I’ve been on team inspiration for many years. ‘You need to really want to do it versus forcing yourself,’ I would tell my clients. ‘Inspiration versus perspiration’ was my motto.
That was until I started writing my novel. I started it in 2010 and wrote 29,564 words. In 2011, I didn’t feel very inspired and waited for that inspiration. It never came. I didn’t write one single page.
2012 is my big leap year and I’ve committed to finish the novel. And I realised that perhaps I needed a more effective strategy than waiting for inspiration to strike.
So I was very interested to read a study by Robert Boice, professor emeritus of psychology at Stony Brook University in the US who discovered the concrete evidence for two concepts: 1) writing daily produces more writing and more ideas and 2) writing accountability works.
Boice conducted a test with 27 faculty members who needed help with improving their writing productivity. He put the 27 people into three groups and then set up an experiment to measure their writing productivity for ten weeks. He challenged each group to do different things:
Group 1: Write only if they had to write, but asked to keep a log of creative ideas for writing. The idea behind this group was that planned abstinence would lead to the production of creative ideas for writing when the time came.
Group 2: Scheduled writing sessions five days a week for ten weeks, but was encouraged to write only when they were ‘in the mood’. They also were asked to take the time they had scheduled for writing to log a new creative idea for writing each day. The idea behind this group was that writing only when they were in the mood would boost creativity.
Group 3: Had to commit to an accountability plan. They scheduled five writing sessions a week for ten weeks, and kept a log of creative ideas for writing. To ensure that they would write every day, the members of this group gave Boice a pre-paid cheque for $25, made out to a hated organization. If they failed to write in any of their planned sessions, Boice would send off the cheque. The idea behind this group was that forced writing would require the group to come up with creative ideas for writing.
Boice’s study results revealed:
- Abstinent writers produced an average of 0.2 pages per day, and only one idea per week.
- Spontaneous writers produced an average of 0.9 pages per day, and one creative idea every two days.
- Forced writers produced an average of 3.2 pages and one creative idea each day.
These results show that, contrary to what I thought, creativity and inspiration can be forced.
But it’s a rule that applies to so many things in life, not just writing. How often do we not feel like doing something but when we force ourselves – we get loads done? But ah yes, it’s so much easier to surf the net than create some new business lead, or sort out the filing or put pen to paper and write the page of that damn novel.
But if we were to apply Boice’s model to all the things that we might be initially reluctant/afraid to do – would it work?
This week – try this approach when you start to procrastinate:
- Commit to a specific task and schedule it in your diary. E.g. Five daily writing sessions for 10 minutes
- Keep connected to the task by keeping a log of ideas as you go through your day.
- Create accountability by committing to one other person (or a group) with consequences if you fail to do what you say you are going to do.
Suzy Greaves, best-selling author, journalist and life coach, is hosting a free teleclass with world-class writers – Oscar nominated screenwriters to national magazine features editors – on Monday 27th at 8pm. Log on here to register. http://www.suzygreaves.com/