Kay: Joss Whedon on Getting It Done

Don't let your manuscript expire in the cold of winter over this holiday season

Don’t let your manuscript expire in the cold of winter over this holiday season

Now that we’re well into December, I’ve been squaring away travel plans and thinking about Jilly’s post on not letting your WIP go stone cold dead over the holidays. I’m planning to take my laptop with me, but it’ll just be dead weight in my suitcase if I don’t open it up and turn it on. Will I have time to write between the demands of old friends and a three-year-old? Jilly said that even five minutes is enough to jot down a note or a thought that you could expand later. That’s probably true for a lot of people. It takes me a lot more than five minutes to get my brain into the book. It takes almost five minutes just to boot up my laptop.

I’ve tried various techniques in the past to boost my productivity. I envy the writers who write one, two, or even ten thousand words a day. Is a five-minute sprint worth the effort, or should I just invest in a pack of Post-Its? How can I cram some decent writing time into my holiday vacation time?

While pondering this question, I sought enlightenment from the masters and found an interview with Joss Whedon, he of Buffy, Firefly, and Avengers fame.

Want to get more done? Whedon says, specificity about what he needs to accomplish that day is essential. When he’s working on three projects, he can’t say, “I’ll work on Project One,” because that lets him fritter away his time. Instead, he makes a list and then breaks down that list into next actions.

Here’s what I love, part one: He says, “eat dessert first.” Whatever you want to do the most, do that first. Of course you still have hard work to do on a manuscript, elements that you may not have worked through or that are more difficult than usual. But if you do the fun stuff first and save the hard stuff for the end, by the time you get to the end, you have a manuscript you mostly like already and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And here’s what I love, part two: He rewards himself early and often. He eats chocolate not just when he finishes a scene, but when he gets the idea for the scene. And you know what? It’s the holidays. Yummy stuff is everywhere. I might have a LOT of ideas.

One piece of Whedon’s working practice is advice we’ve seen often here at Eight Ladies: Fill the tanks. Watch something new, read something outside your usual preferences. When Whedon worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he got a two-week vacation every year, during which he read 10 books and saw nine plays.

People familiar with Whedon’s work know he uses his friends in his films and TV shows. Those friendships strengthened over Shakespeare readings at his house. He doesn’t mine friendships for content, but their combined creativity is the yeast that refreshes everyone’s well. Jilly mentioned hitting up friends and relations for information that could help strengthen and enrich your writing. I might have to think a bit about how my friends and relations could help me with my current project, but if I listen carefully enough, they might help me on the next one.

Finally, Whedon says, don’t make excuses. Someone will always tell you that you can’t. If you’re talking about it, you should be doing it. He quotes his wife, who says she doesn’t like to see talent go fallow. Do it for yourself and joy for the product itself.

So that’s it. I have room in my carry-on for my laptop, and I’ll be taking it. And I’ll turn it on and use it, because, hey, no excuses. What about you? Planning to write over the holidays? How will you manage it?

 n

10 thoughts on “Kay: Joss Whedon on Getting It Done

  1. OMG, I have so many scene ideas. There might not be enough chocolate in the house for all my ideas! ;-).

    The comment about specificity is so important, at least for a brain like mine. I’m going to start making that an official part of my daily work – which scene or problem or element on which project(s) are my goals for the day. Right now, project three (yes, there are three) is my playtime, because it’s so early in the process and it’s all shiny and fun. Project two is a massive revision to a first draft, and project one has already been revised but needs another lighter revision before going to critique readers. I’ve reached a point where I really do have to work on each of them every day if I’m going to meet (self-imposed) deadlines, so I’m going to take Whedon’s, and your, and Jilly’s advice and keep writing through the holiday season. With lists, and intention, and chocolate!

    • Staying specific—however small—will be key for me, too, I think. It’s not so much that I have many ideas (in fact, usually I don’t), but that chunks of time will be short while I’m gone, so if I don’t want to get frustrated, I should aim to keep my work efforts focused on something that’s achievable. Good luck with those three projects, Nancy! Sounds like you have a lot going on. 🙂

  2. Loved the Whedon article – thanks for that, Kay! Eating dessert first doesn’t work for me, I like my WIP in a nice, orderly structured menu, a little savory, then a little sweet. If I ate dessert first, I’d be done. I’m all in favor of frequent rewards, tho’. Maybe chocolate, but more likely ham sandwiches on crusty new bread, or cheese and biscuits and a nice glass of wine.

    Most of all I love the bit about doing it for yourself and for the joy of the product itself. That’s exactly how I feel.

    When I can find the time and the emotional energy I want to push on with my WIP, for the joy of it. That won’t always be possible though, so I’ve been saving up a selection of research books for the bigger picture/series and I might dip into those. At bedtime lately I’ve been reading immersive historian Ruth Goodman’s How To Be a Tudor. It’s fascinating and fun and really well-written. She also did a TV series for BBC called Tudor Monastery Farm – I might check that out. Other TBR choices include astronomer Fred Hoyle’s autobiography, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, Simon Singh’s Big Bang and Robert Hazen’s The Story of Earth. Lots of good stuff to fill the tanks!

    Edited to add – oh, yes, and I forgot – lots of kung fu movies!! 😉

    • You’re doing some serious reading! Well, except for the kung fu movies. Watching those would certainly put a kick into Christmas. The good thing about advice and observing the working habits of others is that you can take what you like and then skip the rest. Have fun doing what you want or need to do for your WIP over the holidays!

  3. I’m trying to get an entry ready for the Golden Heart. If I don’t work through the holidays, I might as well save my twenty-five bucks.

    • There’s nothing like deadline pressure to find the incentive to sit down at the keyboard. I’m sure you’ll be ready, Jeanne—and I hope to see you at the winners’ podium again this year!

  4. Oooh, fallow talent. I will have to ruminate on that one.

    I have been trying all year to write the fun stuff — not just first. I keep falling back into horrible old Puritan practices where I think, “No, I’ve got to do this bit first, then I can do the fun stuff.” And of course, nothing gets done. Bleh. I’ve got 20 days left; I can write some fun stuff first.

    Third thing: it takes me awhile to get my head into the game, too. And if I don’t know I’ve got 45 minutes blocked out, it’s very hard for me to do anything. That’s all nonsense in my case. I often have that much time: I just think first I’m going to treat myself to a little something on the internet, to get my head in the game. And it never works! Insanity on my part, utter insanity.

    (-: Identifying the problems: first step complete. Next, identifying some actions that I actually will take.

  5. Pingback: Jilly: Christmas and Community – Eight Ladies Writing

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