Do you ever worry that other writers seem to get so much work done each day while you find yourself mired in delays and procrastination and frustration? At this year’s ACFW Conference, I am scheduled to give a session on “The Top Ten Strategies to Become a More Productive Writer.” Today I’d like to highlight just one of those strategies that I have found to be crucial in my own writing:
• Don’t Mistake Ideal Writing Conditions for Necessary Writing Conditions.
All of us have times, places and circumstances in which we do our best writing. I write best early in the morning, before I get check email or get on the Internet or have my thoughts scattered in a million directions by other distractions. What conditions do you need to do your best writing? Silence? Music? Your favorite teddy bear? A clean house? Coffee? Or how about the one I hear most often from my writer friends: “The only way I can do my writing is if I have Big Blocks of Time.”
Certainly it’s a good idea for writers to know the conditions in which they do their best writing and then do what they can to create those conditions. But life is not ideal, and if you choose to write only when conditions are right, you’ll never get much done. At best, you’ll end up with excuses for why you didn’t write rather than a finished pile of pages for you novel.
Let’s look more specifically at how this works. Take the “I Need Big Blocks of Time” condition for writing. Big blocks of time are ideal if you can get them. Having long stretches of uninterrupted time to write allows you to lose yourself in your work and creates a sense of momentum that is difficult to sustain if you have only fifteen minutes here or there to write. But very few people I know are able to manage Big Blocks of Time. They’re all too busy taking care of their families, working, and handling the daily crises and chores that make up so much of life. So what does that mean for their writing?
If those writers insist on that ideal condition, their thinking may go something like this: 1. I need big blocks of time in order to write. 2. I don’t have big blocks of time. Therefore, 3. I won’t write! I’m off the hook! I have a perfectly good excuse for not being productive, and no one can blame me.
No doubt the next step in this excuse-making process would be for these writers to claim that they still plan to write, but they’ll just “wait for things to calm down” so they can find those big blocks of time. Have you ever waited for things to calm down in your life? How long have you been waiting? Does it always seem like things will be calmer six months from now? But when that time arrives, are things really calmer?
One of the most important lessons that has sunk into me about writing over the last few years is that life will never calm down. I have learned—and I have finally embraced the fact—that any writing I manage to accomplish will happen in the midst of Chaos and Distractions and Interruptions. I strive to create good writing conditions, but even if conditions are bad, I am determined to write anyway. I prefer to write in the morning, but if I’m teaching at that time, then I’ll write in the afternoon. I prefer to have enough time to write four or five pages at a sitting, but if I have time to write only one page, I’ll take it. If there’s time only to write one paragraph, I’ll take it. Time for only one sentence, I’ll take it. Time to only scratch a few notes on a piece of paper, I’ll do that!
I look forward to meeting you at the ACFW Conference in September, and hope you will be able to come to my session!
Joseph Bentz is the author of four novels and three non-fiction Christian living books. His most recent book is God in Pursuit: The Tipping Points from Doubt to Faith (Beacon Hill Press, 2010). Among his novels are A Son Comes Home (Randall House, 2007), contemporary novels published by Bethany House, and a fantasy novel, Song of Fire, published by Thomas Nelson. Bentz is a professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, where he teaches courses in American literature and writing. More information about his books and speaking is available at his website, http://www.josephbentz.com.