“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six of them sharpening my axe.”— Abraham Lincoln
Obviously, Abraham Lincoln did not chop trees for a living but what he said sure makes perfect sense. The way I see It, chopping down the tree is the real deal. On the other hand, sharpening the axe is repetitive, boring, and absolutely mind-numbing.
Sharpening the axe, the real writing is what’s going to get you to where you’re going. It’s the equivalent of putting one foot in front of the other. One word, one sentence after another.
I write, market, advertise, and develop marketing strategies for businesses. Writing is both exciting and dreary at the same. Writing every day, especially when you’re not vibing the whole thing, is hard.
Right now (real story), I’ve just come home from a long day at work, had dinner with my boys, and I am sitting here writing with heavy eyelids. I am little brain dead now but I am writing, anyway. Because that’s what works.
There are times when I keep fighting the urge to just walk that few steps to either the sofa or the bed to just ‘take a break’ or ‘hit the showers’ to find my mojo.
I soldier on because of:
- A promise to myself
- It’s going to make a difference
- If I write something now, I can write anything under any circumstance
- It’s a system
It’s like hitting the gym even when you’re feeling like shite.
Overcoming Doubts and Stagnant Worries
Of course, I worry about writing rubbish. Of course, I am going to write crap. But when I look at my laptop, my keyboard, and my mouse, I know there’s something to be done here. And I can’t go to bed until I’ve got the words, the thoughts, out of my system.
It’s the kind of mental toughness that athletes develop. Like it or not, they’re going to have to run that 5 miles…or 10 miles…a day. They don’t over think. They don’t worry. They just mindfully decide that it’s got to be done…and they do it.
Once you’ve set writing as a part of your daily habit and set it as a bright neon red priority, not doing it is going to make you feel like you cheated. I am going to assume you have the same moral compass as I do – which means, if you don’t do it, you’re going to feel lousy.
The Writing List and Vault of Ideas
A part of sharpening your ax as a writer is carrying around a couple of lists or notepads. Yes, it could be a virtual or digital one, it doesn’t matter as long as it works.
The list consists of things that are important to you, ideas that jumped out at you while you were in the lift waiting for your floor, words you read in a magazine that you want to use in your next article.
It sounds like a to-do list or a dream board because it is.
The list is easy to work with because they’ll be in chunks. These bite-sized ideas are going to catapult you into a world of wonder and curiosity and set you off into the orbit. Instead of viewing writing a book or novel as a whole, look at it as chapters. Paragraphs or blocks of words.
You’ll be surprised that sometimes, you set out to write 2,000 words, you end up with 10,000 instead because you start flowing. People in the creative field often have difficulty finding the flow on bad days, so, it’s not uncommon.
“To be truly productive, you can’t rely on hacks or apps or new technologies. Trust me. I’ve tried. You need to develop your own sustainable system, a set of routines and practices that serves as the foundation of your work.”– Darius Foroux, Medium
Prioritize Your Writing Tasks
I write for others for a living. But on my list of priorities, I include ‘writing for myself‘ as a prioritized task. It could be writing in my journal, a thank you note, gratefulness list, or short blog post as an update for whoever cares to read.
First thing in the morning, I go to my checklist and start prioritizing.
On the list is at least one personal task….with a star right next to it. It’s extra special. Like most people, I complete most of the tasks on my list by hook or by crook, otherwise, it gets carried over to the next day.
Can’t say it’s iron-clad but it has been working out so far.
Throughout the day, no matter where I am or whatever I am doing, I would spend time thinking about or doing the personal task with that extra special star right next to it.
Giving Yourself a Deadline
You’ve probably heard it all before…you know, give yourself a deadline, prioritize what cannot (absolutely cannot) wait, eliminate tasks that can be put off to tomorrow to tomorrow, the likes. These are priceless advice from people who are good workers. They’re reliable, professional, and achieve what they set out to do. They’re doubtlessly productive.
It’s helpful to break your tasks down to smaller bits and give yourself tighter deadlines.
Sit down, decide on a deadline, and be strict with yourself about it.
There are variables, of course. Things can’t be black and white all the time but when the time comes to sit down and write, do it. In fact, push yourself because if you’re writing for yourself, no one else is hawking around you to give you that ass-kicking.
You’ve got to do it yourself!
And then forgive yourself for coming up with half rubbish. After going through it, you’re probably going to find some gems in there. Keep the gems and polish up the shitty stuff.
Get Distractions Out of the Way and Just Write
The last time I participated in a writing marathon was when I joined, officially (and completed) NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month which started off as a month-long prompt for writers to write basically anything and everything they’ve always wanted to but had no time for.
NaNoWriMo, as far as I know, is still going strong and has extended the monthly activity to include year-round support for writers from all around the world.
Needless to say, whatever I completed that month never got published and I hope it never sees the light of day. Truth be told, I was pretty darn proud of the ‘certificate’ I earned at the end of the journey.
If it taught me nothing else, it showed me that I could sit down every single day and whip up a storm of words based on an on-going impromptu imaginary scenario in my head, no matter how tired or whacked I was for the day.
Before I did anything, however, I had to clear everything in my head. Everything was off the table until I had the word count up.
No smartphones, no apps, no notifications, no emails, no calls, no TV, no songs that I know the lyrics to, no books…nothing. It would have to be just me and the computer. The blank screen that beckons the words out of my mind.
In fact, I set my phone on ‘Focus Mode’ for working hours. I WILL check my phone every hour or so but I try not to when I am floating on a river of vivid ideas. You can learn how to spend less time checking your email every day, as proposed by Matt Plummer in this HBR article, or get more things done in 3 hours than you would in a week.
The tips and advice may differ but they have the same purpose – to improve productivity and help us waste less time. I’ve been chastised for not INSTANTLY answering emails or WhatsApp messages but I think my work would really suffer if I got distracted all the time.
So, the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode wins.
Here’s a good article on how to establish disruption-free writing.
Before I go, here’s a quick wrap-up of things I found useful for me as a writer. I hope they’ll prove to be useful to you too as you trudge along your journey as a writer or marketer.
- Even for writers who are passionate about the craft, writing every day can become a chore
- Soldier on with writing even when you don’t feel like it
- Make writing for yourself a promise to yourself
- Don’t worry about writing rubbish. There’s time to polish it up
- Think like an athlete
- Set your priorities up first thing in the morning or at the end of the day
- Use lists and notepads, including apps, to keep a library of ideas, thoughts, words, or articles
- Find your flow
- Break your tasks down and give yourself tight deadlines
- Kick yourself in the ass
- Get distractions out of the way. Even if it means setting your phone to silent, Do Not Disturb, or Airplane mode
Thank you for reading this far. This article was originally published on MarshaMetta. I try my best to be active on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow me and let’s stay in touch!