7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Writer

To be or not to be...writing vs. playing Angry Birds

Disclaimer: After reading this blog—which you are probably doing right now instead of writing your own blog or editing your own manuscript–you will better understand the problem areas in your writing life. I offer no cures. I think we both know there’s only one way to get those words on the page. Write.

Anyway, here’s everything you need to know to become a highly ineffective writer.

1.      Surround yourself with clutter.

By all means, do not write in a clean, neatly organized room, for if you do, you will find limited reasons to procrastinate. If there are no laundry to fold, no papers to grade, no toys to pick up, no dishes to wash, no books to read, and no dirt to vaccum, then the only thing left to do is to write.

I am a minimalist by nature. Honestly, I HATE clutter. I could live in a hotel room as long as a maid cleaned the bathroom and made the bed. Better yet, give me a rustic, clean cabin in the woods. If I see clutter, my obsessive nature kicks in. I can’t think about writing because all I want to do is clean.

2.      Place an object of temptation within your reach.

Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t think you’ll reward yourself for your 500 words by with a quick interlude of entertainment. Like to crochet? Put down the needle. You’ll only hurt yourself. Of course, you like to read, but that one chapter soon turns into two, and then before you know it, you’re engrossed, hooked. There are no intervention plans, folks. Withdrawal from a good book is killer.

My object of temptation? The guitar. My laptop is within an arm’s distance of two guitars and an amp. Even as I write this, I tell myself, “No. I will not pick up the guitar. I will not pick up the guitar.” But I already have.  True, one chord never hurt anybody. But I can’t stop at one chord. Now that I’ve learned how to move up and down the neck, I’m sliding over every fret. Dangerous.

3.      Participate in a pre-writing ritual.

What do you do before you fire up the laptop? Make a pot of coffee? Watch some reality TV? You’re not one of those fitness people are you? Tell me you don’t work out before you write. (If you tell me you do, then I’ll feel even more guilty. Not only will I have to admit to being a highly ineffective writer, I’ll also have to admit to being a lazy, highly ineffective writer.)

The point is if you become too focused on your ritual, you’ll place more emphasis on preparation than on production. Me? I MUST have coffee. But coffee is not enough. To clear my mind, I must go for a ride and
drink my coffee. When I get home, I’m usually tired. Then I need a nap. By the time I wake up, the day is done, and my writing is not.

4.      Stop writing; start researching.

You’ve set a goal. 1000 words? 2000 words? But the world of research calls. Do you answer, or return to the page? Research is fun. Research burns minutes. And hours. Even days.

I love research. Give me a name or a subject, and within an hour I can tell you anything you want to know about anyone or anything. And when I research, my mind wanders. And when my mind wanders, I think of new projects. But my old project never moves forward. Then I have TWO unfinished projects.

5.      Immerse yourself in a bottomless pit of social media.

By all means, get your name out there. Twitter. YouTube. Facebook. Google. But can you stop at one status, or do you find yourself wandering off to Farmville, Angry Birds or Zuma?

My downfall? I’m hooked on stupid Facebook quizzes, but I have learned so much about myself. If I were a vampire, my hidden gift would be to see into the future. If I were a Disney princess, I would be Snow White, but if I were a character from a horror flick, I’d be Chucky. What do my eyes reveal? I have a deep, dark secret I don’t want to share with others.

I wonder how much writing I could have achieved if I hadn’t been taking these quizzes.

6.  Become a jack of all trades, a master of none.

Your family needs you. Your church needs you. Your boss needs you. Your organization needs you. You have 24 hours in a day. By the time you’ve made the meals, served on three committees, spent an extra hour on the job, and organized a Boy Scouts fundraiser, you’re tired. You probably don’t feel like writing. But the real question is did God call you to do ALL of these things, or did you call yourself?

I’m one of those people who have a hard time saying ”no.” I believe I have a purpose, a calling to write. But so many other things pull me away from what I KNOW I’m supposed to do. While it is commendable to teach Vacation Bible School or to take youth on church camp retreats, I don’t believe God expects me to do everything that is commendable. I think he gave me the desire of my heart (writing), and I think He will give me the time to pursue it—if I’m not guilted into doing the things He’s not calling me to do. Unfortunately,I am the most guilty at making myself feel guilty.

7.  Never, ever forgive yourself when you fail.

Life happens. Deadlines for contests pass, and we don’t meet them. We rush a query letter to the post office, and then we realize the editor only accepts e-mail. We trade our 1,500 words a day goal to go play in
the park with our children. We lose the business card of a potential agent. Epic failures.

While we’re at it, we might as well condemn ourselves for ever sin we’ve ever committed, It’s so easy to make ourselves feel bad. It’s so hard to make ourselves work when we feel so bad about ourselves.

In the past year, I have suffered tremendous losses, and my writing success has slowed to a crawl. I feel like a failure because I lack the emotional punch to keep me going. Sometimes I fear I have reached a dead end, but I can’t stop there—even if it means turning around and finding another way out, another route to success.

We know what it feels like to fail others. Have you really thought about how it feels when you fail yourself? It  hurts just as badly. But just as we forgive others, we must forgive ourselves.

No one is perfect. We are all works in progress.