Red and Blue, Focus and Schedule

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One of the significant challenges of writing is focusing on writing when we have to worry about schedules. We want to get words into reality, but we also have to ask if the book is on time, where the cover art is, etc. It’s hard to write when you’re worrying – and rare is the writer I’ve met who didn’t have concerns about time weigh on them.

I found a helpful perspective in the works of David Marquet. Previously I wrote about Marquet’s concept of Redwork and Bluework from Leadership is Language. It’s a valuable concept that humans work in two modes – Red (measured, time-based, measurable) and Blue (imaginative, non-linear, creative). Some of this applies to writing and worry – in a surprising way.

The act of actually writing is Redwork in many ways – putting words down following an outline or a direction. Bluework is the plotting, imagining, and outlining. In some cases, one may alter which kind of work they’re doing rapidly, but the division is useful.

Redwork may have a time component – you work for so long or deliver so many words – but it is not the time far into the future. Whatever limits and goals we set on our writing Redwork, those should focus us on the job at hand. Anything else is just disruptive.

The Bluework of writing – plotting, making timelines, etc. – is when we want to think of larger timeframes. That’s when you work out how you’re doing on your schedule or what the plan is. Bluework may be imaginative, but sometimes it takes imagination to figure out how to get a book out on time.

What I learned from this examination is that when I write, I focus on writing. If I worry about the schedule, I just focus on the writing all the more – almost like a meditation. There’s no time to think long-term, and that will just mess you up.

So now I’m working to save my worrying for when I’m not writing. If I get words down and words edited, I’ll always move forward. If I think about schedules during the Bluework of planning and review, I’ll be ready to figure out how to get to my goals.

Marquet’s idea of dividing up work into two kinds is useful, and it’s also useful to figure how they apply to various goals. I think I’ve got more lessons to learn as they apply to writing.

Steven Savage