Nothing makes people procrastinate as much as writing something big. Whatever it is — a novel, content for an entire website, a thesis paper, or simply a long article — the hardest part is to get the ball rolling. Creative writing under pressure can feel paralyzing. In the era of microblogs, 140-character social media posts and short attention spans, writing something big becomes even more daunting, as many writers feel out of practice.
Not only that, but the audience we cater to is accustomed to instant gratification: customers want everything faster, better, and right away, the time is working against you and only adds to the pressure a writer feels. It is difficult to engage a reader at once with a long-form content (TL;DR, anyone?)
How can you be creative and productive, when the clock is ticking down to the next release date?
Plan your big project
Good pacing is vital for creative writing under pressure. Therefore, if time is scarce, you should be very frugal about it. Before you start working, plan the important milestones you need to achieve within the project and when you expect to achieve them. For example, write at least five pages before the lunch break.
Sometimes, the rigid time limits create the block in the first place. We feel that we do not have enough time to do our work as creatively and innovatively, as we’d like to do it, so we just stall. Does it mean that with time pressure we have no chance? Not necessarily.
Professor Teresa Amabile and her team have conducted research on employee creativity. They have found out that people are most creative when under low to moderate time-pressure. High time-pressure creates the treadmill effect when you constantly coping with things that fly at you, but you are not actually getting anywhere. The proverbial “burning platform” does not work so good for creatives.
Yet on the bright side, low to moderate time-pressure does help creativity. It gives you just enough adrenaline and incentive you need. Therefore, careful planning can alleviate extreme time-pressure and create a sweet spot where you feel motivated rather than pressed.
That is why it is crucial to plan measurable and achievable daily (or even hourly) goals when creative writing under pressure. This way you can get to work in the morning without the weight of an entire project on your shoulders. What you have before you is a manageable chunk that you have to complete today.
Realize the importance of your work
There is a catch. You must realize it in a positive way. Do not imagine all the horrible things that will ensue if you fail the deadline. Imagine all the good things that made you start writing in the first place.
Imagine how what you do changes things for the better, how it translates into something that will contribute to a customer need or even to the societal need. That is the number one condition for any creative work, including writing. Creativity is all about internal motivation – interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, curiosity, the challenge of the work itself. Even the smallest win in something you care about leads to a great work satisfaction and boosts creativity, building a positive feedback loop.
Whereas extrinsic motivators, such as promised reward, possible critique, and other things that are meant to incite you can, in fact, undermine your creativity. All those factors combined lead to frustration and procrastination – the feedback loop that we remember all too well from college.
“The biggest problem that students turning to us have is their anxiety about the grade. They simply cannot concentrate on writing,” says Caitlin Hines from Paper Help support. “They are afraid that the result won’t be good enough, so they avoid doing anything at all until the eleventh hour.” Students tend to concentrate on expected evaluation, possible mistakes, and deadlines and that makes creative work functionally impossible.
That is true for professionals as well. Therefore, when you get down to tasks that involve creativity, try not to think about the external factors. Concentrate on things you love about writing, remember, why you have chosen this particular project, what you love about it, and what you find inspiring.
Allow yourself a “quiet time”
A quiet time is not downtime. Although it goes without saying that you should take breaks and rest from time to time. Distractions are detrimental to any work but for creative effort, they are deadly. Turn off the notifications in your email manager, mute your phone, ask your family or roommates not to invade your space for a set period, and use this time for complete concentration on your activity.
The most difficult thing, but a very important one — try not to think about the time. A time limit is one of those external constraints that can decrease your creative ability. You can work fast, but to achieve this, you should think about your work – not about the time allotted to it.
Concentrate and try to achieve the flow state. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it is an optimal state of consciousness “where we feel our best and perform our best”. The flow state is only possible when your activity is intrinsically rewarding (see above), and when you have complete focus on the activity itself, losing track of time passing.
Given that you are working under strict a time limit, losing track of time sounds risky, yet it is manageable. Set the timer and let it track minutes and hours for you. That will take the time off your mind.
To be creative in the first place, one needs space. That contributes to the stereotype that creatives (and especially writers) are disorganized and difficult to manage. Indeed, their independence does not always fit well in the corporate environment. That is why so many creatives go for freelancing opportunities. It gives them the possibility of uninterrupted work and individual planning, which is a vital condition for creativity.
Creative people also tend to care deeply for their work, and writers illustrate this perfectly. They put a lot of pressure on themselves, and when on top of that they know someone is counting on them, they can become cranky. That is why it is very important to distance yourself from external factors and expectations of others.
About the author:
Linda Cartwright is a Seattle-based freelance writer. She teaches creative writing courses and collaborates on educational projects like PaperHelp.
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