The Ritual (Part II)

Today I’m going to dig into the methods I’m using to achieve a consistent output of work.  I’m currently utilizing eight different tactics to encourage more writing.  They are:

  • Beginning at the same time every day
  • Using a kitchen timer to work in writing “sprints”
  • Tracking how much total time I write each day
  • Using a Pavlovian trigger
  • Writing an initial ”daily goal” statement at the start of each writing session
  • Writing to a daily page goal, regardless of quality
  • Setting a plot-point goal
  • Tracking my Churn Rate

Here’s how they break down:


  • Beginning at the same time every day

When I made the resolution to go to the gym every day, I found this tactic extremely effective.  However, I find that starting writing at the same time every day is fairly difficult.  I’m not sure where the disconnect is happening, but I suspect that the temptation to putter around the internet is the roadblock that keeps me from being able to start at a consistent time each day.  In the past, I would go to a specific place to write (usually the Beverly Hills library) and that seemed to keep me on task…  I’ll keep testing this one.


  • Using a kitchen timer to work in writing “sprints”

I got this idea from a book of coping strategies for adults with ADD.  It’s probably the most effective strategy I use for getting blocks of work done.  I set the timer for a block of 20 or 40 minutes, and during that time I work in a solid sprint.  No distractions allowed.  On the flip side, the timer also limits distraction time (I’ll set a 10 minute window to wander the internet, then back to work).  As an added bonus, the timed chunks also make it easy to figure out how much total time I’ve actually spent working on any given day, which leads me to:


  • Tracking how much total time I write each day

Years ago, I would track the total number of pages I wrote per day, and I tried to use this information to figure out what got me writing the most.  It worked really well — for first drafts.  The problem with tracking pages comes during the rewriting phase, when you can make huge changes to a script and not affect the page count.  So now I track the time spent working instead.  This is also an effective way to track your work during the outlining and research phase of a project.


  • Using a Pavlovian trigger

As an experiment, I started listening to the sound of rain while I write.  When I was done, or any time I got distracted, I turned off the sound.  Sure enough, after a couple of weeks, when I turned on the rain noise, I would feel compelled to work.  Magic.


  • Writing an initial “daily goal” statement at the start of each writing session

This is something I just started experimenting with.  Originally, my daily goals were simple and straightforward (like “write 5 pages today”).  But I’ve found that setting a daily goal turned out to be an excellent way to identify plot points that aren’t working.  Before settling in to write, I ask myself some question about the story so far (How do these characters know each other?  Why does this one guy know this information, but the other guy doesn’t?) then I can focus on creating the answer in a satisfying way.  My hope is that this practice will eliminate the narrative “blind-spots” that sometimes creep into first drafts.


  • Writing to a daily page goal, regardless of quality

Fairly self-explanatory — As I mentioned above, a page goal is the most helpful during the writing of the first draft.  It keeps you from getting bogged down on any single section, which can be a huge productivity killer on the rough draft of the script.  Write the damn script.  Then worry about fixing it.  (Side Note: over the weekend I had a conversation with a successful author of Young Adult Fiction who said she NEVER reads anything she has written in a first draft until she reaches the end of the story.  That boggled my mind)


  • Setting a plot point goal

Similar to the daily page count goal.  Writing a script from plot-point to plot-point is just another way to push through the first draft, and make sure you are actually moving forward, instead of just adding scenes that aren’t moving the story.


  • Tracking my Churn Rate

The “Churn Rate” is the ratio of work created to time elapsed during any given project.  I was inspired to track my churn rate by a post at Study Hacks.  In my case, I track the total number of 20 minute units I spend against the number of days I’ve been working.  Then I can use that number to figure out how efficiently I have been working.


Do you have any techniques you use to keep yourself motivated and writing?  What are they?


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