Writing can be fun and exhilarating, and writing can be dull and tedious. It’s a pleasure; it’s a chore. We all have projects we’re working on that excite us, that we can’t wait to get started on, that we know will be great. Many of us also have projects we’re working on that don’t quite thrill us. Usually, the projects that don’t quite thrill us are those that we’re paid to do. Freelance writers do all sorts of work: articles, reviews, script coverage, ghostwriting, advertising copy, blogs, editing the work of others, etc. The fun sort of writing tends to be our own stories that we’re dying to tell, but that personal work often isn’t for pay. Sure, if it’s great we might eventually make some money off of it, but a good portion of the work we enjoy doing will never see the light of day. There may be no deadline for our personal work, but there’s also no guarantee that it’s going to end up published or filmed or even read. Freelance work almost always comes with a deadline, and while some freelance projects can be great fun, most are not; but freelance work also comes with a set fee, and, for me, making money writing is better than making money cooking hamburgers, so I do occasionally trudge through work I’m not thrilled about, because I know it might lead to other, better jobs.
Sometimes, though, a freelance assignment can be like torture to finish, not hanging from a hook while a group of Satanists prepare you for sacrifice torture, but torture nonetheless. I have trouble focusing on any project I’m not passionate about. There are days when I wake up and know that I have hours of work to do on an assignment that’s not fulfilling, when all I really want to do is work on the fun stuff. (I still haven’t finished my Exorcist meets Deliverance screenplay, which is going to be totally awesome.) How do I soldier on and get through a job when I can’t focus? There are many ways to fight your way through a tough assignment, even the ones that seem to be poking at your brain with a sharp stick.
Simply telling yourself to focus is akin to telling yourself to stop thinking about your missing cat or the love of your life who just broke your heart. Unless Leonardo Dicaprio is going to invade your dreams and plant the idea that you should focus, it’s probably not going to happen on a dull project. So, what to do?
The method that works best for me is the “end of rainbow” technique. This doesn’t involve munchkins or leprechauns. I just think, “Once I finish this mind-numbing article on power tools, I can go write about slow-moving zombies and punish my enemies through Living Dead fiction.” I realize that the sooner I finish my gripping, edge-of-your-seat power tool article, I can move on to work I want to do. Often, this will give me the proper motivation, and I will speed up and grind out that power tool article in record time. I know there’s good stuff ahead, so I convince myself to work harder so I can get there. It’s like delayed gratification of the literary kind: write the boring crap now, save your treat for later. (And if you think power tools are the epitome of thrilling, I apologize for offending you.)
Another method to try–which goes against everything I usually believe in as a writer–is to procrastinate. I don’t mean a full-on “Screw this writing” type of procrastination, more like procrastination in short bursts. Write for a few minutes, then take a break. Have a cookie. Watch five or ten minutes of “Project Runway” or “True Blood,” or surf the web for a brief time, then get back to work. If you’ve got four hours worth of unexciting writing to do, give your mind a break every hour or so, but just for a few minutes; anything longer than that, and you might never find your way back to your project. Just be sure to keep that dreaded deadline in mind.
It’s also good to remember than not everyone can write well. Nowadays, a lot people who’ve been properly educated can hardly even spell. So be proud of yourself. You’re writing, and that’s pretty great no matter what the subject. Your brain is working, your thoughts flowing, your fingers tapping, you’re shaping ideas with words. So what if your subject matter today isn’t the bee’s knees? You’re writing. And that’s pretty cool.