"I have major issues with consistent execution"
Don't we all tho?
Love notes from Siel is a weekly newsletter from Siel, who’s currently traveling around Europe. If you love it, subscribe for free.
Once a month or so, I answer a question from a reader. Have a question? Ask!
I have a question (or a few) for you — I'm really curious about your creative process. Your storytelling always inspires me in my own, but I feel like I have major issues with consistent execution.
I'm curious — how do you stay disciplined with your weekly writing? Do you collect ideas throughout the week? How long does each email take you? Do you struggle with perfectionism and procrastination?
Ok that was more than a few haha :) and some probably more complicated to answer than others but figured I'd ask!
Dear Melissa —
Your email made me LOL. You’re asking me for advice on consistent execution? This is the very thing I desperately need help with myself!
Ah — to be consistent — to churn out a book a year the way some of my writer friends seem to do with ease. To simply write a consistent number of words of a consistent high quality each day, like the well-oiled writing machine I feel I should be by now, instead of going about it in fits and starts interrupted by long bouts of procrastination and Candy Crush addiction like the messy human animal that I actually am —
But your email also encouraged me. You reminded me that, despite my inconsistency, I’ve somehow managed to send out love notes on a relatively regular basis for a number of years now. Thus, I’ll share what helps me write less inconsistently than I might otherwise:
One, a regular writing time. It took me longer than you’d imagine, but I’ve finally figured out that when I set time aside to do something, I’m a lot more likely to do that something than when I vaguely hope that something will get done magically sometime in the future.
Back when I had a day job with normal business hours my writing time began earlier, but these days it begins at 9 a.m. on weekdays. I drink my morning coffee and start writing just as the caffeine vaults myself over my usual tendencies toward self doubt, procrastination, and general lethargy. I recommend starting with a small increment of time — say five minutes, or just one — then working your way up if and when it feels doable and desirable.
Two, set format. Odd thing about writing: The more constraints you put on what you’re allowed to write about, the easier it becomes to write. Meaning: If you wake up in the morning and tell yourself you can write about anything, it’s likely going to be harder for you to get started than if you tell yourself you must write about what you ate for breakfast. The latter, being specific and concrete, is just going to be easier than the former.
This is the reason writers — especially those with newsletters — write in set formats. They might, for example, send out an interview-type post every Monday. Or a series of advice columns. Or book reviews once a month. Sticking to set formats keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel with every piece of writing while still leaving room for creativity. So pick a format that works for you and let it serve as the guardrails for your future writing.
Three, deadlines. Without a due date, it’s harder to finish things. Come up with a schedule, then enforce it, on your own or with the help of a friend, mentor, or your newsletter audience if you have one. Try to stick to it, but be easy on yourself if life circumstances demand that you change things up.
Four, loosey-goosey low expectations. If I sit down with the idea that I must come up with a brilliant idea for a love note and then write it in perfect form, I’ll end up just sitting there, not writing. Instead, I usually start my writing day by putting down loose notes, random thoughts that come to mind, without regard to grammar or punctuation. If I’m really having a hard time, I’ll just start writing about what happened in the last twenty-four hours, even if I had a super boring day. If I’m really, really having a hard time, I’ll write, “Dear friend” — and begin scribbling a long letter to a friend I haven’t seen in a while, who’ll care about what I have to say even if the writing is boring because they care about me and my life. This is how my love notes were born!
Usually, somewhere in the drivel that I churn out, I end up coming up with something I think will be worth continuing to write about.
So those are my tips. Basically, my suggestion is to create some structures to encourage a regular writing bit — but be super easy on yourself when it comes to the initial quality of your writing so you keep the perfectionism and procrastination in check.
Will these ideas help you? I don’t know. What I’ve learned in my life about advice is that different people need different types of advice at different times. Which is to say: I hope these words make sense for you as an individual and are coming at you at the right time.
The last thing I’ll say is this: Whenever I get a question about writing, I feel I’m actually being asked a question about living. Because really, if I’m being honest about what’s helped me write more consistently, they’re not the things I’ve mentioned above. Rather, they’re bigger life decisions I’ve made. I’m able to write more consistently because I don’t drink like I used to in my twenties. Because I don’t have kids or a family member in trouble or a too-needy partner to take care of. Because I don’t have a job that drains my soul and energy. Because I can afford a room of my own.
Getting consistent with your writing will likely mean you too will need to find a better way to balance the other needs, wants, and responsibilities in your life. This, I don’t know that I can help you with. But I wish you luck and fun on your journey to trying to figure it out — which I suppose is the journey of life —
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