Friday, 7 January 2011


Of my writing resolutions for 2011, I've realised there's one that's more important to get right than the others, and it's the one I've battled with since I started writing about 5 years ago. I listed it as be less distracted by the internet in my resolutions post, but more broadly it's about being focused when I'm 'writing'.

What I really want to get better at this year is using the time outside of my paid job in a more meaningful way. And, actually, it goes beyond writing, and into looking after my well being too.

The most frustrating thing I am prone to doing is being at my desk, wanting to write, but being unable to make the mental commitment to doing it. It's ridiculous, and I completely agree with people who champion the fact that writing isn't that hard - just fooking do it.

I want to make things easier for my brain. And what I tell you next is not mind blowing or revolutionary in the least, in fact it's simple and makes sense but for whatever reason I haven't tried it before now.


For the past 3 days I have changed one small thing that has had a huge impact on what I've written.

Do not go online until you have achieved X, Y and maybe one more thing, Z.

At the start of each day I've decided what X and Y and sometimes Z are, so today:

X = 500 more words on the book
Y = re-edit of short story for Mslexia comp
Z = more work on other book-in-progress

(Z isn't always there, it depends how much time I have in that day to dedicate to writing.)

No emails are checked, no blogs read, no online news fixes quenched until I've ticked off each thing to do for that day. And, it's going really well.

It's not a new thing for me to make lists or find new ways of making lists or attempt new ways of being productive or find new ways to measure productivity but isn't this just the most straight forward way of doing things, ever?

I must credit Nicola Morgan here, for her post just after the new year. Nicola looked back on 2010 and realised she'd really not kept her 2 fairly simple resolutions to put writing at the top of her work priorities, and relax and exercise each day.

It was something about Nicola's realisation that these 2 things - writing and taking care of herself - are the most important things she should attend to in her day that stayed with me after reading her post.

That writing should come first before all else is like I said, simple, unrevolutionary stuff, but gets to the core of what I've been trying to work out for ages.

So, there it is. Three days of doing this and I've written more, read more, relaxed a lot more, and felt in control because it's easier to measure my progress.

Aside from 'No Internet until X Y and Sometimes Z' I've also stopped using the computer for writing or online meanderings after 6pm. This helps distinguish between working and not working, and is probably better for my eyes and my back and my head.

If you're prone to email/FB/google distraction I'd urge you to try these 2 things - though I also know that finding ways to work is a personal thing. If you do try it, let me know. Or tell us how you already focus your writing time.


essygie said...

I've been doing this off and on most of my writing life and I have to say, it's the single most effective way of getting you focused - even if I switch off my network so I can't go online, I just find other ways to waste time (including staring into space and holding long conversations with my characters in my head, my two favourite ways to procrastinate!)

However, I do also find that whilst "No such and such until XY & Z" method works, it doesn't work all the time. There will come a time when my energy flags and I find myself procrastinating even though XY & Z haven't got done. I get into a rut, this goes on a while and then I get so bored and frustrated with not writing that I end up getting back on the XY & Z wagon with renewed determination to not fall off it ever again.

Which makes me think that being a writer's a bit like being an addict (I used to be a smoker) - only instead of trying to kick the habit, I'm trying to acquire it...

Rachel Fenton said...

I have trouble making myself switch the internet on! Since my son got more active I find my routine is gone but I need to write. My kids come first, then writing then t'other stuff in a naturally prioritising/organic type way. I respond fairly promptly to emails (check five mins max morning, same just before bed - bit flexi at weekends)else I'd forget all about them, but beyond that it's just me and the page. I think for me it was the realisation that all the networking etc is only any use if I've got a product to sell - need to write that product first. I felt a huge pressure to have a "platform" when I started blogging but now I'm a bit more focussed on what matters and what's important to me. Sorry if I sound obnoxious there. Hmn, so I made the transition from writing for myself to writing with purpose.

Maybe some internet detox to break the tinterweb/feedback high cycle?!

Your plan sounds great - best of luck with all your projects - you can achieve anything!

Miles said...

I realised recently that my ratio of 'being online/blogging/updating' to actually 'writing and making films' was a bit out of whack - about 50-50 - so I now make sure I have a ratio of at least 75% work versus 25% 'faffing around'.

Thing is though, the 'faffing around' often helps the germination of ideas and gives some perspective on the work you're doing. It's not always easy. I think when the alarm bells start sounding that you've started to feel like you're arsing about online and reporting on what you're (not) doing is when you have to knuckle down and set yourself a new daily/weekly/monthly target, and then make sure you stick to it.

So if you do one for January, so will I. Right now! We can report back to each other if that helps!


Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Essy - yes, good point about the times when you really just don't feel like it. We have to able to recognise that, and not interpret it as being lazy / procrastinating. I'll keep a check on it. I'm also making sure that one day per week I don't do any writing or working in my other job, so one 'clear' day. It's all a bit trial and error, isn't it?!

Rachel - you seem to have such balance, I love it. "I think for me it was the realisation that all the networking etc is only any use if I've got a product to sell - need to write that product first."
YES! Totally agree. When I started my blog an older, wider, published writer friend told me to make sure blogging always came after 'proper' writing and I try to keep that in mind. We only have a certain amount of energy each day (or I do) need to use it well. Thanks for your encouragement too :)

Millsy - well you've come off FB haven't you? Was that part of your ratio rebalancing? I agree with you about good coming from faff. And that when you know, in your stomach, that you're not doing anything useful you should stop. I think for me it ties in with what I just said to Rachel up there, that energy is important - use it well. I realised I had a problem with this the other week - I noticed how I'd have a really good 'writing' head on, then I'd suddenly want to do something else like check my emails or FB or have a bath, oddly. (Not take a bath in an odd way, mind.) The crux for me right now is I want to write my book, you know the one, and I want to make good, consistent progress with it.

Do you mean do a daily word count for January? At the mo, on days when I can write I'm doing 500 per day on the book, as well as edits of short stories for submissions. But it can vary, it depends what's coming up, deadlines etc. What kind of targets are you making?

Miles said...

Sorry, didn't check back on this for ages.

I did delete my personal FB account but had to keep one for the filmmaking, so strictly only filmmakery friends on it, no updates, no wall, no cute singing cat clips or whatever.

I tried a daily word count for the novel for a while but what works best for me is the Joss Whedon thing I mentioned about feeding whatever's hungry and whatever cries for attention.

I also find setting myself 'ultimate deadlines' works best. Although one of my heroes Bryan Lee O'Malley (who wrote the Scott Pilgrim books) says if he sets himself 2 pages a day he writes more than if he set himself 20 pages a fortnight.

Doesn't work for me, I've found. Hence I'm doing:

A chapter of the novel a month, so 5,000ish words or 1,000ish a week (which is only a page a day). As long as I do the chapter a month it doesn't matter if I miss a few days' deadlines. So I could write 1,000 one day and 2,000 another and that's the way it's going. I just passed 30,000 words.

I'm also writing three short films to follow up the one I'm currently shooting, and they have to be all done by the end of March, so I'm doing bits of dialogue when they inspire me.

What about you, do you find the long term goals work better than the daily ones? Everyone's different innit.


Teresa Stenson said...

You're different. 'Different'.

I like a mixture - I have yearly goals, then monthly ones, then weekly ones. Oh and daily ones.

I made a list of things I wanted to do in January and I keep looking at it to see if I'm on track. Keeps me in my own wider picture. Innit.

YOu are so freaking fast with your novel writing, especially with all the other things you're writing and filming. You big fast writer, you.

Well done, really. See you soon xx

Miles said...

Thanks dear. NOW I've passed 30K words. I realised I still had 6 pages of notes at the end, and they don't count so I took em out which brought the count down to 28K.

Happy to say I have now done it. Now all I have to do is write the same amount again, and then some.

Buhhhhhhhhhhhhh x

Miles said...


Teresa Stenson said...

Nice one, Millsy - 30K is ace, man. So is 28K. And 27K. And all the other ones. Keep going, keep going.

That link is great - I will proabably include it in my next blog post here, thanks Linkylinkson x