This post is meant to help you write a little more — or a lot more — during the rest of 2015.
I’m Daniel Wallace, the books editor for Burlesque Press.
I’m guessing that, like me, you are working on a substantial creative project: a novel, a collection of stories, essays, or poems, or a play. Perhaps you’re running a business or an educational program.
If so, I hope you’re making excellent progress.
For myself, I have to admit, the arrival of July was a little intimidating. I haven’t told anyone this before, so I hope it’s okay to confess it here: at the start of the year, I made a deal with myself. I would have a readable version of my novel ready by the next Hands On Literary Festival, in New Orleans, which starts on December 28th.
For the past two years, at the end of each year, I’ve gone down to New Orleans to take part in the festival, meeting old friends and making new ones. I present my own stories and essays and take part in discussions of literature, craft, and the writing industry. It’s an intense, creative time, and Burlesque Press is somehow able to create a welcoming, supportive air for every participant, whether they are a scholar or a performer (or both), an aspiring talent or an established literary force.
I want to be able to tell people at the festival: yes, the book is complete.
The manuscript doesn’t need to be agent-ready or publisher-ready: it just needs to be written well enough that someone can read the whole thing for fun. And I still intend to meet that goal. But when July 1st appeared on my calendar, that was a reminder that the year is more than half up. Yikes.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Perhaps you are hoping to get a projected finished, or significantly advanced, by the end of the year. If so, this four-step plan for being more productive may be useful. Following it should, I hope, help you to get a huge amount of work done in the final five and a half months of 2015.
It’s all about us writers making promises to each other.
One difficulty for artists is that, most of the time, our daily work is important only to us. Even if you contracted with a publisher, they are probably not checking in each day to see how many words you got down. We are accountable only to ourselves.
Sadly, the rest of life isn’t like this. If I skip paying the electricity bill, I’m eventually going to run out of light and wifi. If I forget to feed the cats on time, they will jump on me and start clawing my face. For everything except my novel, I’m accountable to a great many people.
I love writing. Unfortunately, as Tim Ferriss explains in The Four-Hour Chef, we humans tend to be more motivated by negative expectations than positive ones. We react more strongly to costs than benefits. Although it’s important to me to become a celebrated and wealthy novelist, this is a positive desire, and, as such, it has less weight on my day-to-day habits than my negative fear of not feeding the cats. Their claws really frighten me.
As a result, it’s easy to put off the hard work of art, or simply do less of it each day than you would ideally like to do.
The trick, therefore, is to make the work of art just as accountable as all the other work we have to do. The more vivid one’s concerns of not achieving a creative goal, the more disciplined and determined one is likely to be.
Here, therefore, is a four-step plan to help you meet your creative goals for 2015.
1. Decide on a challenging goal for the rest of the year, something you would be immensely proud of yourself for achieving.
2. Announce this goal to a large number of people. If you like, leave a comment below or post your intention on Burlesque Press’s Facebook page. We will offer warm encouragement and support.
(We promise not to claw your face. We just don’t do that kind of thing.)
3. Invite people to check in with you at the end of the year. Tell them to ask you whether you reached your goal or not. Now you are accountable.
Here’s my goal. I want to complete a readable copy of my novel by the end of the year. I don’t know if I can do it. I have a lot of planning, reading, and writing still to do. But I encourage all of you, at the end of the year, to find out whether I succeeded, by following step four:
4. Register for Burlesque Press’s Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball in New Orleans (December 28th to 31st). There, we can meet up, discuss what we accomplished, and give ourselves toasts for all the good work we’ve done.
(If two or three people reading this are interested, we could even co-present a panel on getting artistic work done. We will, after all, have some valuable experiences to share.)
I hope to see you in New Orleans.
(Click here to learn more about the festival.)