Posts Tagged ‘consistency’

6 Strategies for Consistency

I think this will be the last post for this particular subject matter, Squiders, and I’ll keep the troubleshooting section for the book. Thank you again for working with me on this nonfiction posts. They have been hugely beneficial for me, and I hope you’re getting something out of it as well.

Today we’re going to look at specific strategies to help you meet your consistency goals.

1. Schedule Time

We talked about this a little bit in the basics section, but having a regular time that is writing (or whatever) time can be hugely invaluable. Doing the same thing at the same time in the same way helps a habit build up that much faster, and you don’t have to worry about stuffing things into your otherwise busy schedule. As a reminder, make sure the time you’re allotting for yourself is sufficient to meet your goals, and that it’s realistic (i.e., don’t plan to spend 10-midnight working every night if your brain shuts down at 9:30).

2. Figure Out Your Motivation

Knowing why you’re doing something can also help provide you with extra motivation for getting something done. Are you trying out something new that you want to share with your critique group? Do you want to see if you can write something you’ve never done before? Are you looking for publication, readers, to please your mother/sister/partner/friends, to share something with your children, to learn something before you lose access to it? This goes back to the visualization technique we talked about last time, where knowing where you want to be can help you get back up after failures and push toward your end goals.

3. Deadlines

Having deadlines can be a great motivator to help you become consistent. (It’s not for everyone. If deadlines make you go shaky with anxiety, just ignore this point.) A project can seem insurmountable, especially at the beginning, but knowing when you need to have something done by can help you know how much you need to get done every day and help you plan out your schedule. Breaking things done into easy, repeatable steps make them that much easier to accomplish. Deadlines can be self-imposed (“I want this book ready for publication before I’m 40”) or imposed by the activity (the submission date for an anthology, having material ready before the writer’s conference you spent a gazillion dollars on, making sure your section for your critique group is ready on time so people can look it over) but oftentimes knowing something has to be done by a certain point or you’re going to miss your chance can give you a needed kick in the butt.

Those are pretty general, and how you implement them will be up to how you work specifically. Here are some specific things to try:

4. The ABC Method

“ABC” stands for “Apply Butt to Chair” and is an oft-cited method brought up during monthly challenges such as Nanowrimo. The basics of this method are simple–you sit down in a chair in front of your computer or your notebook or your typewriter, or whatever medium you’re currently using, and you stay there until you get to your goal for the day. The idea is, in theory, that you get what you need to done, come hell or high water, and that you–also in theory–become more proficient and faster over time.

The con of the ABC method is that it requires a lot of time. It can be more useful for students or other people who don’t have a set schedule or a lot of responsibility and have the ability to sit in front of their computer for three hours at a time. So people who don’t have a lot of time at their disposal may find this method untenable. Another problem is that sitting at your computer does not directly correspond with productivity. You may want to combine this approach with an app or program that blocks the Internet (or specific websites) or games you may have to make sure you’re not wasting your time.

5. Prepare Your Day

You occasionally hear about these people who have greatly upped their word counts (going from 2000 words a day to 10000, for example), and the secret to doing so seems to be planning what you’re doing/writing about before you sit down to do it. (This tip works in other aspects of life also–I often see the same advice applied to making your to-do list, for example, as doing it the night before frees up valuable first-thing-in-the-morning time for actual work as opposed to administrative rigamole.) Outlining can help some in this regards, but it doesn’t have to be as formal as that unless that works for you. You can also run through what needs to happen in the story in your head, picture scenes before you write them, put in some prep work (such as doing research before you start so you don’t waste your writing time), and knowing where you want to be at the end of the day.

The idea is that when you sit down to write, you already know what you’re doing and can dive right in without getting bogged down by miscellany.

6. Consistency Challenges

A consistency challenge is a challenge, usually set up between you and other writers, where everyone pledges to consistently write a certain amount of words for a certain duration of time. The most common ones seem to be where each writer sets their own word count, and then comes back to some place (such as a single blog post or a forum thread) and reports their word count for each day. Some challenges require you to reset your streak if you miss a day, while others count cumulative days in a time frame, even if they’re not consecutive.

The idea is that having accountability (the other writers) make you more likely to follow through, to avoid the guilt of missing a day or to compete to see if you can write more consistently than everyone else.

The nice thing about consistency challenges is that you can tailor them to meet your needs. I’ve seen ones where the writer also sets a days-of-writing goal (“I’m going to write 25 days out of 30”) to build in some leeway if someone knows they can’t write on weekends or will be on a trip for part of the challenge. There’s also word count build consistency challenges, which can be useful if one hasn’t written in a while or wants to up their output in general. In a word count build challenge, writers start at a minimum word count (say, 100 words) and add a consistent amount each day to increase their goals. For example, a writer could decide that they’ll start at 100 words a day and add 50 words each day. So day 1’s goal would be 100, day 2 would be 150, day 3 would be 200, all the way up to whatever the end is. (So, at the end of a 30-day challenge, they’d be up to 1500 words a day.)

Challenges can also be set up with other metrics, such as measuring time or pages edited or whatever is relevant for the project at hand. I’ve also seen challenges with countdowns, such as ones trying to get drafts done before a certain event (start of a challenge, deadline for a contest, etc.). These challenges are customizable so you should play around and see what works for you. Changing up the rules every now and then can also be good, especially if you’re starting to feel like you’re stagnating.

If you don’t have a writing community in which to run a consistency challenge, have no fear. You can do it solo as well. One of the best ways to make the slog alone is by using 750words.com. You do lose the ability to set a goal under 750 words, but this website is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to keep track of a one-author consistency challenge. Each day you log in to the site, write (or copy and paste) your words into the box, and it keeps track of stats, such as how long it took you to write your 750 words (if you actively wrote it on the website), your words per minute, how many breaks you took, etc. It even analyzes the themes and your mindset of your writing, which can be kind of cool, to see what that particular passage is evoking, according to the site’s algorithms, at least. You also get nifty badges for writing certain numbers of days in a row.

Any other strategies you’d like to add, squiders?

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Building Consistency Habits

Last week we discussed the basics of setting up a habit of writing (editing, marketing, etc.) regularly, but today we’re going to focus more on the nuts and bolts of putting together a plan for consistency. The more things you can do to set yourself up for success, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get the results you want.

We’ve already talked about setting aside time, planning your goals, and setting up a “trigger” to help you get started. Let’s look at some other things to try.

  • Find inspiration. Some days, nothing wants to come. If you have ready sources of inspiration, things you can look at or listen to or think about, even if they’re not directly related to whatever you’re working on, they can get the old muse juices flowing and can help loosen up your brain when it comes to what you are supposed to be doing. I use Pinterest boards and an idea file for this purpose.
  • Give yourself something to aspire to. You know how they tell people who want to lose weight to hang “goal” pictures where they’ll be seen? You can do the same thing here. If you’d like to find an agent, you can hang the bio of your dream one on the wall. You can print out the book deal pages from Publisher’s Weekly and put them on the refrigerator. You can stick the latest bestseller list on your corkboard. Having a physical reminder of what you’re working toward can provide some extra motivation.
  • Don’t allow exceptions. If you give up your writing time every time something else comes along, you’ll never get anything done. Yes, some days things won’t get done. You’ll have sick kid, or a big project at work, or need to go visit your mother. But if you’re making exceptions for other things–watching television, playing video games, whatever–you’re doomed. One “Well, just for today” can turn into weeks, or months, of inactivity.
  • Remember that little bits help. Sometimes you can’t reach your daily/weekly/monthly goals. Life gets in the way somehow. Rather than giving everything up as a loss, remember that even partial progress still counts as progress. Sure, that 100 words a day may not be the 500 you wanted, but at the end of the week you’ll still be 700 words closer to your goal than if you just gave the time period up as lost.
  • Track your progress. This may be the most important thing to do (beside the “trigger” that we talked about last week). I know I am 500% more successful if I have some method of tracking going than if I don’t. I prefer to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I have various ones–ones for month-long goals, ones for longer projects, ones where I can track multiple projects a month, ones for editing. I also highly recommend sticking graphs in your spreadsheets. There’s something very fulfilling about graphs. Even if you’re behind, I find that the graphs can still provide motivation to try and catch up. If you don’t know how to program an Excel spreadsheet to automatically create graphs when you input data, the Internet has a ton of tracking spreadsheets you can download and modify. But you don’t need to use a spreadsheet, if that doesn’t work for you. You can mark days off on a calendar, make yourself a sticker chart, use a word counter–anything that allows you to keep track of how you’re doing.
  • Make yourself accountable. Along with keeping track of how you’re doing, having some form of accountability can help motivate you to make sure you’re working. This can be a person–or a group of people–such as a writing partner or group. It doesn’t have to be, however. Maybe you don’t get to watch the latest episode of your favorite show until your writing is done for the day. Maybe if you reach your monthly goal you get to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eying. And along those lines…
  • Reward yourself. These can be little, such as a daily reward of half an hour of reading or a piece of cake, or big, such as dying your hair purple after your first major publishing deal. While you shouldn’t rely on rewards to get you to do your writing, they certainly can help you feel better about the whole process, especially when you’re still working on building up the habit, and can help you through rough times.
  • Make it fun. Let’s be honest. If you hate something, all the triggers and tracking and rewards in the world aren’t going to make you do it. If you dread getting around to your writing, or you actively put it off, look at what you’re doing. Is there a way you can change things up that will make it more fun? Or more comfortable? Or easier on yourself? Challenges against friends can be a good way to spice things up a bit. Do you have to do things the way you are? Maybe you do, but there still might be a way to make things more enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to switch things around until they’re working for you.

Here’s my current tracker, for people who’d like to see an example. When I started this blog post series I realized that I’d let my own consistency fall by the wayside, so I’ve rededicated myself (and started this tracker on March 22, as you can see). And, not too shabbily, I’ve written 20,000 words in two weeks. This is my long challenge tracker, adapted from a spreadsheet put out by ROW80 (which I shall talk about next time). Another sheet has the graphs on it, and the color changing (from red to green when I meet my goals) is also very rewarding.

Tracker Example

(The reason why the numbers are all weirdly decimal-y is because I’ve divided 94,000 words by 71 days. There is a way to make your equations round up to the nearest whole number, but I have not been annoyed enough by the giant decimals yet to remember how to do that.)

Anything else you’d add, Squiders? Next time (which might be Thursday, or might be next Tuesday) we’ll discuss additional processes to help build up your writing habits.

Consistency Basics

Last week we looked at why consistency is important for building up a writing habit. Today we’re going to look at what the basics are for setting up a consistent habit.

Let’s dive right in.

  • Set goals. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, it’s hard to know what you have to do to get there. It also helps to set a single goal at first and add additional ones as you become more comfortable with your habit.
  • Realize you can’t change everything at once. If you’d never run a step in your life, setting a goal of running a marathon after a month would be unrealistic. Along the same lines, if you’re having trouble finding time to write, a goal of a book of month is not going to be achievable. (Probably. There are always outliers on everything.) There’s a reason why so many people and books recommend “baby steps” when working on changing habits. Your baby steps will look different from other people’s. One person may need to start with a goal like “Write at least 10 minutes every day” whereas someone else might jump straight to “Write 2000 words a day.” Do what’s right for you.
  • Figure out how to make your goal happen. If you don’t make writing a priority, it can be hard to squeeze it in around everything else. Figure out how you can fit in your writing every day. Do you have a block of time that you can easily convert for writing? Will a simple change of routine clear something up? For example, I recently decided to start getting up half an hour earlier and write first thing in the morning.
  • But don’t sabotage yourself. While it’s important to plan out how and when you’re going to fit in your writing goals, you also need to be realistic with yourself and how you work. I can get up a little earlier and write because that’s when my creativity’s at its best anyway, but if I was someone who liked to hit the snooze button five times before finally dragging myself out of bed, I’d never be able to stick to my plan. If you know you always spend your lunch break chatting with your friend, you’re unlikely to be able to use that time for writing.
  • Define what counts as meeting your goal. Remember those writing challenge months that pop up every now and then? What can count varies by challenge (some allow work only a single, specific project, where others allow you to count anything you write, including schoolwork, blog posts, and work reports). Be fair to yourself and your goal. If you really need to get something done, don’t allow yourself to count words on a side project you’re doing for fun. Likewise, if your goal is just to practice without a specific end goal, then, sure, count the words on that fanfic you wrote while the kids were eating lunch. Does research count? Editing? Marketing research? Make sure you lay this out beforehand so you’re not tempted to improvise on the fly.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your goal as needed. If your goal isn’t working, don’t stick with a losing plan. Maybe you were too ambitious (“fly and die,” as we used to call it in crew) and you’re getting depressed at your “lack” of progress. Maybe you finished writing and need to transition to a different part of the process, so your daily word count goal is now worthless. Make sure your goal is working for you.
  • But don’t give up before you try. If you’ve set yourself a reasonable goal, figured out how and when you’re going to do it each day (or week, or however often you’ve picked), and have implemented appropriate baby steps for you, don’t give in to fears that you’re taking on too much at once. You’ll be surprised to see what you can get done when you put your mind to something and make sure you take the right steps.
  • Set a trigger. A trigger, in this case, is something that signals to your brain that its time to get down to business. A trigger can be literally anything, as long as you link it specifically to your consistency habit (i.e., don’t do it other times) and do it each time you sit down to write. For example, I have specific writing gloves I put on (they are specifically for wrist support for typing, and I would link you, but alas, the company went out of business) when working on a novel that I don’t wear at other times (like now) which are part of my trigger. I also put on fingerless gloves over my writing gloves, and put on a specific Pandora station.

Anything else you would add, Squiders? Next week we’ll talk about ways to help your habits become and stay habits.

Why Consistency is Important

On to a new topic today, Squiders! But first, I want to tell you about a promo that’s going on through tomorrow, March 17. You can get a variety of fantasy novels or series for free or $.99 through here. I’ve got my first novel, Hidden Worlds, included. There’s some good stuff (I may have bought a couple myself) so take a look!

So, we’ll start with why consistency is important today, and then in subsequent posts we’ll look at ways to build up and maintain consistency as well as what to do when life is getting in the way. Like the submitting/publishing posts, there’s some stuff I’ll leave off the blog posts so that there’ll be some new info in the book when I put it out, though I’m not quite sure what exactly as I haven’t finished outlining this book yet. But that’ll be done before next week.

Merriam-Webster defines consistency as a “harmony of conduct or practice with profession” which is a bizarre way to put it, if you ask me. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “consistent behavior or treatment.” (And also “the way a substance holds together,” which is irrelevant to this discussion.)

If you do a quick Internet search, you’ll find several dozen articles on why consistency is the key to success. But what it basically comes down to is this: if you’re not regularly doing something, practicing it and improving on it and trying new things, how can you expect to be successful?

I heard a tenet once, many years ago, that said you have to write a million words of crap before you get anywhere. Not sure who said it originally, since the writing community picked up the idea and ran with it. A million words sounds like a lot. It’s 10 100K word novels. 20 50K, if that’s more your length. It took me about eight years to get through my million words of crap, and that’s not counting earlier stuff from my teens.

So, to be specific, why does it pay to be consistent with your writing practices:

  • Things get done. A novel can seem like an insurmountable goal, and if you’re writing once or twice every month or so, it very well could be. By writing consistently, you can break a goal into something manageable and see that you’re actually getting closer.
  • It helps improve your craft. The thing about that old “practice makes perfect” saying is that it’s true, to some extent. Sure, there is the occasional odd duck who can put out a story that gets them everything they want on the first go, but most people have to work at learning some aspect of the writing process, whether it’s plotting, description, characterization, structure, etc. Writing consistently can help you learn to see the errors in your own work, and also help you try out ways to fix those errors.
  • It keeps you from getting rusty. When I was younger, I’d write for, oh, six months of the year, and then take the other six months off and do other things. Whenever I came back to the writing thing, it was as if I couldn’t remember what I was doing. Sure, it’d come back eventually, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and pain if I hadn’t taken such a long break.
  • It helps you push yourself. Most writers have a list of things they’d like to get done eventually. For example, I’d really like to write a cozy mystery someday. Maybe set in space. By writing more consistently, you can get through projects faster, which leaves you time to experiment, or to say to yourself that maybe now, finally, is the time to try the epic time traveling romance you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Writing becomes a habit. And habits tend to get done in a day around everything else.
  • More opportunities will come your way. If you’re more consistent, you’ll probably build up a reputation in your writing community for being dependable, which means that when that editor needs a last minute story to round out an anthology they know you’ll be good for it. Or if that small press you’ve had your eye on opens a call for historical romance, you’ll have a novel waiting in the wings ready for submission. Or if you’re at a conference and overhear an agent say that they would give up coffee to get their hands on a MG scifi adventure with a female protagonist, oh hey, you just finished one up last month.
  • The writing business isn’t for the faint of heart. Writing can be very depressing. There’s a lot of waiting and rejection and a lack of response, and if you’ve got one novel done and you’re waiting for it to sell for a million dollars and make you a bestseller, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It helps to move on to new things, to have more than one project, to keep your mind off of what a single project is (or isn’t) doing and to keep your momentum going.
  • It keeps you up to date. The publishing world and its trends change often, and it can help you tailor your goals and what you’re working on if you’re generally aware of what’s going on.

Anything I’m leaving out, Squiders?

Consistency

You’ve probably heard it said a dozen times over, in a dozen ways: the one requirement to be a writer is to write.

But life is cyclical. Priorities change. Things happen. Writing sometimes falls by the wayside, and sometimes it can be hard to get back into it, especially if it’s been a while.

Now, admittedly, I make my living writing and doing writing-related things like editing or book formatting, so I can’t get too far from it. But when things have happened and it’s been hard to work on my personal projects, I like to break out an old standby: the consistency challenge.

These are month-long challenges to write a little every day. Depending on the circumstances, I usually select a goal between 300 and 1000 words. And you do need a goal. Else you end up writing a sentence and calling it good, especially if it’s been a long day, and then you’re not really getting anywhere.

And if you stick with it (though invariably a day or two gets skipped due to extraneous circumstances) you get to the end of the month with a decent amount of words and an idea of how to incorporate writing back into your life on a regular basis.

But I don’t recommend going for more than a month. After a month it no longer makes sense to write just to be writing. At that point you should probably switch to a more dedicated project and set realistic goals to help you get it done. And while some people want–or need to–write every day, it’s not viable for everyone. And 300 words a day may not help you get where you want to go.

Plus if you’re editing or submitting, an arbitrary word count goal is no help whatsoever.

I’m doing a consistency challenge this month. The Fourth threw me off a bit, but I’m back on track and making good progress. It’s nice to be writing again, though it’s only been a little over a month, all told. And I’ve finished a short story that seemed like it would never get done and outlined my part of a joint novel, so it’s all been good.

Do you like the occasional consistency challenge, Squiders? Anything else you like to do to jumpstart your writing again after a break?