In our 2016 Self-Publishing Success Summit interview with Cal Newport, he discussed the different approaches you can take to eliminate distractions and practice deep work to finish your book.
Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to studying the theoretical foundations of our digital age, Newport also writes about the impact of these technologies on the world of work. “Deep Work,” which is his most recent book, argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace. The ability to concentrate without distraction is rare in our society but extremely valuable. Cal previously wrote “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” debunking the long-held belief that “following your passion” is good advice, as well as three popular books of unconventional advice for students.
Here is what he had to say about what you can do to finish your book:
Know Your Format Before Writing
Cal says to know your format before you begin the writing process. If you know where you are headed it’s much easier to get there. Having a goal and understanding what needs to be written will make for a much smoother writing process. Know how much you want to write and when you want it to be finished, then work out the math backwards. This is a method for success.
Separate Planning from Writing
Thinking about his book about a year before he actually sits down to write, Cal stresses the importance of mentally planning the book before writing a single word. You can use commuting time to add to the hours needed to accrue a new book. This would normally be time spent zoning out, but using it for deep focus on the topic will quickly grow the planning process.
Mentally decide to plan as you walk, literally, and notice when your attention wanders. Cal enjoys going for long walks and planning his books out as he walks. This is a great stimulant for the mind and can enhance planning.
Treat the Process with Respect
Like any job, working only when you feel like it will not get the job done. Purposefully sitting down and putting words on the page comes with the territory of being a writer. Treat the process of writing with respect by growing that word count, regardless of whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until the last minute. It won’t always be easy, but it comes with the privilege of being a writer! Just as training to be an athlete takes time and consistent dedication, so does training to become a writer. Don’t give up! The process is what creates the result. Cal says, “Writing a book is like a job. It’s not supposed to be easy all the time and it’s not something you’re supposed to just wait till three weeks before some self-imposed deadline and then just go crazy. That’s just unprofessional.”
Prep for Writing as if You Are an Athlete
Work deeply, embrace boredom, and quit social media. Really! According to Cal, working deeply is a specific type of work ethic that can be learned…but it takes time and effort. Learning to stop grabbing your phone at the first hint of boredom, and rather embracing the boredom, will keep your mind focused. Think about one topic at a time and your writing will improve. Part of focus comes with limiting distractions – notably, social media. It is far too easy to log in to Facebook, check your Twitter feed, or scroll through Instagram at your first inkling of boredom. Taking a break from social media will improve focus and ultimately, enhance your writing!
Slow Down for Business
These days everyone is busy, right? Cal said being busy is like having the flu. It slows you down and hinders you from getting the important tasks done. Business takes away from your focus, forcing you to split your thoughts between multiple tasks. Instead, slow down and focus on one or two majorly important things. You’ll be surprised at how much your work will thrive!
Hone Your Skills
Every book you write will hone your skills. Writing more will grow you, and even if the end result is not exactly what you were hoping, for you will still learn from the process! Just like it takes countless reps to gain muscle, writing requires many hours in order to build your competence in the craft. Write in time that presents itself for you (Your meeting was cancelled? Write!) as well as time you specifically give yourself (Set your alarm half an hour earlier, write on your lunch break, or go to bed a little later!). Breaking down articles of people you respect will also teach you invaluable lessons as you learn from those a little further down the writing road.
Where to start? Cal says for the next two weeks, for four hours a week, work at your one most important task. Turn off your phone and eliminate social media. Pick one activity that pushes you to concentrate and make one change to show yourself you are prioritizing your time. This will result in deep work, work that you will appreciate and find satisfaction in. Remember, the goal is to appreciate deep work and find satisfaction, not for it to seem easy.
Writing is a hard craft to learn, but the rewards are worth the effort!
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