Back in the day, ninjas were feared assassins. In the arena of successful writing, the only things that ought to be trembling in their boots are bad habits. Effective publishing ninjas are committed to killing stumbling blocks to productivity: procrastination, perfectionism, distractions, lack of energy, multitasking, and disorganization (environment) being the most common.
Procrastination is often the result of perfectionism and distractions. Actress and author Marilou Henner advised, “Don’t let perfectionism become an excuse for never getting started.” If you’re enviously watching others having fun swimming around in their goals while you’re still standing on the shore of your dreams, maybe there’s too much of a perfectionist in you. Maybe you’ve been taught that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right; or that if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over. Yes, there is some truth in those sayings, but they don’t hold true for everything. Through experience I’ve found that with the exception of a doctor performing surgery, “done” is almost always better than “perfect.”
Action Step: So how do you kill the habit of perfectionism? Give yourself permission to be flawed. Put off corrections until the end. This is the one area in which you can procrastinate. When your creative juices are flowing, keep on writing. Don’t worry about punctuation, typos, and correcting mistakes as you go along; you’ll only get bogged down by the details. Save your editing and proofreading for later, after you’ve met your writing goal for the day. In fact, it’s sometimes better to let your writing project sit for a few days before going back to make changes. This gives your mind a chance to look at what you’ve written with a fresh perspective. The truth is—because writers are creative people—we’ll never feel completely finished with a book. This is because we’re constantly thinking of new ideas that we’ll want to add or of some clever way to change what we’ve already written. But guess what? With today’s technology of Print on Demand, we can make changes any time we want to!
Another reason we procrastinate is because we allow ourselves to be distracted by every “bright shiny” thing that grabs our attention; a Facebook notification, checking emails, answering every phone call because we’re afraid of missing out on something, a dog barking, a pet cat rubbing against our ankles or jumping up on the computer keyboard (and I should know… I have two adorable-but-needy ragdolls that won’t let me be), etc.
Action Step: Set a timer for a reasonable amount of time that you can commit to writing without distractions. Only you know how long that chunk of time is; it will be different for everyone. Can you go 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 2 hours without going bonkers over what you’re missing out on? Turn off your notifications. Leave your cell phone in another room. Close every tab on your browser except those you need for your writing project. If you must have your phone nearby (due to kids at school, an ill parent, or an important obligation), turn the ringer down a bit and don’t answer the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary. Decide on a predetermined amount of time for breaks (10, 15, or 20 minutes), and when the timer goes off, stretch a little, go potty, grab a healthy snack, start a load of laundry, and then get back to your writing!
While lack of energy isn’t a bad habit, it often comes as a result of one. Setting aside real health issues, lethargy in writing can be from trying to multitask. Women especially tend to take on too much. We start the day with a to-do list of 23 things, and then add to the list as the day goes on. It’s no wonder we feel exhausted before finishing our second cup of coffee!
Take your to-do list and trim it down to the essentials. Differentiate between urgent and important. Getting your kids to school on time, feeding the dog, and taking the trash to the curb before the garbage truck comes falls on the “urgent” side. Sorting socks, scrubbing the shower, and calling your friend to wish her a happy birthday can wait (it will still be her birthday at 11:59 p.m.). If you want to be a published author, you must make yourself a priority! This isn’t selfish. Remember why you are writing. Are you trying to supplement your family’s income? Make a difference in people’s lives? Establish yourself in a fulfilling career? Or maybe you just enjoy having some time for creative endeavors. These are all worthy reasons, and you deserve to set aside regular time for yourself to pursue your dreams.
Another big energy drainer is disorganization. Look around you. Is your desk piled high with papers, books, snack remnants, empty coffee cups, electronic cables, a hair clip, and sticky-notes? Is it hard to get started writing because you can’t find the envelope or receipt you scribbled your latest ideas on? Are your eyeglasses smudged and in need of cleaning? It’s difficult to “get in the zone” when “the zone” is lost in the clutter. Cluttered Desk = Cluttered Mind.
Action Step: Repeat after me: “I don’t need to do everything simultaneously. I will do one thing at a time and now is the time to focus on my writing project.” The important thing is to do what needs to be done to get your book published one step at a time. There’s a time to write, a time to edit, a time to purchase ISBNs, a time to look for a cover designer, and a time for each step of publishing along the way. The time to clean your desk is NOT when you sit down to write. Set aside time outside of your designated writing time for organization. Otherwise three hours will pass and you’ll realize it was spent sorting through receipts and bills, and now you have to pick your kids up from school. Cleaning time is for cleaning. Writing time is for writing.
Successful publishing ninjas learn to identify their enemies (think “bad habits”) and eliminate them. What are yours? Now that you know, you have a mission!