I think this will be the last post for this particular subject matter, Squiders, and I’ll keep the troubleshooting section for the book. Thank you again for working with me on this nonfiction posts. They have been hugely beneficial for me, and I hope you’re getting something out of it as well.
Today we’re going to look at specific strategies to help you meet your consistency goals.
1. Schedule Time
We talked about this a little bit in the basics section, but having a regular time that is writing (or whatever) time can be hugely invaluable. Doing the same thing at the same time in the same way helps a habit build up that much faster, and you don’t have to worry about stuffing things into your otherwise busy schedule. As a reminder, make sure the time you’re allotting for yourself is sufficient to meet your goals, and that it’s realistic (i.e., don’t plan to spend 10-midnight working every night if your brain shuts down at 9:30).
2. Figure Out Your Motivation
Knowing why you’re doing something can also help provide you with extra motivation for getting something done. Are you trying out something new that you want to share with your critique group? Do you want to see if you can write something you’ve never done before? Are you looking for publication, readers, to please your mother/sister/partner/friends, to share something with your children, to learn something before you lose access to it? This goes back to the visualization technique we talked about last time, where knowing where you want to be can help you get back up after failures and push toward your end goals.
Having deadlines can be a great motivator to help you become consistent. (It’s not for everyone. If deadlines make you go shaky with anxiety, just ignore this point.) A project can seem insurmountable, especially at the beginning, but knowing when you need to have something done by can help you know how much you need to get done every day and help you plan out your schedule. Breaking things done into easy, repeatable steps make them that much easier to accomplish. Deadlines can be self-imposed (“I want this book ready for publication before I’m 40”) or imposed by the activity (the submission date for an anthology, having material ready before the writer’s conference you spent a gazillion dollars on, making sure your section for your critique group is ready on time so people can look it over) but oftentimes knowing something has to be done by a certain point or you’re going to miss your chance can give you a needed kick in the butt.
Those are pretty general, and how you implement them will be up to how you work specifically. Here are some specific things to try:
4. The ABC Method
“ABC” stands for “Apply Butt to Chair” and is an oft-cited method brought up during monthly challenges such as Nanowrimo. The basics of this method are simple–you sit down in a chair in front of your computer or your notebook or your typewriter, or whatever medium you’re currently using, and you stay there until you get to your goal for the day. The idea is, in theory, that you get what you need to done, come hell or high water, and that you–also in theory–become more proficient and faster over time.
The con of the ABC method is that it requires a lot of time. It can be more useful for students or other people who don’t have a set schedule or a lot of responsibility and have the ability to sit in front of their computer for three hours at a time. So people who don’t have a lot of time at their disposal may find this method untenable. Another problem is that sitting at your computer does not directly correspond with productivity. You may want to combine this approach with an app or program that blocks the Internet (or specific websites) or games you may have to make sure you’re not wasting your time.
5. Prepare Your Day
You occasionally hear about these people who have greatly upped their word counts (going from 2000 words a day to 10000, for example), and the secret to doing so seems to be planning what you’re doing/writing about before you sit down to do it. (This tip works in other aspects of life also–I often see the same advice applied to making your to-do list, for example, as doing it the night before frees up valuable first-thing-in-the-morning time for actual work as opposed to administrative rigamole.) Outlining can help some in this regards, but it doesn’t have to be as formal as that unless that works for you. You can also run through what needs to happen in the story in your head, picture scenes before you write them, put in some prep work (such as doing research before you start so you don’t waste your writing time), and knowing where you want to be at the end of the day.
The idea is that when you sit down to write, you already know what you’re doing and can dive right in without getting bogged down by miscellany.
6. Consistency Challenges
A consistency challenge is a challenge, usually set up between you and other writers, where everyone pledges to consistently write a certain amount of words for a certain duration of time. The most common ones seem to be where each writer sets their own word count, and then comes back to some place (such as a single blog post or a forum thread) and reports their word count for each day. Some challenges require you to reset your streak if you miss a day, while others count cumulative days in a time frame, even if they’re not consecutive.
The idea is that having accountability (the other writers) make you more likely to follow through, to avoid the guilt of missing a day or to compete to see if you can write more consistently than everyone else.
The nice thing about consistency challenges is that you can tailor them to meet your needs. I’ve seen ones where the writer also sets a days-of-writing goal (“I’m going to write 25 days out of 30”) to build in some leeway if someone knows they can’t write on weekends or will be on a trip for part of the challenge. There’s also word count build consistency challenges, which can be useful if one hasn’t written in a while or wants to up their output in general. In a word count build challenge, writers start at a minimum word count (say, 100 words) and add a consistent amount each day to increase their goals. For example, a writer could decide that they’ll start at 100 words a day and add 50 words each day. So day 1’s goal would be 100, day 2 would be 150, day 3 would be 200, all the way up to whatever the end is. (So, at the end of a 30-day challenge, they’d be up to 1500 words a day.)
Challenges can also be set up with other metrics, such as measuring time or pages edited or whatever is relevant for the project at hand. I’ve also seen challenges with countdowns, such as ones trying to get drafts done before a certain event (start of a challenge, deadline for a contest, etc.). These challenges are customizable so you should play around and see what works for you. Changing up the rules every now and then can also be good, especially if you’re starting to feel like you’re stagnating.
If you don’t have a writing community in which to run a consistency challenge, have no fear. You can do it solo as well. One of the best ways to make the slog alone is by using 750words.com. You do lose the ability to set a goal under 750 words, but this website is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to keep track of a one-author consistency challenge. Each day you log in to the site, write (or copy and paste) your words into the box, and it keeps track of stats, such as how long it took you to write your 750 words (if you actively wrote it on the website), your words per minute, how many breaks you took, etc. It even analyzes the themes and your mindset of your writing, which can be kind of cool, to see what that particular passage is evoking, according to the site’s algorithms, at least. You also get nifty badges for writing certain numbers of days in a row.
Any other strategies you’d like to add, squiders?