surprising connections between two or more ideas. Find a way to laugh before you start your writing session to boost your creativity.
The Pomodoro Technique
John Cleese’s advice on time is consistent with a popular time management system called the Pomodoro technique. This system gets its name from a brand of egg timer that is shaped like a tomato. It has just a few simple steps:
- Decide on what task you have to do.
- Set a timer for twenty-five minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer rings.
- Take a five minute break.
- Set the timer again and work for another twenty-five minutes…
I often use the Pomodoro technique when I write. Sometimes instead of using a timer for 25 minutes, I’ll use one side of a record, which is usually about the right amount of time. I find that the five minute break is very important because when I have the short break planned, I’m unlikely to take a longer, unplanned break.
Think about your schedule and your environment. Where and when can you make room for writing? Be as precise as possible, for instance, instead of saying, “in the mornings” say “at 7 A.M. after my first cup of coffee, I will use my laptop in the study.”
Not all goals are created equal. If our goals are vague or unrealistic, we won’t be able to meet them. Make sure your goals are SMART:
- Specific: How many minutes, pages or chapters are you planning on writing?
- Measurable: How will you keep track of the number of words or minutes you write?
- Attainable: Setting a goal that is too challenging may lead to failure and discouragement.
- Relevant: Why is this goal important to you? Do you like the way the act of writing makes you feel centered? Or do you have a story you are burning to share?
- Time-framed: When do you want to accomplish this goal?
Write about a goal that you’ve accomplished in the past. What made you succeed? How did you feel when it was complete? How can you replicate those results in the future?
A group of people with similar goals can keep each other accountable. Here are some ways you can connect with other writers:
- Take a writing class: Writing classes are a great way to meet other beginning writers and get some guidance from a teacher at the same time.
- Find a writing group on MeetUp.com: I’ve met many wonderful people through MeetUp. You can find writers’ groups devoted to open mics, silent writing sessions, critiquing each other’s work or just hanging out.
- Use the NaNoWriMo web forum: I haven’t used this one personally, but this website is very popular among novelists who want to celebrate their progress on their projects.
- Take part in the #writingcommunity on Twitter: Twitter can be a useful place for finding writers in your genre.
Sign a Creativity Contract
I’ve mentioned before that I love the creativity contract from Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. She recommends displaying it where you work in order to stay motivated. Here is her original contract:
I, ___________________, understand that I am undertaking an intensive, guided encounter with my own creativity. I commit myself to the twelve-week duration of the course. I, __________________, commit to weekly reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artist date, and the fulfilment of each week’s tasks. I, ___________________, further understand that this course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I, ___________________, commit myself to excellent self-care—adequate sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and pampering – for the duration of the course. ______________________________________ (signature) ___________________ (date)
The details of this contract are pretty specific for people following the program in her book. For our own use, we can make our own creativity contracts using our SMART goals. Here are some examples that I suggest to my students:
- Start a daily writing habit for 30 minutes every morning.
- Complete three chapters of your novel by the end of the month.
- Write short story consisting of 3-10 pages every week for the next three months.
Write your own Creativity Contract that is tailored towards your SMART goals. Sign it and find a place to display it near your workspace.
Use Productivity Tools
It is tough to stay focused today. Very smart people are working hard to make their technology as addictive as possible. Luckily, some other smart people have created some tools to fight back.
- Freedom: a computer application that blocks the internet for a chosen number of hours. I used this application a lot when I was writing papers in college and grad school.
- Stayfocused: a Chrome plugin that blocks certain websites after a chosen amount of minutes per day. I currently use this plugin to limit my social media time. I only have thirty minutes a day, which motivates me to spend that time connecting with the writing community instead of mindlessly scrolling.
- Joe’s Goals: a free online habit tracker. I’ve been using this website since 2013. I love the simple interface and get a lot of pleasure out of checking off my goals.
- Morning Pages: Turns writing goals into an addictive game. Like the Creativity Contracts, this is also inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. I haven’t used this one as much, but it’s very visually appealing.
- Clockify: a free timer for projects. A friend recently recommended this to me. It’s a great way to keep track of how much time you are spending on your writing projects.
But of course my favorite way to stay focused on my writing is the low-tech way: in a notebook, away from a computer.