So much creative writing advice basically boils down to “buck up and do it.” Hemingway got up early, so you should to. Stephen King writes 200 pages every lunar cycle, so you should to.
Listen, if you’re putting off a creative project, it’s not because you don’t have the right attitude or will power. You’re putting it off because you can.
Late one evening, during one of my long, insomniac nights, I heard Malcolm Gladwell tell an interviewer that he never got writer’s block. The reason, he said, was that he worked for the Washington Post for ten years. You don’t have time to have writer’s block at the Washington Post.
Paid journalists aren’t either blocked or inspired—they’re either employed, or they’re not.
That’s the power of deadlines.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Meaning: if you have a week to do something, it will take a week to do that thing. If you have months to do the same thing, you will take months to do it.
If you just need to finish (or start) writing that book “eventually,” then chances are you’ll always be stuck at eventually. Because who cares if you don’t feel like writing today? No one’s firing you from your own dreams.
You can drink all the wheat grass and gingko biloba you want, but there’s an easier way to be more productive in your creative work: find a deadline.
The problem is that most of us do the creative thing on the side. It’s hard to find paying work as a creative, because so many company’s/publishers/humans love cheap, average stuff.
No one’s waiting for our work but us.
Writer’s block isn’t a psychological phenomenon, not really.Seth Godin points out that no one ever gets “talker’s block.” We just open our mouths, and voila!
Writer’s block is a logistical problem. Your schedule is full of deadlines. $30 fee for not paying my credit card? Yep, taking care of that right now. Can’t get those pages done by Friday? Well…guess I’ll do it some other time?
There honestly weren’t many tricks-‘o-the-trade that I learned in my Master of Fine Arts program (and anyway I could’ve gotten stuff like that in any number of eBooks). But there was a regular schedule of deadlines. I had to write something nearly every week, or my professor would look at me like I’d just urinated on his shoes.
Suddenly my muses were singing like a Pentecostal church choir. Why? Because they had to! Hallelujah!
Therefore, if you’re really serious about getting that creative project going, that book, that short documentary, that painting, go out right now and find a deadline.
You don’t need to get a job at a big shot company to get a deadline. All a deadline needs is a date and a reward-punishment system. Also, it can’t be managed by you. If you miss your own deadline, are you really going to punish yourself?
Instead get a longtime friend to give you a deadline. Get them to set a date, and to create a reward for making the deadline, and a punishment for missing the deadline (it has to be someone who will hold you to this).
Or get a professional deadline that is easy to acquire. For the sake of manufacturing productivity I’ve pitched story ideas to local magazines or blogs, places that were fast and easy to get an assignment but that I would be super embarrassed to disappoint.
Don’t get your parents or your significant other to do it. Unless they will really bust your balls about it. Pick someone who it kind of scares you to put in charge of the deadline.
Whatever you do, however you do it, go out and find a deadline today. I guarantee you that your creative output will multiply.