Are you a drama queen? I was. I realized years ago that I liked excitement, and I created too much of it, especially when I procrastinated and then went crazy as deadlines loomed. Does this sound familiar?
You can learn good work habits, but doing so means giving up the adrenaline rush. Instead, you become a planner. It might sound boring, but these techniques have helped me avoid all-nighters.
1. Take Small Steps
Years ago I was driving to an appointment with my boss when I confessed, tearfully, that I felt overwhelmed by my workload. He gave me advice that was just right at the time: “Break it down into small steps. Otherwise you’re too overwhelmed to move forward. Just put one foot in front of the other and accomplish small things every day.”
It was good advice then, even though it sounded obvious. I needed a reminder. It’s also great advice for a big project like writing a cookbook, which can seem overwhelming at the beginning.
On days when I felt overwhelmed, there was always something small to do. I could make folders for each chapter and a folder within for recipes. That way I was still working on the book, taking small steps.
2. Get Organized with a Schedule
Probably the most important thing I learned when writing a cookbook manuscript was to make a schedule. I always resist at first, because I don’t like feeling locked in. But they are a lifesaver and actually reduce stress in the long run, because you make measured progress.
For a cookbook I turned in last month, I created a schedule by month. It had three deadlines for each chapter that synthesized many smaller steps. It helped me and my co-author stay on track. He made his deadlines, developing the recipes, and I made mine, testing them and writing the chapters.
You might think you don’t need a schedule, but you’re wrong. The time goes by quickly, and before you know it, you’ve got one month left and four chapters to write. No one wants to be in that position.
3. Do the Work in Front of You
When I first started freelancing 18 years ago, a publisher gave me steady work. He had a staff of writers but needed me for special projects. A high-energy guy, he was always on the prowl for new clients and more work. I asked him how he kept up, he said it was because he always did the work in front of him.
His theory was that if you get pending projects done, you have room for the next one. If you don’t, something really good might come along, and you have to turn it down. I think of this advice almost every day. It’s a way to clear the decks, to feel like I’m making progress, and to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed.
4. Stop Being a Drama Queen
As a former editor, I didn’t like the panic that writers put me through when they didn’t make their deadlines. Their panic transferred to me, because I had to play catch-up to get the story into production. Believe me, editors don’t enjoy working with writers who can’t get it together. They want writers who get it done when they say they will.
So give the previous steps a try. They make life a little more even. So far this year I’m about to turn in my second manuscript. I’m not exhausted, and it wasn’t insane at the end. Now I’ve got one more to go!
How about you? I’d love to know what you do to keep on track with your writing.