Collab Writers is delighted to bring you a guest blog on the 5 secrets to creative productivity, by celebrated author and Collab Writers founder member, N J Simmonds.
The 5 Secrets to Creative Productivity
Creativity can’t be switched on or off, yet we all need to produce in order to create. So how can you ensure that where you put your creative energy yields results?
I have five points for you to consider…but first, a little about me and why I’m known for being so prolific.
My name is Natali and I write all types of fantasy under various names. I’m a mum of two and although originally from London, I now live in The Netherlands (after seven years in Spain). As well being a mum in a foreign country with no family support, I also run my own brand consultancy business and I’m the author of fantasy books The Path Keeper, Son of Secrets, and Children of Shadows (signed to US publisher BHC Press as N J Simmonds), I’m a writer of Manga (for Big Bang! Manga magazine), one half of Paranormal Romance writing duo Caedis Knight (first series the Blood Web Chronicles launching this autumn), and I currently have a middle grade novel and a fantasy duology out with agents. Yup. That’s a lot of output.
‘let us understand how you do it,’ I was asked before writing this blog. ‘Tell them how you manage to juggle so much and still create!’
So here are five points to consider.
1) Don’t Assume Creativity is a Level Playing Field
Before I start raving about how we all have twenty-four hours in the day and if Beyonce can do it, why can’t you? I’d like to talk about privilege. No matter what level you are at in your craft, the space and time to be creatively productive is a luxury. It’s important we all recognise that.
I have achieved a lot in my life because I’m organised, motivated, positive and brimming with ideas etc etc…yes, that’s all great and I’ll come to these points later…but I’m also in a position of privilege. I tell you this because I don’t want you reading my tips and feeling like you’re not trying hard enough.
Firstly, I have space in my life to create at the speed that I do. I run my own company, but I also have a partner with a good job so I’m under no pressure to single-handedly provide. If I were a single mother with three demanding young kids and a full-time job that rendered me exhausted by 6pm, do you still think I’d be able to do what I do? No. I couldn’t. And on top of that many people have physical and mental health reasons why constant productivity is impossible. I have the luxury to manage my own working hours and to take creative risks with projects that sometimes pay…and sometimes don’t. I also have kids who, at aged 9 and 11, leave me alone a lot. Plus I’m healthy with an abundance of energy (I can get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night). Those perks aren’t available to everyone…no matter how much they push for it.
Another factor to consider that some of you may have noticed during this current pandemic, is that creativity can’t be forced, and external pressures can really stifle the imagination. When we are all struggling at the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and living in survival mode, coming up with cool plot ideas or feeling in the mood to paint for five hours isn’t going to happen.
Yet there are plenty of people who do have the space and time to create, some even more so than me, but they still go all day with nothing to show for their time. So let’s look at how they can increase their productivity.
2) Something Has To Give
What’s currently stopping you from getting stuff done? Do you feel like you don’t have enough time? Resources? Money? Energy? Head space? Ideas? Whatever it is, the one problem most people share is time.
The ‘everyone has 24 hours in the day’ fallacy is nonsense. Yes, we all have the same amount of hours to play with, but some of us have no choice but to use those hours doing things we don’t want to – even outside of working hours. Cooking, grocery shopping, childcare, life admin…you name it, some days we wonder what the hell we’ve been wasting our time on.
I have news for you. Something has to give.
That doesn’t mean you stop feeding yourself or leave your children on a street corner – it means prioritising, discipline and exercising boundaries. Why boundaries? Because if you are serious about your art then those around you need to understand it too.
I’ve never calculated how many hours it has taken me to write my books, but I started plotting my debut The Path Keeper in 2012 and it went on sale in 2017. That’s a lot of hours of work. And from 2016 until 2020 I have written (or still in the process of writing) a further ten books plus a 12-part Manga cartoon. As I said, that’s a lot of hours of not doing other things.
So what had to give? I watch less TV than before, I go out less, I sleep less, and I don’t spend hours working out or making myself pretty. I also run a very tight household where my kids are expected to chip in, and they know that when I’m working they have to respect that.
Ask anyone who writes more than one book a year how much they go out or lie in and they will laugh. Because you can’t have it all. And if you want to create a lot, then you have to choose art first.
3) Colour in the Blank Spaces
Saying that though, you can also be creative WHILE doing mundane stuff. When I wrote my debut novel my children were only one and three years old and they cried all night. I didn’t get more than 90 mins consecutive sleep and it was killing me – which is why I started to make up my story in my head at 2am, 4am, 6am.
And I still create characters and plots during the blank spaces of my day. While in the shower, driving, hanging out the washing you can still be coming up with ideas. You may also have to do two things at once – ring your mum while walking around the supermarket, watch your TV show while cooking, read your book while having lunch – whatever it takes to buy back some time to create.
This probably explains why I sleep so little, my mind has been trained to not stop, but it also means you never spend a day staring at a blank page because the idea has already been formed during your empty times.
4) Plan/ And Stick To It
But let’s not forget the most obvious of tips. Plan. You have to be organised to run so many projects at once and keep churning creative work out.
I’m very strict about how I plan my day. I check social media and emails from 6am-7am, get the kids to school and do housework 7am-9am, then I work (dealing with my creative projects or clients, with my phone on plane mode and no social media open on my laptop so I don’t peak). But I will gove myself a treat every 45 mins of chatting on Twitter or watching Netflix over lunch. When the kids get home I keep working while also looking after their needs, cook dinner, then have quality time with my family. By 8pm I stop because…
5) Treat Yourself As You Would Treat Others
…you have to be kind to yourself.
Productivity is more about the quantity of art you create it’s not about the quality. And if you don’t put effort and love into your family, relationship, friendships and yourself you will crumble. So also try and switch off sometimes.
You’d think that would be hard to do when you’re doing so much in the day – but actually, the sense of satisfaction you get from achieving what you set out to do will give you a sense of accomplishment so large you’ll be totally fine about stopping and treating yourself to a movie, a bath or a cocktail with friends.
Know your limits. Some people need to work on one thing at a time and that’s great, break down what you need to do and give yourself enough time to work through the list with buffers for when life gets in the way. And others like me, who are restless and impatient and obsessive, need to constantly have twenty balls up in the air for the high, for the variety, and for that giddy sense of momentum.
But remember – no artist hits the jackpot on their first time, so for any level of success you have to keep creating. Don’t be scared to try new things and branch out. After all, Picasso created 50,000 pieces of art, from sculptures and ceramics to sketches and oils, and I bet you can’t name thirty of them! Keep making, keep producing, and one day one of those things you create will make you.
By N J Simmonds for Collab Writers