I should be writing the draft for my second novel.
Instead, I just finished drafting the synopsis of a short story that has been nagging me since last week. It got me thinking about writing for its own sake, as opposed to writing for the sake of a project. Obviously, a writer can’t be successful if they can’t get sh*t done, so there is something to sticking to a thing and getting it done.
But the thing with me and projects is that every step of it is planned. I have an outline (which I deviate from all the time), a word count which I try to hit or exceed each day, and a self-imposed deadline.
With short stories or things like this that hit me randomly, there is no plan. That kind of freestyle writing is fun and liberating, though most of the time, such stories will sit in my famous bin when I’m done. Sometimes they are useful when an opportunity to contribute to an anthology presents itself and I can dust them off and edit them. But mostly they are there. Five or ten hours of my life in a file somewhere.
It all goes back to the tension between productivity and creativity – I have a ton of ideas but what do I dedicate my time to? What am I trying to accomplish? There are as many ways to manage this as individuals struggling with question. I found some great ideas in this blog post, How to Decide Which Writing Project to Focus On.
Personally, I like to get the nagging project down on paper. I do a fair bit of journaling and have notebooks full of half-ideas. For example, this morning, I handwrote eight pages of my story, in synopsis form. I’ll type it up so it’s backed up in my drive. Having worked it out of my system, if it doesn’t fit in my current project, I’ll set it aside. It might come back as a project of its own later. Or it might just sit somewhere, a bit of writing practice that went nowhere.
What I didn’t do was let it cannibalize what I have in front of me. Yeah, I wrote for a couple of hours and it might look like wasted time. But I’m still on track and, after today, I probably won’t dream about the thing like I’ve been doing for the last week. It frees up some intellectual bandwidth and I’m not anxious because I haven’t wrecked my potential manuscript by going on a tangent.
The post referenced above also discusses the value of using a calendar. I print them up from Outlook and staple them into my journal. By having projects chunked and scheduled, you give yourself less permission to veer away from your objective because, sorry, that plot bunny is not on the schedule.
A side note on journaling: bullet journals and other kinds of creative organizational systems are nice but sometimes, they become a project unto themselves. I’m not interested in getting all fancy with what is essentially a brute tool. If you’re like me and are looking more for streamlining, below are two posts with some great suggestions on using both calendars and journals to maximize productivity:
For those of you who like to get creative and colorful, there are some great Pinterest boards dedicated to just that.
Whatever you choose, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chasing the bright shiny object, if that’s what your creativity demands. But being able to finish a thing is a big deal. If an idea continues to persist even after a project is complete, then you know it’s a keeper.