Friday, March 30, 2012

Discipline Can Be a Good Thing

Discipline is all important to becoming a successful freelance writer—self-discipline, that is. No one will scold you for doing something wrong. You have no boss. You are the boss. So the only way you’ll get anything done is to make yourself tow the line.

To get ahead, you need to control the elements that might play havoc with your work schedule. To do this, you’ll need to anticipate problems and prepare ways to counteract them so your work won't suffer. The way to do this is to recognize patterns.

Keeping a daily or weekly journal for the first year or two of your freelance venture will help you see patterns developing. By writing down your progress—both the good and the bad things—you’ll begin to notice that they form patterns. Once you recognize the patterns, you’ll be able to take measures to break your bad ones and take advantage of your good ones.

Professional writers know all too well the pattern deadlines follow. Like trucks on a superhighway, they seem to travel in packs. It doesn't matter that you've planned them to arrive at intervals. They overtake each other and you if you don't remain vigilant.

Knowing this, professional writers build tricks into their planned writing time to minimize deadline crashes. The first step in this process is to create a Work-in-Progress chart or spreadsheet. For each project, create columns with the following headings (for non-fiction): Job Name, Publication, Query Written, Query Sent, Deadline, Research Completed, First Draft Completed, Revising Completed, Manuscript Sent, Date Sent, Payment Received, Date Received. If you write fiction, just change the headings accordingly. Then check off each item as you complete it for each project.

Let’s say you have three simultaneous deadlines. To avoid wasting time, do something for each job. Perhaps for Job No. 1 you’ll begin searching the Web for information on your topic. For Job No. 2, you’ll concentrate on interviews. And for Job No. 3, a relatively easy article, you’ll begin writing the first draft.

Professional writers follow this simple rule: As soon as you have a firm assignment to produce, take the first step immediately. By doing so, you’re on your way. The other steps follow without requiring anywhere near the effort of the first. In the case of writing a book, try starting with the easiest chapter first, no matter where it is in the book, then work on the others.

Once you've recognized patterns in your own working habits, you, too, will be able to do as the pros do. For example, you might devote your early mornings to the toughest writing chores because you know this is your most creative time. If you’re at your creative peak at some other time during the day, you should adjust your work schedule accordingly. During this time, you shouldn’t allow anything or anyone to interrupt you. With the heavy-duty work out of the way, you can devote your afternoon hours to making necessary phone calls, trips to the library, online research, or bookkeeping.

Another trick to help your self-discipline is to set a timer or alarm clock as you approach your chores. Break the job, whether it's actually writing the text, revising and editing, or diving into a pile of accumulated research, into reasonable segments, then set your timer and work against it. You'll be amazed at how much you you’ll be able to accomplish with the clock ticking away.

Yet another way to keep the work flowing is to create a daily or weekly to-do list. As you complete each chore, cross it off. At the end of the day or week, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll get done.

Or you could compare your output with that of a more successful writer. Keep track of how often his or her byline appears not just in the markets where you'd expect to find it, but elsewhere, too. Is this writer getting into a new and promising field? Perhaps it’s time for you to consider opening up new horizons for yourself?

Also consider enlisting the help of a close friend. Tell your friend about a particularly ambitious project you're thinking about starting. Explain you're really taking a chance and that you may need reminding, now and then, about how you’re doing. If you’re friend asks “How’s that book idea you told me about coming along,” you’ll have to answer honestly or feel guilty afterwards. Be sure to choose a friend that’s action oriented, otherwise you may find yourself just talking about your plans instead of carrying them out.

All writers have ways of tricking themselves into the proper mental and emotional state for high production. Some people require the wolf to be knocking at their door, others just the opposite.
How you discipline yourself to juggle your time and work load may work fine for a while, then suddenly you find what you had been doing is no longer adequate. Your bank balance will immediately register deficiencies in your methods of discipline. Once that happens you'll have to do some fast shuffling of priorities and techniques to keep from going under. Be flexible, but remember that patterns lead to other patterns. And discipline rules.

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