Find Time to Write in 2019

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:

  1. Find a space that you’ll write in. Keep it clear and comfortable.
  2. Put your writing stuff out so that it’s easy to start.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. The hours you’ve set aside for writing are sacred. No coffees with friends or phone calls or meetings during this time.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

My friend Lynda sent me another tip – “At the end of the day/writing slot finish halfway through a paragraph. Or even a sentence. That way you don’t have to come up with a fresh idea from the start. You just pick up the last one and then you’re off.  That’s the theory anyway.”

I like this ide…

 

 

The Pomodoro technique

I’m writing this post because today marks the start of a writing bootcamp. I will be turning in 2,500 words a week for the next four weeks, and others on the bootcamp will be turning in between 1,000 and 10,000 words. No one is going to read them, but we’re holding each other accountable for getting words on paper.

2,500 words doesn’t sound like very much. But shall I tell you how many words I’ve written this week?

0

I’m not sure what it is I’ve been doing, but apparently it’s anything other than writing.

So I thought to kick things off, (do these words count towards the 2,500? You bet your ass they do) I’d write about writing.

Yes, I am procrastinating.

But bear with me. This is a useful technique and the only thing that has kept me on the straight and narrow when I have been on the straight and narrow.

The Pomodoro technique

pomodor

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

The idea is that you work in 25 minute chunks, with short breaks in between. The word ‘pomodoro’ means tomato in Italian. The technique is named after the tomato shaped timer Francesco used as a student.

I bought one of these in January and I use it every time I write. Somehow the quiet ticking keeps me on task. Deep work is tricky to get into but when you’ve a metronome ticking away in the background it keeps the mind focussed.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

So to do the Pomodoro technique, you set your tomato timer for 25 minutes (and you don’t need a tomato shaped timer for this!) and you work solidly, with no interruptions, on the task at hand. Put your mobile on airplane mode, lock the kids in the shed.

No. Distractions.

Then when the timer buzzes, you take 5 minutes off. Do something completely different. You keep a record of your pomodoros and breaks on a sheet of paper. Do four at a time and then take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

After a while you start to get a feel for how many pomodoros each writing task will take.

If you have top productivity tips, for writing or anything else (cleaning productivity tips extremely welcome), please drop me a note in the comments.

Wish us luck! I’ll report back once the bootcamp is finished on June 11th.

 

Put that frog in the way

The Brian Tracy book, Eat That Frog, tells us to do the important, biggest, baddest and most unpleasant task of the day first.

Fine, but it really doesn’t appeal at all. The frog is lumpy, warty, unpleasant, still alive, and most importantly there are loads of other things to do which look more fun.

But there are some things that will make it less difficult to eat. I’m going to dispense with the frog analogy now because it’s getting annoying.

The point is, if there’s a horrible task to do, put it in the way. Make it something you have to get around, over or through to get to the fun stuff. Don’t let it hide.

Last week I had to book my daughter into the doctor for some vaccinations. This was boring, and I didn’t want to do it. OK, to be brutally honest, six months ago I had to book my daughter into the doctor for some vaccinations.

Last week, I remembered I still hadn’t done it. Irritating job. Really easy to do. Would have taken me 2 minutes, but I just wasn’t doing it.

In the end, the solution was to get her red book (where her vaccination records are kept) out of the bookshelf, and leave it on my desk. I wouldn’t let myself put it away until I’d booked her in.

It kicked around on my desk for days. In the way. Really annoying me. But I wouldn’t move it until I’d made the phone call. A little later in the week it annoyed me so much I wrote the doctor’s phone number on a post it note and stuck that to the book, so it was even easier to do the job. Still didn’t do it for 48 hours though. 48 hours in which I did all sorts of other stupid unproductive things, like play with my phone, which wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Eventually, this attritional (if that’s a word) technique worked. I did it, it took 2 minutes. So put that frog in your way.