Strategic thinking is a skill that writers really need to develop. Without it, it’s really easy to get distracted when you are writing. I’m a big believer that writers should concentrate on one or two things at a time to maximize their productivity. I’ve also mentioned before how easy it is to get distracted by competitions, or other opportunities. You should set targets for writing at the start of the year (like I did) and keep to them.
It is easy to get distracted from these targets though. I know, because, despite me knowing all of this, last week I got distracted, and went against all my own advice.
I didn’t stick to the plan
The BBC writer’s room announced a new comedy window, and I started fishing about for something that I could submit to it. I spoke to an old writer buddy and we both thought a collaborative piece would be a good idea to submit. However, when we went back to it, it hadn’t aged well (we first created a draft in 2011). It was clear that it needed a lot of work to get it up to scratch – and would need a full rewrite.
What I should have done at that point was realize that the rewrite was too much work, and the fast approaching deadline would make it nearly impossible to finish in time. I didn’t. Instead, I spent time working on it, sorting out the formatting and trying to convert it to a Scrivener document from the PDF. It took up several hours of my time, time that would have been better spent working on the second draft of my new novel.
How to start thinking strategically
If, like me, you have a number of different projects spread around a number of different genres and project types, you need to learn to develop a long term view. Try looking at my post about setting targets, and then use these goals to inform every decision you make. If you want a book deal with a romantic fiction publisher, will finishing the historical epic poem about the Spanish Civil War help you achieve that? Probably not. Cross it off for now. If you want to submit something to a screenwriting competition, the short story on Stalin is not something you should be focusing on for the next few months.
By putting something to the side for now, you are not necessarily putting it away for ever. I’m going to come back to that comedy script, but only once I’ve achieved my goals for this year. You shouldn’t feel that you are confining all other projects to the bin, never to return. That’s what’s a good filing system is for. What you are doing is making sure that what you work on in the near future really helps you achieve what you want to achieve.
A lot of writers (and I you can see from the example above that I’m one of them) bounce from idea to idea without really thinking about how each project will help them in the long run. So by taking a step back and thinking about things in the whole you’re going to be able to line up you goals with what you are writing on.
The benefits of strategic thinking
If you can fight past the urge to stray and work on something new every five minutes, you’ll find that your writing will improve. I’ve found that when I’m concentrating on one project, ideas seem to come to me a lot easier. I can get around story problems and character issues with a lot more confidence.
There’s a benefit to immersing yourself in one story completely. You’ll notice areas of development that you’d not thought about before. In the back of your mind you can think about how to overcome plot holes and areas where you are stuck. By not diving off to worry about other competitions or goals you’ll free up a huge amount of space in your brain, and without even knowing it you’ll be using it all to create something that you know is the most important thing that you could be working on at that moment.
And with a more confident, involved world comes the productivity behind it. After a while, you’ll be running to the keyboard to keep writing. You’ll be blocking out all external influence and, with that, you’ll be able to increase the numbers you’ve got down on the page. You’ll become more productive – all because of your new strategic view.
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