If creative writing lacks something, it’s accountability. If I don’t write short stories, no one cares much. If I miss a contest deadline, I don’t get to enter that contest, but that’s about the end of it. Pretty much, unless you’re under contract, your motivation is all carrot and a really small stick.
That’s not how journalists live their lives. Writing is not their art, their side gig. It’s their damned job. They have an editor who is on a deadline and writers who can’t meet that deadline consistently don’t have jobs anymore. There are days I almost wish I had an angry editor freaking out that my work wasn’t done on time.
But I don’t and likely neither do you.
What we do have is our own determination to get stuff done. I’ve mentioned some of my own productivity tips before, using the Pomodoro method and things like that. But here are some things I did, as a student with way too much to do in addition to my journalism responsibility, that have continued to help me today. I’ve also included some things here that I’ve learned as a creative writer to help me keep myself accountable, just as if I did have a daily publishing responsibility. I’ll also tell you one thing that journalists do that I would not advise.
- Journalists are organized. They know where their notes are, they know what their schedule looks like and they know what time they’ll be devoting to actual writing. I know there is this great fairy tale thought of journalists dropping everything to run off and cover a fantastic story that’s ‘breaking right now’. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. Let’s be honest, most journalists aren’t working for Will McAvoy, rushing off to cover bombings.
- Journalist are time management superstars. When I was on the paper, I was also a Junior in high school and a page editor. This meant that, in the busiest high school year I not only had to write my own pieces but I also had to edit other people’s pieces and set up the page. I did, at one point, tell someone that if they didn’t get their piece to me by the beginning of the next class, it just wasn’t going in this issue and I didn’t care of they did get a zero. There are about a thousand blog posts about time management on the internet, and most of them tell you to get off of the internet. So, we’ll not dive into that.
- Journalists know the truth behind done is better than perfect. I’m not saying that you should half ass your writing, but you do need to know when to let it go.
- Journalists also understand that, despite not being time management superstars, life is going to happen. And sometimes you are going to have to write when you don’t feel like writing.
As I said, though, journalists have someone putting external pressure on them. So how do we, as basically self employed people, get that? Here’s how.
- Set writing time like you set work hours. It doesn’t matter when it is, it doesn’t matter how much it is. Set hours and honor them like you would honor time you have to be at your day job.
- You have to hold yourself accountable. This is probably the point of growuping that we all fail at the most, myself way included. I have a really big problem, and here it is. I’ll tell myself I can’t go to my local coffee shop unless I get X done. Then, when X doesn’t get done, I get coffee anyway. Terrible adulting, terrible. Would I let me kids get away with that? Hell no.
- Make actual deadlines that are realistic. For instance, right now it is unrealistic to assume that I can get more than 7,000 words typed in a day. That takes me about an hour and a half, editing included. That’s realistic for me at the place I am in my life right now, so I can give myself a realistic deadline for finishing Starting Chains.
- Get other people to hold you accountable. This is one of the things I do on Paper Beats World. I know you all know when my posts are coming out. Maybe you’d all be too polite to say anything if they were late, but I know you’d know. This is one reason why it’s great to be a part of a writing group, too, by the way. Other writing friends keep you accountable.
Now, the one big thing journalists do that creative writers shouldn’t. Even if it slows down our process and kills our productivity. Journalists don’t sweat word craft. They think about it a little, and opinion writers do more than that, but a beat journalist will concern herself only with the facts, in as concise of a way as possible.
We shouldn’t do that!
Yes, the story matters more. Yes, most of us are genre writers and not literary writers. But there is a magic to word craft. Even creative non fiction is artistic in this way. Great word craft is the difference between a good story and a great reading experience.
Productivity can take a backseat to that.