A contract for creativity

I minored in psychology in college, and I’m a huge fan of anything that makes me feel more organized, more in control, and better able to manage the 10,000 things I have to do all the time. Lists help a lot, as do deadlines, but what about creating a self-imposed contract? An intriguing idea.

Aimee Bender, the talented author of most recently The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, has this enlightening piece in the latest O Magazine that talks about her decision to create a writing contract with a friend that would allow for each of them to maintain certain very specific writing rules complete with confirmation e-mails that each had stuck to their previously agreed-to commitments. I love her line about the parallels between writing and psychology: “Although psychotherapy and writing are distinct in many ways, they are two fields whose great resource is the vast plains of the unconscious mind and how this landscape gets translated into words.” So true.

For many writers, the ability to work in solitude is both liberating and daunting. Sometimes it’s hard to motivate when there isn’t anyone there to encourage you. And when you’re feeling a spell of procrastination coming on, the water cooler at work is a good way to get a few minutes of down time before heading back to the task at hand. When you work alone, you don’t have that luxury, and when the Internet in many cases  is your sole companion, it becomes way too easy to get sucked into an unproductive cycle. Then again, you can get sucked in anywhere really, but that’s another story (see my recent post about technology).

A contract makes you accountable for your own time and how you spend it. When you commit to writing for a certain period of time each day, or 5 days a week, or whatever works for your own life and schedule, it allows you the time to breathe outside of that without the nagging feeling of always feeling like you should be doing more.

What do you think about this for your own writing, and would you consider doing it? Would you want to team up with a partner to check that you are meeting your contractual obligations? Let us know what you think, and if you’d be willing to experiment and give it a try. I suspect the act of creating the contract alone would make you feel more in control, more motivated, and more productive.


5 Responses to A contract for creativity

  1. Joelle says:

    This was pretty interesting. I don’t actually have trouble getting myself to write (or enjoying my weekends), although, it usually takes me most of the day to get my two hours in (and not because of the internet – mostly just because I like to think a lot, and sometimes read during the day too). I’ve tried various “disciplines” and goals and I just am a slow worker. I’m okay with that.

    However, I’ve always wanted to learn to speak French. I studied it in school, and for twenty years I’ve been saying, “I’m going to learn it.” Now I live in Canada, and know quite a lot of people who speak French and yet…five years on, I haven’t done it. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll make a contract to study French one hour a day. My writing partner would probably be happy to be my check-in person. Thanks for the idea. I’ll let you know how it goes in three months. En francais!

  2. Joelle says:

    P.S. I might actually try to get my husband to make a contract like this with me for both of us to turn our computers off by 6pm – the problem with working from home!

  3. D. C. DaCosta says:

    I knew someone who was self-employed and not very successful. Finally, he said, “You’re fired. You no longer work for yourself, you work for [made up employer name]. He won’t tolerate any slacking off.” By inventing a fictional “boss” he had to please, he was able to focus on the job, and eventually succeeded.

    I don’t need to go that far, but I do try to make sure that every day includes at least three hours of uninterrupted time for writing.

    And no lunch until the time is up.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion. I like it and I’m going to seek a writing partner this week. I’ve had success with this kind of teamwork on other projects. As for my writing habit, I try to write the same length of time each day, though the time of day varies.

  5. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I have never actually sat down and written out a contract. I have not needed help with the motivation to write; however, the follow through was a problem. I would have all these ideas but not fully develop them. It was actually my husband who began to help me with it. He would simply start asking me every few days how my writing was coming. It got to the point that I would write something and anticipate him asking me so that we could talk about it. I would be so excited to tell him how my story was developing that I couldn’t wait to get home from work so that I could write another scene. It really did help in developing a habit of writing everyday, even if it is just editing.

    While I do like the idea of a written contract, I honestly think that simply having a partner would work best for me. I crave input and feedback so I can know as soon as possible if I really need to rework something.

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