How to Finish Your Stuff: Avoid The Drift

The Drift - Writing Advice Suzanne Brazil

You know the feeling. You’re in the middle of a project (a book, an essay, a short story) and then you’re not. You’re on the edges of it or miles away. It shimmers in the distance like a mirage and you’re losing it.

I call it “the drift.”

You suddenly realize it’s been three days, then a week, then a month since you’ve made any progress.

It feels stale. You find yourself bored by the characters. You think it’s a sign you need a new project. A fresh start. So you let more time go by.

The foundation of your sand castle has blown away. One day at a time. One missed writing session at a time.

How does this happen? It happens grain by grain.

How do you stop it? The same way.

Famous authors all have recommendations to write every day or develop a routine. I like Jerry Seinfeld‘s advice: Don’t Break The Chain. Just grab a calendar and for every day you work on your number one project, mark a big red “X” – then just make it your goal not to break the chain.

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Drop in on your project whenever you can. You’ve got a day job, your dog has diarrhea or  your kid has a science project due. You don’t have time to brew a perfect pot of tea, don your favorite sweater and light your literary pipe.

So do what you can. Drop in on your characters. Reread a page or a paragraph, or jot down some ideas for a scene. I think of it as being less precious about the whole thing. Conditions don’t have to be perfect, you just want to keep in touch with your story.

“Drop in on your project whenever you can.” 

Steal time. Think of it as something you GET to do instead of another task to check off your list. Print out a couple of pages, stuff them in your purse or briefcase. Pull them out on your lunch hour, or on an extra long bathroom break during that interminable staff meeting.

Don’t fall for the allure of the new project because you’ve lost sight of the old. It’s not about rigid routines and perfect practice, it’s about action. Whatever you can do, do that. But do something.

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“It’s not about rigid routines and perfect practice. It’s about action.” 

Stay tethered to the world you’ve built, the characters you’re developing and the story you’re telling. You’ll save time by not having to reorient yourself each writing session. Best of all? You’ll finish stuff.

 

4 Thoughts on “How to Finish Your Stuff: Avoid The Drift

  1. I love this, Suzanne! Especially this line: “You don’t have time to brew a perfect pot of tea, don your favorite sweater and light your literary pipe.” I need to remember it’s okay to just plop down at my computer any chance I get, and not wait for the so-called perfect conditions.

    …Similar to Seinfeld’s calendar chain, I always glance at the “date modified” for whatever Word document I’m working on. If I at least check in on my project every day, then that date stays current. If not, then it becomes obvious I’m starting to “drift.”

    • Thanks for reading, Jennifer – and what a great idea on the “date modified” as a reminder! That’s how I make sure I’m on the correct version but it’s a great visual aid, too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. CathyShouse on November 1, 2015 at 6:41 am said:

    I read these tips a few days ago and have since gotten some momentum going on a project I had drifted from. 1. Once I get started, I find myself stealing more time to keep going. 2. It’s surprising how much I get done when I keep in regular touch with the world I’ve created. Thanks!

    • That’s great news, Cathy! I think it’s physics and most writers are not in love with physics. Still, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, which is why it can be so hard to get going once we stop. Planned days off are ok as long as we’ve planned a re-entry strategy. Thanks for reading!!

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