Over the years I’ve come to realise that there are certain conditions I need to meet in order to write consistently. 

These are:

1. No internet

2. Deadline pressure (ideally with social accountability)

3. Be excited about what I’m working on

No Internet

A very common one. Procrastinating on the internet is probably something the vast majority of us struggle with. How do we deal with such an awesome,bottomless well of fascinating information and tantalising entertainments?

I’ve tried working in wi-fi freeplaces, but they’re hard to find these days.

I’ve also tried various kinds of Internet blocking software. Those are good, but what happens when you’re reliant on the Internet for work, and you write on the same computer you’re using for your day job? Apps like Freedom and Cold Turkey let you set up schedules for when you can and can’t use the Internet, but in my experience, as a freelancer with a shifting schedule, this is only about 75% effective.

In the end I decided to invest in a cheap laptop, used only for writing,from which I’ve extracted the wi-fi chip. A 100% internet free tool. So far it’s working pretty well, especially when I can put some distance between myself and my mobile phone. I’ve heard of some people placing a phone in a cupboard, or under a book with a small figurine on top to act as a guardian. I like this ritual.

Deadline Pressure

Setting deadlines where I’m the only one who knows if I’ve succeeded or not doesn’t work for me. There needs to be some kind of social accountability. Writing groups have been pretty good for this.

Stickk also helped – an app where you pledge to sacrifice a certain amount of money each week unless you meet your chosen deadline. This is good because it leverages loss avoidance. Apparently we humans will work harder to avoid losing something than we will to gain something, even if it’s only a two or three pounds sterling. Another useful thing about Stickk is that you have another human being checking in to see if you’ve accomplishedyour goal. The first time I tried putting the absolute minimum amount of money online, so the stakes were just the loss of a few quid, plus the shame of someone I respect knowing that I didn’t meet my goal. I’m going to try this again with a larger sum and see if it makes a difference to productivity.

Certain writing courses also look like they could be a great way of creating effective deadline pressure, though they can be expensive. Here are a couple which seem pretty decent: 

Faber Academy – Work In Progress Writing Course

Curtis Brown – 6 Month Online Writing Course

Being Excited About What I’m Writing

I once heard a writer redefine writer’s block as a ‘writer’s pause’. I can’t recall where I heard this, but the gist of it is that what’s often going on when you have any kind of writer’s block is that your unconscious is sensing that something isn’t right with the scene or chapter you’re working on, and a good response to this is to take a pause and figure out what it is.

I’m reminding myself here that on a first draft I don’t necessarily need to fix whatever this problem is, but at the least I should become aware of it and make choice whether to solve it immediately, or leave it for a subsequent daft.

A find the most common reason for me taking a writer’s pause isn’t to solve a major story problem, it’s because the scene I’m working on might not excite me, and if I don’t feel excited I struggle to write it. The solution for this is to usually to challenge myself to think about how I could make the scene in question one of the best moments of story. 

There are other things that help me keep writing, but I feel like if I can ensure those three pre-requisites are in place, then the gates will stay open. Things like burn-out, loneliness, and filling the creativity well become important things to pay attention to once the ball is rolling, but those are subjects for another day.

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