Have you ever set aside a whole day, or scheduled a full morning to write, only to find that somehow, the whole time gets wasted? Ouch.
You arrive at the allocated time, but you are sick. You sit down to write a chapter, but instead, you completely restructure your book outline, only to realise that the original one was better. You decide that mornings are your best writing time, but somehow you always have something else to do in the morning. Or you sit staring at your laptop, or page, and sink deep into the ‘I’m not good enough’ mindset.
It’s the kind of thing that can put you off writing forever. And for many people, it does. Time is so precious. We fight for time, don’t we? To feel it waste away is excruciating. Much of my life is spent wrestling with the hours and minutes hands of the clock. When it’s time for me to go to my yoga class, it always seems like I cannot spare the time – until I get there.
Creating good memories
And that is the secret. I go to my yoga class because I love it. It’s hard — especially while I’m recovering from my pushbike fall — but I remember the feeling of satisfaction, of purpose and focus from my previous classes. I drag my overworked ass off to that clear, spacious and light-filled room.
To make the most of your writing time, you must create a series of good memories. The question is how.
Yoga is a system. We follow ancient practices. All writers develop a system to get the words onto the page, to refine them and publish them. My blogging system may not be the best in the world – leave my blog to the last minute, and write it under pressure – but I do get a blog published every single week, almost without fail. It works for me. During the week, I note down ideas usually on my iPhone as I am going about my day. I run them past my assistant, Audrey, and she picks one. I write it. I have a Word template with my favourite fonts. I keep my blogs in a filing system. I start with coffee. Whatever it is, create your system. Start with a stretch, put on some music. Whatever. Follow a practice.
Work up to a big session
Week to week, my yoga sessions are just an hour long. Then I go to a retreat for several days. I’ve learned the hard way that turning up to a retreat without doing regular short bursts is a waste of the opportunity. I’m just not strong or fit enough.
It’s the same with writing. Writing is 99% momentum (and 1% inspiration). Write in ‘the cracks’ at first; an hour, here or there. Schedule small bursts of time, and set yourself the challenge to get something done – some ideas, titles, research, notes.
I love Owen McCall’s solution, capturing all his ideas in Evernote. He doesn’t worry what anyone would think about his jottings – no one ever sees them. But this keeps his momentum up.
Don’t wait for the right headspace
So many people disagree with me about this. Sorry, I am right. Necessity is the mother of creativity to misquote a truism. It’s hard to be creative on demand, but it’s not impossible.
However, if you do arrive at your allocated writing time and cannot create, do some of the ‘low-tide’ work. That is an idea I picked up from Julie and Jeff Crabtree, and it’s helpful. Writing is ‘high-tide’ work; it needs your brain to be ‘on’. Editing is a ‘low-tide’ activity – like cleaning. You can do it without using too much energy.
Set ‘personal bests’
How fast can you write a blog or a chapter of your book? Tasks expand to fill the time we give to them. If you have set aside a big chunk of time, break it into several slots – 45 minutes, 25 minutes or 90 minutes. Set a goal for each time slot and imagine a big mean person with a stick will hit you if you don’t get it done.
There’s nothing like a writing bee. By which I mean getting together with fellow bloggers and book writers to create together. The gentle clatter of everyone’s keyboards, the occasional sigh or shout of Eureka turns a writing session into a companionable, enjoyable time. Start the session by stating your ‘personal best’ goal to your writing companions. Take short breaks (a stretch, not a trip to the café) between sprints.
Go forth, oh writers. And do not waste your precious writing time.
PS: Want more? You might like: Why authors are inhuman