In the nearly two years since I’ve been self-employed it’s safe to say I’ve made a ton of self-employed newbie mistakes. Getting up when I feel like it, working in my pajamas, peppering coffee dates and lunches throughout the week, running errands, reading as “research," working from places that are absolutely not conducive for working, the list goes on and on. I wouldn’t consider it wasted time, however, because I had to walk through each of those to see that they don’t work for me.
Today I am more disciplined about my writing than I’ve ever been before. Ask anyone who tries to schedule time with me: if it’s Monday through Friday between 9-6, the answer is probably no. For years I dreamed of breaking free of the constraints of “office life,” and now it’s exactly the structure that works best for me. Go figure.
One of the ways I’ve moved towards this kind of discipline is through a variation on a technique that I heard Jerry Seinfeld uses. His goal is to write each day. Each day that he writes, he marks an X on the calendar. The Xs start to accumulate and an internal momentum starts to build where he doesn’t want to “break the chain.” He keeps writing so he can keep marking Xs.
I write almost every day. Sometimes it’s a paid assignment, sometimes it’s just for me, and a lot of times it’s some of both. But in order to ensure that I write most days of the week, I’ve learned I can’t go into the day without at least an inkling of what it is I would like to write. So I’ve developed, as you can see in the photo, a highly technical Post-It system wherein I map out what it is I will write each day. (The colors mean nothing. I ran out of pink and moved to blue.)
Days without Post-Its don’t mean I’m not writing. Those spaces typically mean I plan to work multiple days on the Post-It preceding it. You’ll see, too, that I front-load my weeks. My brain is best at writing brand new material at the beginning of the week. I do better with editing, interview prep, research—anything that is less “creation” and more pre- or post-creation—at the end of the week. When I do what’s on the Post-It, it gets an X. I love drawing Xs.
Post-Its get moved around. Sometimes I’ll get rolling on something and don’t get to the next Post-It, so I move it to the next day or week. The stickies are there to help me, not beat me up. They’re Post-Its, for Pete’s sake. Not contracts with the Universe. Once the wall fills up, I take them all down, give myself a lil’ pat on the back, and keep moving.
In addition to helping me produce work more consistently, I had no idea this method would also help me with what was becoming one of my greatest writing handicaps: preciousness. Before this system, every word was so, so dear. Even when it wasn’t, it was. The pressure mounted and the work suffered. I suffered. Today I’m just doing what’s on the Post-It. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s the greatest freedom I’ve ever known in my writing.
It’s all a process anyway. What works today might not work six months from now. So I give myself a general framework to keep me on track, and then I start writing. I don’t yell at myself or freak out when things need to change.
For too long I subscribed to the oft-cited mythology that writing is painful, torturous, or at the very least, frustrating. That doesn’t work for me today. It’s a belief system that feels at once both divisive (as in there are those who can hack it and those who just can’t) and borderline abusive. Of course writing can be challenging. (That’s also what makes it fun…) Of course there is material that can sting. (Writers are humans, not robots.) But I write because I love it. I write because I never know where it’s going to take me so I always feel like I’m on the ride of my life. I write for the buried treasure beneath every X.
But wait! There’s more!
Good news for those of you outside the Nashville area interested in joining my upcoming writing workshop, April 11-May 30—I’ve added a video conferencing option! So, fear not, if you want to write with me and some of your soon-to-be Nashville-based friends, we can make that happen.
Interested in signing up? Reply to this email and we’ll get you taken care of.
AND THE BEST NEWS OF ALL . . .
Thanks to a generous contribution from a very thoughtful donor, I have TWO half-scholarships to offer for my writing workshop. That means the total cost of the 8-week workshop is only $150. If you’re interested in one of these awards, please email me a statement of need (no more than 300 words please) by Monday, April 3 at 5 p.m.