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Tips for producing more pages
Welcome to “Page Count,” another new feature of Page Fright! Here’s where you’ll find a practical how-to for getting more writing done. The advice isn’t theoretical. It’s based on what’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for me as a book author, columnist, and articles writer. And sometimes I’ll include guidance from famous writers from the past and successful current writers.
Today’s topic is:
How to Produce Pages When You Don’t Have Deadlines
Some writers view deadlines as the enemy of creativity, a soul-crushing restriction imposed by an automaton who values speed and productivity over artistry. And it’s true that productivity is not synonymous with creativity, and some deadlines are so short, you may not get to fully develop an idea or phrase things as you later wished you had.
But I love deadlines! They focus the mind like nothing else. They cut through procrastination and force you to produce the pages that are yearning to be written. And the more you get into the rhythm of meeting deadlines, the more you learn to write fast while writing well.
I remember listening to an interview with the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who said when she was first hired to produce two columns a week, she lay on the floor in a fetal position, feeling completely overwhelmed. And then she (obviously) got the hang of it.
But if you don’t have a deadline set by a boss, editor, agent, or teacher, the onus falls on you to be extraordinarily self-motivated—and that’s really hard for a lot of writers.
This is understandable. After all, if no one is expecting anything from you, and you don’t have to meet a deadline, and you’re not getting paid (yet) for your novel or memoir or essays, it’s challenging to make a case to others why you need to carve out uninterrupted time for your writing. And if you can’t make a case to others, maybe you’re having difficulty making a case to yourself. Not believing you’re worthy of writing is the real enemy of creativity. You are worthy.
So, what are ways to make your writing a priority when you don’t have anyone expecting anything of you?
Some writers give themselves a made-up deadline, and this strategy might be effective for you. It doesn’t always work for me, though, because my mind has a mind of its own and isn’t falling for such fakery. Instead, I try to put myself in a position where someone else will set a deadline and expectations for me. Clever, eh?
Here are a few tips creating external deadlines:
1) If you write articles, send a query letter before you’ve finished the piece you’re writing. I’ve written a lot of opinion pieces and cultural commentary. When I come up with an idea, I mull it over and write just the intro and the position or angle I’m taking on an issue. Then I write a query letter and send it to an editor (or multiple editors) before I go any further. This way, hopefully someone will ask to see the full article, maybe even within a few days. If they do, that’s when the adrenalin kicks in, the idea really takes shape, and the words start to flow. I’ve written multiple pieces for The Boston Globe Opinion Pages and other major publications this way.
2) Offer to write an ongoing column or blog for a publication. One time I was reading the online magazine PopMatters and noticed that they were looking for monthly columnists. Granted, these were unpaid positions, but I love writing about pop culture and had a ton of ideas. I proposed a column called “Vox Pop,” about how pop culture intersects with people’s lives, and was hired. It ran for something like six years, and I produced 60 or so columns I might never have otherwise written. Making this commitment also got me in the mode of developing a regular writing practice.
3) Act “as if” you’re ready to be published (even if you’re not): I futzed around with the idea for a book on creativity for years. It stemmed from a first-year seminar I’d developed at Emerson College. One day, when I was speaking with a former student, she told me she’d just become a literary agent and asked if I knew anyone working on a non-fiction book. I blurted out, “Yes, me!” At this point, I had only written 10 pages! But Amanda’s interest in my book idea and expectation that I would produce a proposal and full chapter completely energized me and ultimately led to the publication of What’s Your Creative Type? I realize some of you may not know an agent (yet), but the point is to pounce on any opportunity that comes along and figure out how you’re going to make it work later.
I’d love if you shared your struggles with getting motivated without deadlines or your solutions in the comments below. Also, feel free to reply to other readers’ comments. Thanks for being part of this writers’ community!