I’m gearing up for a new school year, and with it, thinking about ways to help students learn as well as ways to help them do. Many of them are inexperienced in writing, reluctantly accomplishing the tasks assigned in school. But as they enter the upper grades in school, I want them to really understand their writing process, to give it time to develop, to learn about it instead of vomiting words on a page with minutes to spare.
The problem with teenage writers that I think relates to most of us is the simple fact that sometimes, everything in the world sounds more fun, exciting, present, necessary, *pick whatever adjective you like to use* than writing, and we can often justify our way out of producing words. Sure, there are people who complain about writer’s block, but I never use “music block” as a reason not to practice, or “athlete’s block” as a reason to skip the gym, and “teaching block” is not really a thing, so I tend to not buy into that idea.
Today, I’m suggesting three techniques to maintain productivity.
1. Recognize there are many ways to be productive.
I think many of us think if we aren’t drafting, we aren’t being productive. That’s like saying if there aren’t roses present, I’m not falling in love, but I fall in love with my husband EVERY SINGLE DAY, and except my small but determined rose bush outside my house, flowers aren’t there.
Productivity includes research, brainstorming, outlining, character development, establishing setting, developing magic systems, drawing out internal and external character arcs, cross-referencing with similar books, and so forth. Yes, some of these can become excuses, but spending a day between drafting to solidify any element that was previously lacking in understanding will add depth and truth to your text. Don’t be afraid to spend the time researching in the name of word count.
2. Quit using distractions as an excuse.
Every single computer can be disconnected from the internet. Phones can be muted, put in another room, turned to “Do Not Disturb”, and twitter, facebook, pinterest, instagram, snapchat and the like will still be there when you get back. Especially when you are in the query/submission trenches, there is a temptation to check and recheck all the things to see if you can level up yet. But that creates chaos, anxiety, stress – things which I’m pretty sure all of us have enough of without intentionally inviting more into our lives. We even shared some hints for getting the most out of your writing time earlier this year.
And don’t let “Parent Guilt” sneak into the picture, because that is something that can eat you alive too. It is okay for adults to have passions. It’s okay for them to chase dreams. It’s okay for them to take an hour or two away from the children, from storytelling, from homemade whatever you feel you need to do to be a good parent and chase a passion.
Guess what? By taking that time to work, chase a passion and find satisfaction in something along with raising children, you will become a better parent. This little bit of info somehow seems to be a secret, but it shouldn’t be.
When it’s time to write – write. Maggie Stiefvater says so too.
3. Create an opportunity for habit.
I just finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Wow. Whoa. Huh. Think, for a minute, about how much your consciously pay attention to your *get ready for the day* process. Do you intentionally apply so much toothpaste to your toothbrush, making sure that each tooth gets a thorough and proper cleaning? Nope, me neither. It is a skill that has been practiced so much that it has become a habit.
Writing needs to become a habit – at least the part where you inform your brain it’s time to get writing. Just like when you pick up your toothbrush and your brain takes over what needs to happen next, we can train ourselves toward productivity. Our brain needs a cue – something that says, “When I do X, it’s time to write.” Period. And it’s okay to give yourself a reward when you do what you’d planned to (but after you get done…).
The bottom line is no one made you venture into the writing arena. This is something we each thought about before we started, something we wanted to add to our lives. Complaining isn’t fair to the listeners, and it isn’t fair to our craft. Yes, there are aspects that may increase frustration, but if we remember we sought this out, we can be a little gentler to our craft, a little more firm on our time management and dedication, and the writing will reward us with companionship.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.