I hadn’t touched my novel in almost four months.
Every blog post I wrote took twice as long as it should have. I dragged myself through them day after day, because I always wished I were doing something else.
I looked at my writing goals every day, getting more frustrated each time. Because I hadn’t accomplished any of them yet. It was almost March, and, in the grand scheme of things, I’d barely written anything since December.
But I’d read plenty of books, watched more than enough TV, and had told myself “I’ll get back on track by the end of the month” three times too many.
I knew I’d lost control of my writing time. I knew it wasn’t anyone else’s fault but mine.
And I knew I had to fix it, before it was too late.
These are the strategies that helped me regain control without giving up the things I loved. This is how I got back to writing, without making it a punishment.
If you’ve ever been here — out of control and wondering how to get it back — here’s my advice for you.
Disclosing distractions, facing roadblocks
When it comes to writing, distractions are the things that pull you away from writing no matter how inspired and/or motivated you are to get your work done. I might sit down at my desk 100% committed to finishing my article within the hour, but I get a text from someone I haven’t talked with in awhile, and suddenly that deadline goes right out the window.
I consider roadblocks to be a little different when talking creativity. They’re the things that “block” you from even sitting down to write in the first place, or prevent you from wanting to write at all. When I’m trying to outline a pitch email to a prospective client, but I get anxious about the possibility of getting rejected (it happens), I might put it off for days. Weeks, even.
Whether you’re distracted or blocked, identify and pin down the things keeping you from writing. Self-doubt is one of the most common writing roadblocks creatives face but don’t know how to conquer. The solution that works best for me? Compartmentalizing and creating, one small step at a time.
Saying ‘yes’ to ‘less’
This comes in two forms: saying ‘yes’ to fewer distractions, and committing to fewer things at once.
Too many writers make the mistake of, for example, saying “no more Netflix” when they realize they’re spending too much time watching Netflix. (Not that I know what that’s like or anything.) “Less” is a much better strategy than “none.” I can do with fewer hours of streaming if it means gaining five or more hours of writing time per week. But you don’t want to suck all the fun out of your life. Balance, not extremes.
And here’s the reality you might not want to hear: it’s OK to say yes to fewer projects. Some people just aren’t equipped to work on five different things at once. If you’re trying to do too much, stop yourself before burnout hits you. Because it will, and it will hurt. It’s not something you ever want to have to give up writing to recover from.
Focusing on one thing at a time
My brain has two settings: hyper-focus and non-focus. I’m either so deep into my work that I lose track of my surroundings, or I can’t pay attention to a single thing for more than a few minutes. Over the past few years, I’ve personally found that it’s much easier for me to write when I’m only focused on writing the most pressing thing (e.g., this blog post, which should have been written almost a week ago).
This does not mean that I’m not simultaneously working on multiple projects at once. Ideally, a writer should always have more than one income stream — you never know what might happen tomorrow. But, when I’m at work for eight hours, for example, I focus only on what I’m working on at work. I don’t think about my blog, or about any other project. Work time is work time. Blog time is blog time.
If you’re having a hard time focusing, set a priority and get to work. When you have multiple things that need doing ASAP, take a deep breath and tackle them one at a time. Don’t put them off as long as possible, no matter how tempting. It’s not going to go away just because you keep pushing it aside.
You’re in control. Or you will be, again, soon.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.