My designated time to write is early mornings. Most days I can get up, get my coffee, and get right to my computer and start working. This is when I work on my novels.
But some days — Mondays in particular seem to be bad — I get up, get my coffee, go to the computer and I don’t work. I look at emails. I read the latest news. I tell myself I’m getting to my novel writing, but when I go to open the file I get distracted by re-organizing my desktop. Clicking on another file. Reading the latest marketing trends. Making my to-do list for the week or day. Printing out the New York Times crossword puzzle to solve with breakfast.
You know how those mornings go, right?
And then there are the mornings when as I’m working on my novel, an idea for something else comes through. An article. A class. A different novel. Traditional wisdom has it to make a quick note, and keep working. Don’t let the new idea distract me. Because I’m supposed to be working on my novel, and only my novel. So I do my best to stick to what I’m working on.
Here’s the deal, though. Lately its been occurring to me that by insisting that all I can do in the early morning is write fiction, maybe I’m stopping my natural flow. Maybe I’m squelching ideas before they have a chance to fully form. Maybe I’m killing all kinds of wonderful things without even knowing it.
Two schools of Thought
Which is the most productive flow?
— I’m working along on my novel, I get an idea for a Medium article. I pause, make a note about the article and as much of it as I know, then return to the novel writing.
— Following the new idea, I stop and write the article. Or as much of it as I can in the moment. (I usually have anywhere up to 10 articles in various stages of writing at any time.)
Productivity experts would tell you, hands down, that the first option is the best. That switching back and forth between projects and ideas is a recipe for productive disaster. And they are probably right.
A Different Kind of Brain?
But what if you have a different kind of brain? (Asking for a friend here.) One that likes novelty and detests boredom? What if you thrive doing a million different things in one day? (Not at once — I’m not talking about multi-tasking here.)
Maybe your brain — and mine too — just works differently.
An example: I got the idea for this article as, you guessed it, I was preparing to work on my novel. I opened a “new story” page on Medium and began writing it. Nearly the whole rough draft of the article flowed out of me in just a few minutes. What if I had followed traditional productivity recommendations and only written a few notes on it then returned to my novel?
I’d have lost the flow. The notes would sit in my drafts folder for days, maybe weeks. I’d scroll through the list and think, meh, and go on. Because I would have lost the spark.
But by following the idea, I got a whole article written.
Bucking the Prevailing Wisdom
Yes, you could point your finger at me and say that by writing the article I’m just procrastinating on my novel. That would be the prevailing wisdom. But once I got the idea out and the article written, I will happily go back to my novel writing, secure in the knowledge I got my idea down on paper.
Sometimes the prevailing wisdom might be right for the person dispensing it, but not for you. Which is why I live by one rule to guide me in my writing:
If I can make it work, I can do it.
Of course, there’s the small matter of making it work, right? But that’s a story for another day.
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