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Maximizing Productivity
By Scott Nicholson

If phrases like "maximizing productivity" seem too much like corporate-speak for a writer, then I apologize. I also shudder when I write that it's possible to take your word output "to the next level." But I will spare you from the nearly-obligatory "no pain, no gain" catch phrase, because if you are a writer, you already suffer from enough self-inflicted pain to last several lifetimes, often without the accompanying gain.

For many of us, writing is a battle. After getting to the keyboard or writing desk, sitting down, adjusting the lie of the coffee cup until its handle is at perfect seven o'clock, then tuning out the aggravating rackets of the world such as birds singing and water pipes bursting and spouses smooching, a writer is practically exhausted before the battle's even met.

But I have good news: at this juncture, when one is faced with that awesome task of touching mind to page, a little fear can be a good thing. The common fear is that you are about to experience writer's block, that each time you must wonder if you will ever write another word. Put that fear aside, and quickly. Of course you can write another word. Any old word will do, so start with "the."

Truth is, writer's block doesn't exist. You cannot convince me that, in a world of several billion miracles, you have absolutely nothing to say about those miracles. Writer's block is nothing but bone laziness dressed up in the pretty package of pretension. I'm afraid writing is not an art, and it's only arguably a craft. It's simply the act of putting one word after another, on and so forth, until you reach the end of whatever you are writing. It's that straightforward. Period.

Another fear is that you will need a good hour to get warmed up, to get the creative juices at a fever pitch, but your flowers are due for a watering in forty-five minutes. Therefore, you rationalize that you shouldn't begin work at all, because you will have wasted forty-five minutes. Well, even at ten words a minute, you can finish nearly two pages, and at that daily rate, you can write two novels per year in those "wasted" blocks of forty-five minutes.

Some writers fumble about with notes, endless research, revising outlines, mapping character genealogies, and that sort of thing. In some cases this is necessary, but don't let these exercises keep you from the actual writing. In fact, I view those tasks as extras, and don't even consider them worthy of my writing time. I keep no note cards, conduct my research as bedtime pleasure reading, and spend my daily sessions at the keyboard instead of the library. I carry the entire work-in-progress, from frail start to tentative end, entirely in my head.

Some writers carry scraps of paper in their pockets, filled with sentences and character sketches and scenes. They write on the bus, at lunch, and sometimes even when someone is paying them to actually work. They steal time where they can, and eventually manage to fashion this potpourri into a coherent work. Some writers try to write in such notorious hangouts as coffee shops and bookstores.

Let me admit right up front that all writers have to find their own paths. What works for me will not for you, because I'm most likely insane. But since I've been able to see that there's only one way to end a story, no matter the methodology, I've been much more productive. The way to end a story is to (a) start it, (b) place one word followed by the word that goes after it, and repeat as necessary, and (c) stop when the story is finished.

No less a word machine than Kevin J. Anderson (author or co-author of about forty novels in the last six years, including bestsellers, media books for Star Wars, and any project he can pick up) sets his sights extremely low for each stab at the blank page. Kevin says, "My goal, each time I turn on the computer, is to write three sentences."

Three sentences. Why, that's easy, you say. Anybody can do that, even me!

Yes, even you. Of course, once Kevin has written his three sentences, then he views everything else as gravy. But the point is that he doesn't put unrealistic demands on himself, this man who was once phoned and asked to write a book in ONE WEEK because the other author had folded with deadline approaching. Kevin turned it in with days to spare. True, he didn't win a National Book Award, but he met a need, gave readers and the publisher what they wanted, and felt good for doing it. Oh, and he got a check, too.

So if Mr. Anderson can get a sense of accomplishment from writing only three sentences, then us mere mortals can be happy with two. After those two are finished, it's all gravy. If you maximize your productivity at every opportunity, you'll need to bake a lot of biscuits.

Just don't let the baking cut into your writing time.

-copyright 1999 by Scott Nicholson. Contact for reprint permission.

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