Diary of a struggling writer – Being more productive

I have been thinking as of late, on my own productivity. As the stereotype often portrayed in media and the world in general, I am the typical writer. I will find any excuse not to write. In fact I have been rewatching several Star Trek: Enterprise episodes this weekend, not because I feel what I am about to write is not important, but because the resistance within me.

I first came across that phrase to explain the common way of prostignating among creative people, was in a book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. There he talks about creative people’s inherit need to postpone things you know that you need to get done in order to get what you want to make out there. In my case it is very often the actual writing of things. I can spend hours upon hours planning and building worlds, but the need to actually sit down in front of the keyboard to write, I am hopeless. I’ll even find excuses like cleaning my office area or sorting the books in my library. Well, I say library, but what I mean to say is my office and bedroom. I basically live among books. The idea of actually producing something is what I love to do, but the process of working on it can sometimes seem less alluring. The War of Art was written for people like me, not people like Stephen King who seems to shit out a book every time he goes to the bathroom. I shouldn’t really be bitter about it, and bitterness is something I will cover in another diary, but it does often feel like very productive writers have it easy, which I don’t think that they have. They probably just have a higher amount of discipline, often brought about through practice or just innate in their biology.

As I said, Pressfield talks about resistance and I think that is a correct way of thinking about it. There is something within a writer’, or any creative person’s, soul that keeps us from doing what is needed to do what we love to do. The odd thing is that if we do not do what we love to do, we wither away and die, so resistance is the kind of self-destructive element within us that all humans, or at least most who I have talked to about this, have. That little voice that tells you to jump when standing on a train platform just as the train into the city comes.

So how do you fight it? Do you just let it win as it does seem to be natural for some people? That does not seem to me to be very heroic, and the people who know me know that I do love me a heroic tale. Pressfield talks about in the last half of the book of how he feels like you should fight it and I have also found this in the videos of a psychologist I have started to follow a lot online, Dr. Jordan B Peterson. Dr. Peterson, like Pressfield, talks about the importance of setting up a schedule. Now as a person who loves his creative freedom, I initially got my hackles up when I read and heard this. “Schedule my life? I have never done that before and… Oh…” It isn’t very natural for us to allow something else to take control over our creative process, even if that is set up by yourself. Peterson talks about setting up a calendar, like Google Calendar, but do not let this be a tyrant for yourself. Set it up as though you were a person that you wanted to take care of and love, as he says on multiple occasions. That may seem a little too lovey dovey, but it does appear to be working for me.

Another thing that both Peterson and Pressfield seems to agree upon, is that you should never rest on your laurels. If a project is finished, then you need to press on. Pressfield talks about how he finished a book at one point, only to be told by his mentor that he needed to start the next book the very next day. This is connected to Peterson’s idea of humans needing a burden to be able to function. Burden may seem like a negative thing, but it also seems like it is the only thing that can keep you from dying of boredom. Think of how many men who kill themselves after they no longer feel useful. Retired people who die shortly after no longer being able or willing to do anything. We as humans need to keep ourselves busy to avoid being reminded of the suffering in life and this applies to anyone, no matter how rich and famous you are. It isn’t so much the need to always stay on top, even though that also plays a part, but you also need something to do.

Pressfield also tackles it by also setting up a routine for when you start writing. I have started doing this and initially it has felt a little odd. I have an idol of Odin, the Norse god of poetry and death, on my desk. Before I start writing I make myself a cup of tea and I say a little prayer to Odin. As an atheist it feels very strange, but as I am also very fascinated by Norse beliefs, I found it puts me in touch with my roots and it helps me tell my brain that now there is no time for anything but the writing. I usually use one of the verses from Håvamål or some sort of plea to Odin of making me see how I should overcome the hurdle I am at in my latest project, be it my next book or a screenplay. This and being strict with my self as too what I should be doing at certain times, seems to be helping me be more productive.

I hope this was helpful and that you can use these tips to be more productive and that it wasn’t written too messy. I shall at least endeavour to follow my own advice and continue this writing session by continuing on a short story idea I have.

Happy writing

JH

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