At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, comic book writers, students, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and processes because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?
Meet Robert Tomoguchi
Robert Tomoguchi is a writer (and one of Freedom’s biggest champions on social media!) based in Southern California. Dedicated to his craft since the age of thirteen, he has penned stage and screenplays and is the author of several books including The Scribbled Victims, Scribbling the Eternal, and The Last Midnight. Robert fits his writing career around a full-time day-job, which means he has to be extra disciplined about making the time for pursuing his passion. We were excited to catch up with Robert and learn about his creative inspiration, and how he stays committed to pursuing his childhood dream.
How did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what were your first steps in making this your career?
I began writing poetry at age thirteen and found that I enjoyed playing with the arrangement of words. A few years later, I happened upon the novella The Dead by James Joyce in an anthology we were given in high school so we could read Billy Budd by Herman Melville. I wasn’t sleepy by the time I finished the Melville story, so I started reading the Joyce story while sitting in bed and didn’t put the book down until I reached the end. The story was so beautifully written that when I read its final sentences I knew I wanted to be a writer and hoped one day I could write something beautiful.
That dream has never changed and I’m still working at it. At this time I can’t call writing my career as I still have a day job, but a significant step I took at age eighteen, which made writing something more than a pastime, was enrolling in my first writing workshop.
At what point did you realize that technology was taking a toll on your productivity and time?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe I realized how addicted I was to checking emails and scrolling through social media until 2018 when I noticed repeatedly after closing Facebook on my browser, I would compulsively open a new tab and sign back in within seconds of just having closed it. That behavior got in the way of getting things done, especially my writing. That’s what led me to look for a way to prevent myself from habitually checking for messages or the latest updates. During that search, I found your Freedom app and it changed everything.
There’s something Zen-like about watching as Freedom blocks my windows and turns the screen green… it resets me. It removes stress. It makes me eager to work only on what is most important to me, and that’s always my writing.
What time-management strategies or techniques do you use as a writer to meet your deadlines?
I recently began testing a new system where I mark a deadline date on my calendar to reach a particular plot point in my work-in-progress. Every morning, I write on a Post-it note an easily achievable goal of what I want to accomplish that day to get closer to that plot point and I stick the Post-it note on today’s date on my calendar. At the end of my writing session, I remove the Post-it and write what I actually accomplished on the calendar.
I give myself easily achievable goals because taking small steps toward a larger goal is easier for me to face, and so I am more likely to sit down and actually write. So far the system has proved successful. But more significantly (and I hope this won’t make this interview sound like a commercial), I use Freedom. When I start a session on Freedom, it doesn’t just block distractions, it tells me that it’s time to get to work. Usually, when I set the block, I have multiple email tabs open.
There’s something Zen-like about watching as Freedom blocks my Gmail windows and turns the screen light green with the butterfly icon breathing slowly and rhythmically, and then seeing a message telling me that I’m free. As one tab gets blocked, I click on the next tab and watch it get blocked too. It resets me. It removes stress. It makes me eager to work only on what is most important to me, and that’s always my writing.
How do you motivate yourself to write when it’s tough?
Again, Freedom helps with this as I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to the green screen that appears when I set a block. But once the block is on, if I feel stuck on what to write I can usually just re-read what I wrote in my last writing session. In doing that, I always find things I can re-write, try to express better, and hopefully say more beautifully. Once I’ve gone through those rewrites, I can usually move on to writing new sentences.
Do you have a pre-work ritual or routine that helps you get in the zone?
As I’m now writing the third book in a trilogy, I’ve been with my main character, Orly Bialek, for years. Sometimes I just ask her, “Orly, what do you wanna do today?” and that gets the gears turning. Sometimes I make up new situations for her to negotiate or give her dialogue to respond to and I just watch to see how she reacts. Sometimes these impromptu scenes end up in the story. I also have Orly playlists on Spotify that match the tone of her books. Listening to them helps put me in the right mood to write her character.
How do you incorporate Freedom into your daily working routine?
To be honest, I don’t always remember to incorporate it into my daily working routine. Since I have a day job, my writing sessions on weekdays are typically shorter than they are on weekends. For some reason, this means I often forget to activate Freedom on weekdays, but hardly ever forget on weekends. I need to work on this, perhaps by scheduling automatic Freedom sessions, but I haven’t had the courage to do so yet because the length of my workdays often varies, especially now while working from home due to the pandemic. But in general, my writing sessions are longer and more productive during the sessions when Freedom is running because it keeps me in my chair and focused longer.
I give myself easily achievable goals because taking small steps toward a larger goal is easier, which means I am more likely to sit down and actually write
What advice would you give younger writers in regard to staying productive and focused?
Try to write every day. The more you do it the better you will become at it. Additionally, writing frequently keeps you connected with your work which helps propel your creativity and allows you to finish pieces. I know writing every day isn’t an easy thing to do. I don’t always succeed at it myself. Sometimes I feel too drained by my day job to write at the end of the day.
I also go through periods of depression where it’s emotionally difficult to find the motivation to do anything, let alone write. But just try to do it anyway, even if it’s writing just one new sentence. In my online to-do list (I use Todoist), I have a daily task that says “Write for 10 minutes.” I chose ten minutes because it’s easier to get myself to sit down and write for ten minutes than if I had prescribed one hour. And usually, if I can get myself to write for just ten minutes, I’ll become engrossed in what I’m doing and then realize I’ve been writing for forty-five minutes instead. So just do your best to try.
When you are writing, commit to the time you’ve given yourself to write by only writing, without trying to do other things at the same time. Emails and status updates can wait. This applies to work emails too because you won’t know if your boss has emailed you unless you check your email. So don’t check while you’re writing. If something is on fire, someone will call you.
What is the hardest part about being a writer?
I imagine it varies by writer, but for me, it’s dealing with feelings of failure and self-doubt. Feeling like what I’ve written isn’t good enough, that my stories aren’t compelling, or that none of my sentences are beautiful. I struggle with a lot of negative self-talk, but I work on this with my very patient psychologist.
What environments are most productive for you?
Pre-pandemic, I did a lot of writing in cafés, largely because while in public there isn’t the temptation of crawling back into bed. I wrote most of Scribbling the Eternal at Starbucks Store #20537 and thanked them in the acknowledgments for all the coffee drinks they made me and for allowing me to sit there for so many months.
Now that we’ve been in quarantine for nearly a year, I’ve learned to write at home for long periods without going back to bed even though I’m usually writing in pajamas. Freedom helps with this as I know I feel guilty if I’m lying in bed while there’s an active Freedom session running, because I know I’m supposed to be writing then.
What inspires you to improve your craft?
Reading the work of other writers. When I read beautifully crafted sentences or passages that evoke strong emotions in me, I flag them and try to learn from them. I’m often overcome by admiration (and sometimes envy) for what other authors have accomplished and it makes me want to do better in my own work.
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay productive?
For me, sleep is the biggest factor in relation to my productivity. I’m a morning person and go to bed at 7:30 p.m. and try to sleep for at least nine and a half hours. I need a lot of sleep, and going to bed early allows me to get the sleep I need while still being able to wake up early to get my work done. On weekdays, this means I’m finished at my day job by mid-afternoon and still have a couple of hours to write before dinner and my evening walk.
On weekends, I’m up early enough to have time to read, exchange video messages with my BFF over coffee, respond to emails, check social media, do online banking, and hang out with my tarantulas before settling into a longer writing session. Last Saturday I wrote for eight hours (which is exceptionally long for me) and was still done by 6 p.m. in time for my evening walk.
What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
I’ve been working on Orly’s final book in her Black Wax Vampire Trilogy since June of 2019. It’s called Scribbles of the Empress. I hope to finish it by early 2022. Compared to other authors I see posting in Facebook groups, I’m a pretty slow writer so I hope those who read and liked the first two books in the trilogy (The Scribbled Victims and Scribbling the Eternal) will think the third book was worth the wait.
As you can probably guess by the series name, the trilogy is about vampires, but the books focus largely on the different types of love between people and the downsides of being immortal. The need for human blood for survival is secondary. The series protagonist, Orly Bialek, was turned into a vampire at age twelve in order to prevent her from dying from leukemia. Because of this, she is immortalized in the guise of a child. As she continues to mature mentally and emotionally, she is in a constant struggle to find mature love as the adult she truly is inside.
This final book is definitely the most internalized look at her character which I feel is making it the most difficult one to write. I’m actually not looking forward to reaching the end of the trilogy. As I’ve been writing Orly’s character since 2014, I’ve grown so attached to her that I feel like I’m already beginning to grieve her loss with the prospect of finishing her story. I have three stand-alone novels I plan to write afterward, but I haven’t decided which one I’ll attempt first.