Improving Your Productivity as a Writer: How to Not Give a Shit
The thing about writing is, you have to actually do it to get anywhere with it.
There’s no cheat code, shortcut, or cheese method to being a writer.
You have to sit down, put one word in front of another and go until the end, whenever or wherever that is.
I’m a distance runner, so I think of the two as being very similar.
Want to be a runner? You don’t need much except a pair of shoes and an area to put one foot in front of another at a pace that’s faster than a walk.
And then you keep going. And going. And going. Until you reach the end, whenever or wherever you decide that is.
The problem is you have to keep doing it, day after day, week after week.
If you begin to think of running, or in our case writing, as a never-ending slog or ‘to do’ list, then you probably won’t ever start.
The psychology of it becomes the problem, not the thing itself.
But if you get up in the morning, put on your runners, and get out the door before you have a chance to think about it, you’ll find yourself running, and it doesn’t really matter how far you go that day – it matters that you went somewhere. That you put one foot in front of another.
Writing is the same.
I started writing when I was twelve, and through most of my teens, my biggest problem was that I was consistently waiting for the Holy Trinity of creativity – the right time, the right place, the right idea – to get started on anything, much less continue something I had already started.
Because I was always waiting for those three things, or even two of the three, I never got a goddamn thing done.
This changed in my twenties when I went to university to study journalism and became a reporter in a big city newsroom.
At that point, I didn’t have a choice. I needed to write, or I was out of a job.
In fact, one of my gigs required that I select, research, and write three news stories every day of the week and publish them before nine in the morning.
There was never the right time, place, or idea to make my journalism sing.
I had to get reeeeeeeally comfortable with mediocrity, and I did, and I kept my job and got quite good at writing fast.
Eventually, I became a pretty darn good journalist too.
The change for me happened when I got comfortable with not caring.
Now, I’m being a bit hyperbolic here, but it’s to illustrate a point.
When I was a fledgling writer, I was serious about getting every word right in the first draft. The result, as mentioned above, was I never finished a single draft of anything.
When I learned to write freely, to produce, I was able to get a first draft out relatively quickly and then go back and fix things, or have my editor do the same.
Turns out, it’s the same with fiction.
If I overthink it, I get overwhelmed, and I get nothing done.
So, I tend not to set goals.
An idea occurs to me, I start writing, I write as long as I can in that moment, and then leave it.
The next day, I make a point of going back to it.
At that point, I will sometimes reread what I wrote the day before, but often I don’t bother, and my only goal is to add one or two more sentences.
Once I’ve done that, I’m in the groove. Sometimes I’ll sit and write for quite a while, sometimes I don’t.
But what does happen is the story gets done because I’m consistently putting one word in front of another with the knowledge, and comfort, that I’m making all kinds of errors, but I know I can go back and fix them later – so they don’t really matter.
A somewhat related digression: I’ve been golfing for twenty-five years, though not consistently since I was a teenager.
I get out for maybe three rounds a year.
I like being good at things but I long ago gave up being any good at golf.
But I do want to enjoy those three rounds a year because it’s probably all I’ll find time for.
A couple years ago, I was playing in a group with a fellow who was very frustrated with me by the seventeenth hole.
You see, he played all the time. Probably as many rounds in a week as I play in a year.
He was very focused on being good to the point where he grew increasingly frustrated as time went on if the result of his stroke didn’t match his intention behind it.
In other words, he expected a lot more out of himself than he was getting.
And, by the seventeenth hole, his face was red.
Because I wasn’t bothered by my own mediocrity.
I was out there going from one hole to the next with zero expectations and not a hell of a lot of thought put into my swing, approach, or ball placement.
As a result, I was in a good mood the whole time.
By the seventeenth, he looked over at the rest of our group and pointed at me and said, “You know why he’s doing so well? It’s ‘cause he doesn’t give a shit.”
And he was angry about it.
I laughed, nodded, swung, and carried on.
Neither of us remembers the score from that day.
What I do remember is that I finished that day in a good mood.
Is it true that I don’t give a shit?
Not remotely. I’m as competitive as anyone else.
But what I have learned is that at certain points in the process, I have to adopt that mentality to keep going, to continue producing.
It’s the head game I play with myself to get the thing done, whether it be running, writing or golfing.
And it works.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Joel McKay is an economic development professional, author and former public relations executive and journalist. He is based in Prince George, B.C. where he is the CEO of Northern Development, and sits on the boards of the University of Northern B.C. and Destination B.C.
Joel is passionate about British Columbia, especially its vast and relatively misunderstood north. His writing focuses on the people, places and issues relevant to northern and rural communities, typically with a healthy dose of the absurd or supernatural. His short story ‘Number Hunnerd’, a fish tale set in B.C.’s Cariboo, was published in Tyche Books anthology Water: Selkies, Sirens and Sea Monsters in 2021. His novella, Wolf at the Door, was published in the spring of 2022 and focuses on a disastrous family Thanksgiving dinner. His forthcoming fiction, a short western horror story titled ‘Hands’, will be published by Brigids Gate Press in the summer of 2022.
Joel was previously Director, Communications at Northern Development. During that time he led the creation and publication of the ‘Small Town PR Playbook’, a first-of-its-kind how-to book for rural public relations in Canada that won the Don Rennie Award from the Canadian Public Relations Society for excellence in government communications. Prior to that, he was Assignment Editor at Business in Vancouver Newspaper where his journalism earned him a Jack Webster Award for Business, Industry and Economics in 2011, and a nomination for a second Jack Webster Award for Multimedia Reporting in 2012.
He has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Kwantlen Polytechnic University for his professional achievements, and in 2021 was awarded the Chairman’s Award from the B.C. Economic Development Association for his contributions to rural development. He has been named a Top 40 Under 40 by the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, and in 2021 and 2022 was named one of the 500 most influential business leaders in British Columbia by Business in Vancouver Media Group.