“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
So “caffeine dependency” didn’t make this list, but it’s an important part of my creative process. Caffeine’s great for productivity! Especially in latte form! Or any form, really!
Here are seven essential habits that writers should form in order to stay productive:
- Write every day. Oh, man. You’ve heard this a million times, haven’t you? That’s because writing is a craft, and in order to get better you have to practice each day. There are other benefits as well: by penning something daily, you’re not only staying within your story world, but you can jump right into the story you’re working on without going back to what you’ve written so you can figure out where you’ve left off.
- Generate 50 new concepts each week. This is a key habit for screenwriters, where our whole craft revolves around unearthing that game changing concept. Sit down for an hour each week and come up with fifty new ideas. They don’t have to be fully formed loglines, just put down whatever you come up with. Give yourself permission to write bad ideas, which could lead to good ones. This process will be difficult at first, but as you improve your divergent thinking skills, this process will be easier and you’ll get better results. Divergent thinking is the part of creativity that deals with the creation of new ideas. Hone your divergent thinking skills and you’ll be creatively unstoppable!
- Embrace “Method Writing.” Research is essential, sure, but the best writing comes from experience. You have to live life in order to write about life, so try and engage in experiences that enrich the story you’re working on. Writing a spy thriller? Go to the shooting range. Is your main character a musician? Helloooo karaoke bar! The point of sprinkling in these activities throughout the prewriting process is to be able to write from experience, and also to have fun. Research has shown that you are more creative when you’re in a better mood!
- Finish what you start. One finished script is more valuable than a pile of perpetually unfinished ones. If you’re always starting over, you’ll learn how to write awesome first acts, but what about the rest of the script? The only thing better than a good beginning is a good ending.
- Read everything. Screenplays, novels, foreign newspapers, nonfiction, investigative journalism pieces… everything. You know what they say about “garbage in, garbage out”? This applies to what you read as well: your ideas and what you write will be an amalgam of the stimulus you take in.
- Exercise. I know, I know. What does this have to do with writing? Well, in order to come up with ideas, you are engaging cognitive processes, yes? Guess what regular exercise does? It improves brain functioning. So go take a walk, lift weights, go canoe slaloming, and maybe you might just solve a story problem while you’re rocking out and running on the treadmill.
- Meet interesting people. This is the most important “habit” of them all. You learn the most about human nature not from introspection, not from gazing out your window, or through watching funny cat videos. You learn through listening to others. I met a boy who has a photographic memory of American History because back in grade school he memorized the entire textbook. It helped distract him from the sounds of his parents’ shouting matches. Another acquaintance moved to Mexico to do missionary work, and he’s sending me pictures of the hospital he just built. He’s incredibly happy, but his longstanding girlfriend he left behind isn’t.
I know that most of us have day jobs and other responsibilities (myself included.) But the difference between professional and amateur is twofold. Professionals not only have to put in the time and work hard, they also have to work smart. This means making the most of their time by learning, collecting new experiences, becoming inspired, and churning out new material on demand.
Now pour yourself a cup of coffee and get back to work!