The Ultimate Secret To Being A Productive Writer: Don’t Scratch The Itch!

by Bobby Gilles

in Exhortations And Musings,Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

Woman scratching her nose

Stop it!

How do you write consistently? How do you beat Writer’s Block (besides finding the right environment)? How do you come up with killer ideas? How do you stay motivated?

These questions are on the lips of many would-be writers, much of the time. What is the secret to productive writing?

Ready? There is a secret — or at least, a rule …

Don’t Talk About Your Ideas

Follow this scenario: a group of friends — all writers of one kind or another — meets regularly at Starbucks. They sip their lattes while discussing potential ideas for novels, songs, poems, screenplays, essays, nonfiction books and even blog posts. As each person talks about his idea, the others ask questions and offer advice.

This is good, right? Supportive, constructive community?

To an extent. A more limited extent than you may realize.

No Scratching!

Man scratching his head

Dude, seriously ...

That gem inside of you — that concept, plot line or theme you want to explore — is an itch that needs scratching. You think about it in the grocery store aisles, in your shower, at the gym, while you lie in bed at night, when you’re in a meeting at the office and when you’re stuck in traffic downtown. The idea has to get out; it’s driving you crazy.

But have you ever noticed that many people who want to be writers hang out in coffee shops and talk about ideas, but seldom follow through on writing that masterpiece? You see them at the table, week after week. Sometimes they’re dying to tell you about a tweak on their original idea, a revision, or a newer, better idea. This can go on weeks, months, even years, and never lead to finished work.

They don’t actually write because they don’t feel the itch anymore. They scratched it raw with you, at Starbucks. Your receptive ears are their audience. They don’t realize it, but they already have that which they sought: an outlet for sharing ideas with the outside world. They removed their motivation.

Are You That Person?

If this describes you,

it’s time to break the pattern. Next time your buddy asks what idea you’re cooking up for your next book or album, tell her “I can’t talk about it yet.”

Force yourself to scratch the itch in only one way: by writing. You’ll be more apt to write if it’s your only outlet for sharing what’s in your mind, heart and soul. The longer you delay writing the greater the itch will grow. Soon you’ll lose sanity, unless you sit down at that desk and start pounding out some words.

So Friends Can’t Advise Or Encourage?

Of course they can. After you’ve shared your rough draft with them. In fact, writers’ support & practice groups, writers’ critique groups,¬†workshops and other writing feedback groups are good ideas. The people in these groups are your first audience, and if you’ve chosen your writer friends well, it’s a thoughtful, valuable audience. They can help you shape your first draft into the work of art it will later become.

And of course brainstorming with a trusted mentor, colleague or collaborator is a good idea. Just have the wisdom to know when to stop thinking, debating and theorizing, and start writing.

Learn more about productivity for creatives here


Jacob May 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Very helpful, brother. I seriously desire to write less if I talk to much with people about what I’m writing. I’ve shared my ideas, so they’re not fighting to get out anymore. Wise words.

Bobby Gilles May 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Thanks Jacob. I heard this advice years ago from a creative writing professor, and I’ve relearned it the hard way several times since then.

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