I tend to be productive in spurts. All or nothing. Feast or Famine. Wax or Wane. High or Low. Pick your favorite pithy saying. The point is that I—like most people, I suspect—tend to tackle projects or take on tasks I’m not absolutely required to do in cycles of high productivity and then no productivity.
During my hyper-productive times, I do all the things with relentless fervor: train for 5ks and use my fitness bands, refinish thrift store furniture, clean out and streamline the crap out of my house, and write almost daily.
But, during those sloth-like low- to-no productive times, I park it on the couch and binge shows like Orphan Black or Doctor Who. There’s no harm in winding down to watch a little telly, right? Of course not! I love those shows and relaxation is necessary, but I’m talking about those times when it’s more than a “little telly.” “Little” grows into “a lot,” and before I know it, an entire week or two is gone and I have nothing to show for it
I hate that extended low-volume version of me. That version is discontent, restless and bored and is often too lazy or apathetic to bother with changing the situation. That version of me is flabbier in mind, body and spirit, less healthy, more prone to insomnia, and is infinitely crabbier because nothing worth anything is getting done. This has had the most detrimental impact on my writing career. The fact that I don’t yet HAVE a notable writing career is solid proof of that, as far as I’m concerned.
I go through phases in which I want to write non-stop. Those are such glorious days, times when I’ve produced an entire book and several short stories. It feels good. I feel like a writer. But then, a bout of laziness or a seasonal bug will set in and flip me back to the dark side. I once experienced a nearly seven-month slump where writing was the last thing I wanted to do. For a myriad of reasons—some known and some ambiguous—I was uninspired, and the vultures were circling over my desires of becoming a published author. But then . . .
It occurred to me one day—when I shut off the early-morning alarm, trudged downstairs to make coffee and trudged back upstairs to start the workday (I’m fortunate enough to work from home most days for the next several months)—that there is something that doesn’t wax and wane with my motivational gumption.
It’s steady and constant and something I do every day, regardless of whether I want to or not. I get up, get dressed and go do it. I may not always like it, but I want the success that comes with working a steady job, i.e., to make enough money to buy essentials like food, housing, electricity, Amazon Prime, etc. Yes, sometimes all I want is to shut off the alarm and retreat back into my bed-shaped cave, but I don’t. I have life goals, and I have a responsibility to meet them, and because of that drive to succeed, I can afford the things I want and need. Hell, I can afford both Prime AND Netflix! What a world!
So, back to my A-HA moment. I started thinking that if my job is a constant because it must be, why not apply that concept to my writing goals? If I want to create and produce on a solid, steady basis, I must make it a job. My second job. One that doesn’t pay. Well, generally, it doesn’t pay, but hopefully the dividends tomorrow will be worth the free labor and early mornings I put in today.
And so, here I am . . . writing like my success as an author depends on it, because it does! I now have a tackle list, a calendar filled with various projects and due dates (some external and some self-imposed), and I have a daily schedule.
I wake up ninety minutes early every day, make a cup of coffee, fire up my laptop, and get to work. When I have free time in the evenings, I’ll put in another hour or so. My tackle list is filled with a variety of projects, so I have the option to work on whatever I feel the pull to do (flexibility inspired by this great blog post by indie author Amanda Linehan). From first-draft phases of manuscripts to blog post edits, short story submissions to graphics for my web site, there is plenty to do.
My newly-appointed second job keeps me nearly as busy as my primary job, and I love it. I thrive on productivity, expectations, and challenges. I expect that treating my writing life like it’s an actual job will transform it from passionate hobby to passionate career. That’s the end goal, anyway.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t take a day off here or there. I have mornings where the insomnia monster was particularly prickly the night before, and that 4:45 alarm goes off only an hour or two after I’d fallen asleep. I’ll hit that snooze button for upwards of an hour. I also have times when I’m simply too over-stimulated, overworked, or overtired from the day’s events and can’t manage more than a grilled cheese on the couch with the TARDIS.
And that’s okay. I need that time off. We all do. But now, when I turn on the TV or turn off the alarm, I know I’ll need to work a bit harder to make up for time off. I have due dates that must be met and tasks that must be accomplished. I now work to ensure those times of famine . . . the wanes, the nothings, the lows . . . come in phases of hours rather than days. After all, when it comes to my second job, I work in a company of one. If I don’t turn on the lights and open the shutters for business, no one else will.