The Antidote to Productivity Pressure

Thursday Postcard April 28, 2022 You might have seen a YouTube ad with a man shouting “Serial procrastination affects 80% of adults!” Ignore this person. He cannot possibly know what percentage of living adults are affected by this fake issue. Procrastination is not a syndrome. Sometimes we dick around a little before we get to …

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#1 Strategy for Finishing a Book

A Writer’s Roadmap Thursday Postcard

April 14, 2022

“If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read – if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

Harry Crews

This postcard is brought to you by the number 1.

Books, stories, essays, articles–whatever you’re writing, or want to write: how do you get it done?

You get it done by making it #1 at some point every day, or five days a week, or whatever your writing schedule is. Make it the most important thing for even 30 minutes. Make it your absolute #1 task that must get done. 

To do that, it helps to think about what makes you prioritize certain things.

Maybe your house is cleanest when you know someone’s coming over. You get that done to save face.

Maybe you get your finances the most organized they’ll ever be right before tax time. You get that done to file taxes on time and avoid the government’s cold eye on your back. 

As Harry Crews points out above, we need to choose where to put our time. I’m working on a novel and procrastination was making it into this big hairy deal that I didn’t want to face. Nor did I want to NOT write it.

Then my older brother Chris told me about 750 Words, an online place to get some writing done. There’s a free 30-day trial, then it’s $5 a month.

I did not expect to love it, but I do. Somehow it’s got me writing 5,000 words a week (1100 M-Thu, 750 on Friday). It showers the page with confetti when I reach 750 words. I get a spirit penguin  badge for showing up.

But what really floats my boat is this unexpected side benefit–it analyzes my language, gives me a word cloud for each session, and has revealed to me that my novel so far has more thinking than feeling, and completely ignores the sense of smell. 

I recommend it!

But there are other ways to put writing first. Swap manuscripts with a writing buddy, join a writing group, find a contest and get your stuff ready to send.

Accountability, support, hitting a deadline, saving face–whatever motivates you, attach that to your writing to make it your #1 thing for a few minutes each day.


An Editor’s #1 Writing Tip

As a book editor, I often see writers use too many words–more words than are needed to create the moment or make the point.

Every piece of writing needs white space. This gives the reader a chance to pause and let the ideas resonate.

Wordiness can consist of:

Repeating. Saying the same thing in two different ways. Saying something one way, then saying it a different way. Expressing the same idea more than once. Saying the same old thing over and over. Being repetitious.

There are…that. Often you can lose those flabby words. “There are three components that this system relies on.” Better as: “This system relies on three components.”

Overexplaining. Not stopping at the end of a sentence, but going on with more words. I could have made that, “Not stopping at the end of a sentence.”

Editorializing. Commenting on the action (in fiction) right before or right after it happens. You don’t need showing plus telling–just one or the other. Example: “In the chaos of that day’s scene, they did not notice her secrete the tiny metal blade from the surgical table. Ironically, her luck had not run out.” The last sentence is editorializing. Let the reader have those thoughts.

Stage direction. Overexplaining unimportant actions. “She walked across the room and reached out her left hand to turn on the light.” Better as: “She turned on the overhead light.”

What is wrong with extra words?

#1 If you qualify and overexplain even small moments, the reader does not feel trusted.

#2 Wordiness is tiring to read. Over the course of a book the words slow the reader’s pursuit of the story or information and make them NOT want to turn the page.

Trust the reader. Always assume the reader is at least as intelligent as you are. Then your book can speak to the people it’s meant to reach.