Stop Being Creative!

Yes, stop it with the creativity….for a while anyway. Being creative doesn’t get you published. Many very creative people never make a go of their writing career.   Why?  Because they’re so busy being creative, they’re not taking the time to plan their career.   And many mediocre writers succeed because they’ve stopped being creative long enough to plan to succeed.

I’m going to put on my drill sergeant’s hat now (reluctantly of course) and have you take a little test. How many of the following statements are true of you?

1. You have more than half a dozen unfinished writing projects somewhere on your computer.

2. You resent the intrusion of having to write a book proposal, rather than just work on the book itself.

3. You write when you can with no specified writing time, often missing two or three (or more) days at a time.

4. You are a self-confessed procrastinator about your writing.

5. You’ve come up with acceptable reasons for not attending a writer’s conference this year.

6. You have no idea how different your writing career will be one year from now.

7. You do not impose deadlines on your projects.

8. You’ll skip writing to watch a mediocre television program or spend more time on Facebook.

9. Your writing future consists more of hopes than it does of plans.

10. You’re still bummed about your most recent rejection. (Get over it! Blame it on the editor if it helps you get past it 🙂  ).

If you answered yes to a few of the above, that’s okay. Welcome to the real world. None of us is perfect. But if more than half are true of you, you need to turn off the right side of your brain—the creative side—and engage the left side of your brain to set up a plan to succeed.  That plan can consist of several possible elements, not limited to these below.

1. Compose a mission statement for your writing. What is your goal as a writer?  Keep it brief. Just a couple of sentences should suffice.  A mission statement will help you stay focused.

2. Create a list of your writing projects prioritized by their importance. You can define importance in the way that works best for you.  For me, the list is prioritized by my passion combined with what I perceive as the marketability of the idea.  I’ve just winnowed my list down to 44 items.  If I live long enough to complete 5-10 of them, I’ll be happy.  We all know not all ideas are created equal. Some are true duds and can eventually be discarded. Some simply arrive before their time and must wait several notches down on the list until they “ripen.”

3. Take your top three projects and assign deadlines for some aspect of their progress. For instance, set a deadline for when you will have a completed proposal on number one on your prioritized list.  Set a deadline for a “one-sheet” description of book number two on your list.  And a deadline for a paragraph summary of book three. Other possible deadlines: securing an agent, sending a query, conducting an interview for your project, etc.  Most writing projects are unique enough to have several possible deadlines.  Be sure and write your deadlines and goals on your calendar.  Keep them in mind daily. Move toward the goal with anticipation of setting a new deadline when the present one is reached.

4. Set aside a specific time each day to write.  For those of us who are admitted procrastinators, the trick is to tell ourselves that this sacred time needs to be only five minutes.  Anyone can sit down and write for five minutes. But hopefully you’ll discover, as I have, that those first five minutes are the hardest. One you commit your backside to the chair and begin to write, the five minutes will turn into fifteen, then into half an hour and beyond.  Simply committing yourself to those five minutes is key.  And even if you do only write for five minutes and move on to something else, you’ve started a habit.  Now keep it up.

5. This will be the hardest for some of you.  Search out a good Christian writer’s conference near you and plan to attend.  I know the reason this is hard is often due to economic reasons.  If that’s the case, ask the conference director about scholarships. Or about working for your tuition. Back when I was just starting, I couldn’t afford to pay for a conference, so I volunteered driving conferees back and forth to the airport.  Another option is to see if your church will pay your way. After all, for most of us, writing is a ministry. Pray the money in. Just do what you can to be there.

Okay, there are just five steps to take to begin planning to succeed as a writer. Add more as necessary. When you set these five in motion, go get creative again.

If all this makes writing sound like a job….bingo! A pleasurable job to be sure, but a job and a calling nonetheless.

Taking off my drill sergeant’s hat now.


6 replies
  1. Jerry Eicher says:

    You would be correct. I read writer advice given all the time along the lines of, “do your own thing” or “do what you love.” I know from experience that doing your own thing can get mighty lonely and unproductive.

    In my construction business its more enjoyable to build what we call a “spec house”, where you build what you like and then try to sell it. Without fail I have always had to lower the price considerably because buyers don’t like something in the home.

    The same holds true for writing. If you have the leisure and income to write what you like, I suppose that’s okay. But if you have to support yourself or your family, that luxury isn’t usually there. The challenge to me is to make the ordinary extra-ordinary. I may not succeed, but I can try. Isn’t that also self expression at its truest?

  2. Judith Robl says:

    Well done, Nick. You’ve given me an elbow in the ribs because I’ve been letting other things take priority. But I do have plans to attend two this year. Christian Communicators in August, and ACFW in St. Louis in September. Bonus is I can take the train to St. Louis for smaller cost than driving would be.

    We’ve undertaken a major house fruit-basket-upset, so my writing office is now upstairs (out of the traffic, thank goodness) but still in a state of minor chaos. Goal is to get that reordered by the end of next week, and writing schedule back on track.

    I love the clean look and easy reading of this site. But the best feature is the smiling face in the upper right corner.

    Thanks for the nudge.

  3. Judy says:

    Great article! Wish I had read it ten years ago. I admitted to my writers’ group today that I had been a slacker but not any more!

  4. Nick Harrison says:

    Jerry, you are one if the most productive writers I know. Planning must be in your genes.

    Judith, you get bonus points for going to two conferences.

    Go, Judy! Glad you’re motivated.

  5. Jane Daly says:

    Amen to everything you said. This year I wrote a 5-year plan for my writing career, including financial goals and project deadlines. Keeping it in front of me reminds me every day what I need to do. I no longer feel guilty if I take a day or two off, knowing my brain needs to recharge.

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