Ironically, this feeble goal was key to transforming my writing productivity. I’ve stated before that writing a lot wasn’t a problem for me. In fact, I can spout my opinion here so easily that I’ve given myself an artificial cap of 900 words per post just to spare you. The problem was sitting down and beginning.
For some reason creative writing was difficult for me. I just couldn’t justify it. Perhaps because the reward was so far off in the future. With blogging, the rewards were more immediate. Google ranking. Subscribers. Page views. Comments (just kidding). All within a day of posting my blog. Creative writing was an investment that required faith. Consequently, there was always something “more important” distracting me from writing and eating at my time. If you follow this blog, you know how often I found things to distract me. With ADHD, EVERYTHING is urgent.
Also, I only knew how to write when I was hyperfocused. As a full-time dad, though, I couldn’t afford to get deep into my projects. I needed to be mindful of the kids—constantly detached from my own pursuits. All of these factors meant that I didn’t write very often. If I was serious about finishing my book, I needed to retrain my mind.
At first the 25 words per day goal might as well have been 25,000 words. Remembering to sit down to write was one obstacle. Justifying the time was the other.
Side note: Isn’t it stupid how we won’t purposefully spend time on certain activities when we don’t feel the time is warranted, but we’ll waste hours watching the boob tube, chatting with friends, tweeting, reading books, reading news, etc.?
This was an incredibly high obstacle to writing, but I persevered and made my 25 word goal, surprising myself by always writing more than that. Then I moved to 50 words per day, then 100 words per day. Each time, once I forced myself to write, I always wrote far more than the weeny teeny goal. Starting truly was the issue. In the end, the only obstacle that honestly prevented me from writing was my chronic motor tic disorder, but even then I could try to at least reach that minimum goal.
Monday, as I sat in my local library, tucked away in a far and quiet corner, I wrote 500 words on purpose. There were distractions aplenty, but I pushed myself back on task again and again until just before closing time. I sat there thinking how grand it was to write so many words compared to when I began, especially since a typical writing session now produces 500-750 words. I was filled with confidence.
I could do this.
It felt like a certainty that I would finish the book before I died of old age—maybe even finish before I had grandchildren with flying cars and jet packs. I was overcoming the writing daily obstacle and I had outgrown my Distracted Writers Club, but 500 words still wasn’t an awful lot. At that rate, the 6000 words left to my story would take almost two weeks. How could I increase my writing output?
A recent talk by James Dashner at Life, the Universe, and Everything gave me the idea: James has several 2 hour work sessions throughout his day.
If I could do TWO 500 word sessions a day I would see major progress. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized this would be the solution I had been looking for. My attention span is a many-splintered thing. Why fight against the inevitable? Instead, I should work within my attention span and just write in smaller sessions.
This is the trick I learned from my cognitive behavior therapy sessions. I am responsible for my own happiness. If I can’t use pills to make my ADHD magically go away, then I need to identify the key triggers for negative behavior and figure out a way to work around them. In this case, the negative behavior is my small attention span. So, work, take a break, get back to work. So simple, yet I had been single-mindedly focused on only increasing my word output in one session.
Truthfully, if I hadn’t already been training myself with my Distracted Writers Club, I wouldn’t have had this epiphany. Actually, this was the second time I heard this from James. The first time was over a year ago when I had a chance to chat with him at a book signing. He wasn’t a New York Times best seller then. I hadn’t mastered daily writing yet. I couldn’t conceive of working as much as he did on creative writing. Now I can.
Still, this will require rethinking how I spend my time. I’ve already cut out my Twitter addiction. I blog here less. I limit news reading to one hour a day now. I watch TV less. Oh, wait. No, I don’t. So that will be next to go, taking me to the next level of productivity. As boring as work can be sometimes, failing is more boring. So I will press on.
I can do this.
Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.