I was recently chatting with Dan Pink, #1 NYT bestseller and author of four books, about his process for writing and here was his answer:
"Tim, there's two things writers are good at:
1. Not writing
2. Complaining about not writing"
As a writer, I'm sure you can relate to this in some fashion. Even the great Paulo Coelho, who has sold over 65 million copies of his book, says that when he's on deadline "I start procrastinating in the morning, I check email, I check news, I check everything that I could check just to postpone [writing my book]".
If one of the most prolific writers of our time can't seem to stop procrastinating, how can you even hope to get your manuscript finished?
After talking with a lot of successful writers about their process, a common theme has come up and it all boils down to three simple rules. But before I give you those, I want you to make a commitment to follow through with trying them. I give you a homework assignment at the end and I guarantee that if you follow through, you'll be well on your way to finally finishing that book.
Here's your three steps to writing:
1. Do it in the morning. You are freshest in the morning and this keeps you from being distracted later in the day. Life happens. Work goes nuts, kids get sick, you hit a deadline and before you know it, the day is gone and you haven't written a single word. Or, when you finally sit down at 10pm to write, you're too exhausted to think. Jean Chatzky says when she's writing a book she gets up two hours before her kids every morning until it's done. Write first thing in the morning, every morning.
2. Put it on your calendar. One to two hours a day. For my writing, I schedule it on my calendar for first thing when I get to the office. It's on my calendar so I can't get pulled into other meetings or phone calls. Family obligations don't interfere because I'm at work. Make it a non-negotiable part of your day that can only be interrupted by emergencies -- someone better be bleeding.
3. Never start without knowing what you are going to write. All planning for your writing should be done at least by the night before. Any outlining or research also has to be done prior to the time you've set aside for writing. When you sit down to work, you should know the topic, scene or portion of your book that you are going to work on. As soon as you sit down, start putting words on the screen. It is too easy to get distracted by things "around" writing that feel effective, but aren't. Get those out of the way first so you can immediately start typing.
Your homework assignment: Follow this advice for a week and then email me to let me know how it goes.
Please don't whine to me about not being able to get up early. Don't tell me about how hectic your life is and you couldn't possible schedule time every day to write. If it's important, you can do it for at least a week - I believe in you. And imagine, a week from now you'll be emailing me to tell me how much writing you've gotten done.
Picture from Drew Coffman