A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. – Don DeLillo
For the first half of last year, I was failing to write. I had the time, but I wasn’t taking the time. My diary was a mess of commitments all over the days and evenings, with no regular space to write. So despite having hours between school runs, I wasn’t doing it.
What I was doing was soaking up every spare minute on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And a bunch of other things. I felt I was being productive and staying on top of stuff. I was drinking from a fire hose of information.
In the end I had to carve out the time to write. I had to protect that time. And I had to get over the fear of failure that meant I was allowing myself to drift.
I haven’t entirely got this thing licked, but here’s a four part guide to what I’ve done so far:
1 – Identify the best time to write
Work out when you write best. Personally it’s mid morning. Your mileage may vary.
There’s a fair chance that this time won’t be available to you. You’ll be at work, studying or looking after your kids, parents, or dog.
So now you have two choices.
Work out the second best time to write, or move your life to create a chunk of time for yourself every day.
2 – Protect the time
Once you’ve found and cleared time to write, protect it fiercely. Don’t schedule things in or around it. You will fail, you will schedule a haircut over it by mistake, or be hungover and miss it, but don’t give up.
Keep making that commitment to protect the time, and eventually you’ll get there if you want it enough. Eventually it will seem insane to you to arrange something during this time, this is your writing time. Every day.
3 – Look after yourself
You’re not going to do your best writing if you’re tired or stressed. Make another commitment to yourself, to sleep properly. To drink water. To eat meals at the proper times. To exercise. To fill the creative well by reading and watching films and looking out of the window and being in the world so that when you come to write, you have ideas.
When you come to write, you’ll likely find your brain is full of nonsense. So your first task when you sit down to write is to empty your mind as much as possible.
Journal (write about how you feel and what you’re doing that day) for as long as it takes to get all this bilge out of your system. Interesting off shoots can be saved for the beginnings of creative ideas later.
Then finally, write. Not in a vaguely committed way, but in a 100% committed way. There will be days when this doesn’t work. But go back to it, day in, day out, and use these strategies to make it easier for yourself:
The red carpet
Anything that makes it easier to sit down and write is a red carpet. Here are a few ideas:
- Find a space that you’ll write in. Keep it clear and comfortable.
- Put your writing stuff out so that it’s easy to start.
- Use timers. Set an alarm to remind you that it’s writing time. Use a timer to keep focus. Either a pomodoro timer, or an app like Be Focused or Flora.
- Make a playlist that you’re only ‘allowed’ to listen to while you’re writing. No coffee until your writing time! Be strict with yourself.
- If you’re stuck for ideas, remember that writing is a 3 bucket problem.
The velvet rope
Anything that dissuades you from procrastinating is a velvet rope.
- The hours you’ve set aside for writing are sacred. No coffees with friends or phone calls or meetings during this time.
- If you’re at home, you’re not in ‘home’ mode. You’re in ‘work’ mode. No doing housework because you’ve got writing to do. (That’s my excuse for not doing the ironing and I’m sticking to it.)
- Log out of apps every time you use them. Remove any that aren’t essential. Turn notifications off. Recently I’ve used Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ feature to lock my apps down between 9 and 3. Airplane mode is your friend.
- Consider how many social networks you need. I deleted LinkedIn and Instagram last year, and I don’t miss them much. Consider also whether reading 100 tweets on 100 different subjects is good for your focus. I find it scattering. I’m trying to avoid reading my Twitter feed even outside of my writing time.
- Consider deleting good but addictive apps. If DuoLingo is what gets you back into a phone based spiral, it might need to go, no matter how good your Mandarin is getting.
4 – Publish/perform
There’s nothing like putting your work into the world to make you actually finish it. And what you have to do to achieve this, if you’ve not already, is embrace failure.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett
Stop aiming for perfect and get your stuff out there. There is no other way to get proper feedback on what you’re doing. If it stinks, it stinks. You will know by the big, fat bundle of tumbleweed that rolls in gleeful donuts around your work. And then what do you do? You make a fresh cup of tea and write something new.
I’ve found it enormously helpful to book hard deadlines for myself in the form of comedy gigs. Nothing gets me writing more than the thought of standing on stage with nothing to say. There’s no need to choose something this terrifying, but whatever works for you.
What are your favourite writing tips? Let’s help each other get a lot of words down this year.