Wednesday, January 06, 2010

6 Ways to Discipline Yourself to Write Every Day - Even If You're a Perfectionist and/or a Lazy Bum

1. What techniques can you suggest for getting ideas out of your head and linking them? First, write Morning Pages. I know that tends to be my answer for everything, but I’m serious when I say it’s the most crucial component of ANY writer’s creative practice. Start them tomorrow.

Second, here’s the approach I use regularly. Go to Office Depot. Buy a box of index cards. Write one idea per card. Scatter them on the floor. Stare at them for sixty seconds. Then allow the inherent geometry of your ideas to link individually. See, the brain is a self-organizing system. All of the links between your ideas are already in place.

Your job is to change the visual arrangement of the ideas to bring it to the surface. What’s more, working on the floor is a scientifically proven approach to creativity that works every time. Read this post called Ode to My Floor from a few years ago. Remember: You don’t need to do as much work as you think, other than pay attention.

2. What to do when you've written all you can but need to do more? First of all, you’ve never written all you can. EVER. Assuming you’re “all tapped out” stems from a poverty mentality that’s extremely damaging to your creative practice. The first suggestion is to ritualize your writing time with a prayer, invocation, incantation or call to the Muse.

Personally, I use the system from another one of Eric Maisel’s books, Ten Zen Seconds, in which I recite the following incantations while doing a breathing exercise:

“I am completely stopping … I embrace this moment … I expect nothing … I am richly supported … I trust my resources … I am equal to this challenge … I am ready to write.”

Do that once a day and you’ll be on your way to a more abundant, prosperous attitude. Also, consider asking yourself counterintuitive questions to define the whitespace around your idea, i.e., “What issue am I totally forgetting to address here?” “What is the counterpoint to what I’ve said, and how could I overcome that objection?”

Finally, hit up Google. Not to steal material, but to motivate your melon. Take advantage of specific search terms that use exact quotes. For example, I wrote a module about being “call-back-able,” aka, how to increase the probability that customers will call you back.

When I found myself stuck for ideas, just for fun, I googled the phrase, “I’m never calling her back because…” This turned out to be an enlightening search that netted some very cool research, which sparked several helpful ideas I never would have thought of otherwise. That’s how I use Google, and I do it every single day. It works. Play with it.

3. How do you find water when you don't HAVE it? First of all, you DO have it – you’re just not digging in the right spot. That’s why you need to write Morning Pages every single day. They clear the path and pave the way for the water that lay beneath.

Again, I know I’ve already suggested this exercise several times. But I can’t stress it enough. Seriously, I’ve missed maybe ten days of Morning Pages in seven years. That’s how important they are. Also, if you’re concerned about running out of water (or the inability to find water), do what small towns do: Build a reservoir. A creative reservoir of idea starters, prompts, questions and phrases that you can tap at a moment’s notice.

The challenge is organization. Fortunately, I am an absolute genius at this. Here are three examples of how I approach this process. First, my reservoir contains 7,000 powerful, thought-starting questions categorized by topic (i.e., #2,096: “LEADERSHIP: How are you empowering people to become the person they were created to be?”).

Next, my reservoir also contains another 10,000 “three-words of advice” phrases, sorted alphabetically for easy searching (i.e., #8,441: “Mobilize your passion.”) Finally, my reservoir contains another 20,000 module ideas (topics, sentences, quotes, words and phrases) collected from books, conversations, notes and other random sources over the years.

Each module idea is sorted by subject, waiting to be written about (i.e., Management #3,183: “Suspension of judgment accelerates learning.” As you can see, the total volume of my reservoir is astounding. And keep in mind; it’s taken nearly eight years to build.

So, here’s the lifeline: I filled it up ONE IDEA at a time. And I challenge you to begin the same. Customizing your own Content Management System is single most profitable creative tip I can give you. Do it. It’s huge.

4. How do you turn off the perfectionist gene? If it’s a gene, can you really turn it off? Isn’t that like asking, “How can I stop being gay?” Frankly, I don’t know. I imagine certain people are more disposed to being perfectionists than others.

Leos, for example, are known to be prideful. (If you believe in all that astrological stuff.) My theory is that perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Nothing by a tired excuse assembled by your ego. Just a paltry attempt to prevent productivity. Nothing but a trap set by your neurotic compulsions. Just a feeble effort to prohibit progress. Nothing but a brick wall erected by your narcissistic desires. Just a cheap shot at your ability to inspire people.

And, nothing but a campaign against creativity, waged by the authoritative voices in your head. Just an incessant struggle to silence your inner kindergartner. For further reading on this topic, I wrote a detailed guide called How to become an Imperfectionist. Might be a good read for you.

5. What writing exercises will keep you on track when you feel your discipline lagging? Well, why do student athletes tend to perform better in school? Because discipline breeds discipline. Think about it. If they’ve already conditioned themselves to practice shooting hoops for three hours a day, every day, that same discipline has no choice but to carry over into other areas of their lives.

So, next time you feel your creative discipline lagging, STOP. Take a writing break. It’s time to engage in another activity (that’s completely unrelated to writing) … that you ARE disciplined to. Whether you exercise, meditate or play music, the point is to switch gears AND keep the bike moving.

Once you’re done (after twenty minutes, two hours or two days) you will return to your writing with renewed strength, a clear head and a transferable discipline pattern that will get you back on track. If that doesn’t work, you call always start sniffing model airplane glue.

6. How do I maintain that initial fire and excitement when I start a new project, especially when I've got a lot of unfinished pieces? Van Gough once remarked, “No great work of art is ever finished.” I’ve always found that idea to be relaxing to my frantic desire to “finish” everything. In fact, now that I think about it, every module idea in my Content Management System (and there are close to 50,000 of them) is technically “unfinished.”

Which, if you really want to get existential about it, COULD mean that they’re ALL finished. It might not matter. So, try this: Ask yourself what was in place when your initial fire ignited. Was it the medium? The subject? The weather? The drugs you took? The music you were blasting? The people you were hanging with? The creative environment you worked in?

By pinpointing the attributes and components of your initial inspiration, you make it easier to replicate the process for re-ignition. Ultimately, it’s less about maintaining the initial fire and more about starting another fire that’s equally as hot.

If you have further challenges with the discipline of creativity, send me an email.

Hey, at least you’ll be writing!

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What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?

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For the list called, "49 Ways to become an Idea Powerhouse," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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