I’ve been quiet on the blog lately and I apologise. My excuse is that in this part of the world, it’s school holidays, and I’ve wound everything right back so I don’t spend all day in the attic and neglect my family.
School returns next week so I’m gearing up for that, and I’ve already made a start on my ‘new and improved’ writing routine.
You see, I was a bit disappointed with how little I wrote in 2016. I edited in the first half of the year, and after that, I really didn’t do much new writing. I tried to start a second novel, twice, but both attempts fizzled, and at the end of the year, I had nothing to show for my labours—no pile of pages with words on them. I felt quite annoyed at myself and my lack of productivity.
The thing about writing a novel is that it’s completely up to you—it’s your decision whether to write or not. There’s no boss holding you accountable, no client to let down. It’s easy to prioritise things other than writing, because you can. So I did.
At the end of the days in which I barely wrote a word, I’d berate myself and plan to do better the next. But the next day would come and I’d do pretty much the same thing. The unproductive days began to accumulate, and became weeks, then months, and before I knew it, it was November and the kids had exams, and then it was December and Christmas, and the year was gone.
So, in early January I sat down to sort out my year because I wanted to make changes, and I realised a few things about writing and me:
1. I can’t write if I’m worried about something, or if there are things going on like kids’ exams or a renovation, so I shouldn’t even try or I just end up frustrated and disappointed.
2. If I don’t start writing early in the day, I don’t start writing. The longer I faff around, the less likely I am to write.
I’m most productive if I rise while everyone’s still asleep and the sun’s not yet up, and head straight to my computer. My brain is at its peak in those hazy, pre-dawn hours, and if I start then, it seems to set a tone for the whole day—my brain doesn’t really get out of the world of my novel, even while I’m doing other things.
But if I rise and check emails, scroll Facebook, read new blog posts, peruse the articles that have appeared overnight, get annoyed at Donald Trump’s latest tweet, then I don’t get into that zone.
3. As the day goes on, I get tired and feel less like writing. This happens as the week progresses, too.
4. Mondays are messy. It’s hard getting back into the writing routine after the weekend, and I need time on a Monday to sort out my week, stock up on food, and just get the house in order.
5. I have many interruptions over which I have no control, and there’s no point getting annoyed about them. Kids will forget their lunch/sport gear/music books/assignments:
How can I refuse requests like those?
I’ve also learnt to accept that:
Technology fails sometimes and, yes, it can take hours to fix.
Things around the house wear out and people ring the doorbell when they arrive to fix them. They’re also in the house for a couple of hours while they do.
University students don’t stay at Uni when they don’t have lectures and when they come home, they bring friends and talk to each other and watch TV and movies even though their mother’s upstairs trying to write a novel.
Neighbours renovate and their builders don’t give a sh*t that someone is trying to write while they use vibration compactors and buzz saws and sing loudly to a blaring radio.
6. However, I also have a lot of interruptions I can control. I can turn off the internet. I can stop my phone pinging. I can not check my email.
7. I’ve realised, too, that I hate starting a new project because I don’t know where to start. A blank canvas and its endless possibilities is way too open-ended, and I’d much rather edit something I’ve already written.
8. I’d also much rather write for my blog or newsletter than write the first draft of a novel.
9. And I’d rather take photos than write a first draft. Then I’d rather look at the photos I’ve just taken than write.
10. However, my biggest time-sucker is the internet—I think I’d hide my face in shame if I knew how many hours I’d whiled away reading and scrolling and commenting, all the time telling myself this article or that blog post is helping me as a writer.
So that’s where I ended up—realising that if I wanted to write a second novel, I needed to make a few changes.
So I have:
1. I’ve prioritised my novel
It’s now the first thing I do in the morning and I don’t do anything else until I’ve reached my word count.
Everything else waits, even exercise—the dogs don’t mind walking in the evening. As for housework—I don’t even look at it until the words are down.
I’ve prioritised my novel over writing for my blog and newsletter, too—the novel must get done first. (Hence the delay in posting this …)
2. I’ve set a daily word count goal
I plugged the proposed length of my novel into Scrivener, along with a date by which I’d like to have it finished, and the days I wanted to write (weekdays). Scrivener then worked out how many words a day I need to write, and it adjusts if I go under or over—I haven’t gone under yet!
3. I bought ‘Freedom’
‘Freedom‘ is an internet-blocking app. It’s free, but I loved it so much I paid $29 for the annual subscription with all the extras. I’ve added it to all my devices, including my phone and iPad, programmed the time I want it to start and finish, and selected the days I want it to come on.
And if I try to access a site while it’s blocked, I get this:
I know it’s sad that I need an app to block me from the internet, but I’ve given up trying to improve my flaws and just work around them now!
4. I’ve found an ‘accountability partner’
I try not to let people down, and mostly I succeed. When my structural and line edits come for my novel, and I’m given a deadline by which to have them finished, I know I’ll get them done. Because I won’t want to let my publisher down.
But no one’s waiting for my second novel—if I don’t write today or tomorrow, no one cares. My deadlines are self-imposed and if I don’t meet them, it doesn’t matter.
So, I’ve found someone to help keep me on track and (metaphorically) whip me if I don’t. We’ll whip each other. I also roped in my husband and he checks up on me, too. And now I’ve made it all public, so I’ll have egg all over my face if I fail!
5. I’ve rationalised my commitments
I’m still working on this one, but already I’ve culled some commitments because (a) they were inessential, or (b) they were taking up too much of my time, or (c) both of the above. So they had to go …
6. I’m going to bed earlier
I’ve got a way to go on this one …
I don’t think I’ve revealed anything startling here, but at the moment this is working for me. Of course, things will change as the year progresses, and when I get my structural edits, they will become the priority until they’re done.
A few years ago, I realised that writing begets writing. Once I’d started a writing habit, it got harder to break. Not only that, but my brain didn’t completely switch off even when I wasn’t writing, not even when I was sleeping.
I’ve also realised that I probably needed that time off last year—I faffed because I needed a break and needed time to sort out the new story—it wasn’t ready to be written.
Now, it’s ready and seems to be taking off on its own—it’s not the path I’d sketched for it, but I’m happy to follow and see where we end up.
Writers in the Attic
With school returning next week, I’m nearly ready to start Writers in the Attic again. If you’re interested in writing for it, please drop me line via the Contact page. I’ll follow a similar format to last year: about 600-1000 words about your writing life or what writing means to you.
If I publish it, I’ll send a $20 book voucher as a thank you gift.
A reminder that I send out a monthly newsletter with lots of extras that aren’t on the blog—news, writing tips, reviews of books I’ve read, quotes, photos, and more.
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