#Beattheblock: Tip 2 – Routine is your friend

Welcome back to#BeattheBlock

Today’s rule: Routine is your friend.

You read it all the time in writing advice blogs. Write for at least two hours a day. Cue delirious laughter. Yes thank you Mr King, might we remind you that you sit around all day and your day job is writing. Two hours a day to you is easy. I, however, am juggling family, a full time job, a blog, studying for an important qualification, an attempt at a social life and you know, sleep. I am lucky if I have ten minutes to throw together some food, nevermind block out two hours a DAY to write.

For most people, two hours a day is a pipe dream. Least it is for me. And the reason can be summarised in a nice, simple four letter word. Life. Life has this magical talent of getting in the way of a lot of things. Today’s advice is simple, embrace that. Don’t try and stop it getting in the way. You’ll end up stressed, everyone you know will hate you and when you take ten minutes to take stock, you’ll realise you’ve achieved even less than you had planned to in the first place. If you try and squeeze writing in whenever you have ten minutes, you’ll never find those ten minutes. Life will get in the way. It does that.

So have a routine. For some people its getting up an hour early (my idea of hell) to write for an hour before they get to work. For others I know, its blocking out Sunday afternoon (while the husband is watching the football and the kids are round at their friends). Me personally, it is my lunch hour. I plug myself in, get out a pen and paper and ignore everyone for an hour. (Fair warning, this option may result in your colleagues thinking you are a tad weird, what with the talking to yourself, miming out fight sequences and those few words they read over your shoulder that give them cause to worry about your mental state). But the point is, it happens every day. Everyone I work with knows that that is my writing time. And more importantly, so does my brain. Even if I sit there for the entire time on Pinterest looking at pictures of Colin O’Donoghue (hubba hubba) and calling it character research or just staring out of the window as I try to make sense of my latest plot disaster, it is progress. It is time my brain knows is dedicated to writing.

If you wait for inspiration to strike, you could be waiting a long time. It is our excuse as writers. “Why haven’t you finished your book yet Maxi?” *shakes her head in sadness* “Writer’s block.” Writer’s block exists. I used to think it was a state of mind but it isn’t. Sometimes, you just get stuck. The problem I always had was getting unstuck. Not because there wasn’t a solution but because I never gave myself time to think myself out of my problem. If you have a routine, you don’t feel guilty when you do spend that hour just thinking. Sometimes as writers we need to get lost in our own minds. We need to dedicate the time to thinking around the block until we can see a new path. Sometimes thinking is the most productive thing we can do. So give yourself time to do it.

#BeatTheBlock. Tip 1: Keep it varied.

Welcome to my new set of posts dedicated solely to the avoidance and thereafter beating of the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. I am a serial blocker. I allow those two words to stop dead important projects and keep me from reaching deadlines. But today I declare war on this plague on Writer’s Isle. I’m turning the tables. I’m going to #BeatTheBlock.

So today is lesson one. Keep it varied.

There is common advice given to writers to not project jump. That if you do you’ll never finish anything.

Only half true.

We are writers because our brains don’t work like other people’s. They run at a million miles an hour. They live in worlds that don’t exist. They have full and coherent conversations with people that aren’t real. And they consider all of the above completely normal. The above advice is good. It is very true that if you spread yourself too thin you won’t complete anything because… well… time for a start.

But… and it’s a big but… I have found that having only one project can be just as deadly.

As afore mentioned, our brains run at lightning speed. The problem is, our fingers and computers lag somewhat behind. We are typing chapter one while our brain is already plotting the ending. We are only on page fifty and we are already plotting the sequel. So by the time we get to the end, our brain is already onto other projects. Other ideas. If you are anything like me, you only have to go outside and you’ll have half a dozen story ideas before you have time to breathe. And law of averages means, that out of every fifty ideas there are probably a handful that will stick.

My point is, writing a novel takes time. And chances are, after months of your life staring at the same three characters and 500 pages, even you will begin to find your interest waning. And that’s okay. That’s normal. But it is also death to progress. Particularly once you get to editing. That makes me want to poke my eyes out with pokers even when I’m still absolutely in love with my story, but after three or so months of it, I’m quite willing to hate every damn word.

So my advice is this – keep it varied. Have one key project. Give it deadlines, and your main focus. It is your primary priority but don’t be afraid to have other quieter projects simmering in the background. I try to have three project floating around at all times.

1. The Novel

This is the one that is going to go to print and make you a best-selling author and bring you all the acclaim you’ve always wanted. This is going to be the one that is probably in editing or later stage-drafting. And this is the one you are almost certainly going to get stuck on at least once. You are going to get bored with it. You are going to hate it. You are going to think it is awful and a disgrace to the English language. And when you do, you need the space to step away, gain perspective and then come back and realise it was all a dream.

2. The Back-up

I always have to be writing. So once my main project moves into Operation Editing, I start something new to keep me writing. I force my focus to stay on The Novel but when I find myself staring at it endlessly wishing it to the deepest depths of hell, I switch over to The Back-Up. Having an active writing project at all times allows me to remember why I do this in the first place. We are writers. We love writing. So make sure you always have something you can fall back on when you just need to create for a while.

3. The Distraction

Sounds like a bad idea but I always have a silly project. These are short little bursts of stories. Often just 500 word bursts based on writing prompts. Or a 60 page screenplay where I think turning James Bond into a musical will be an interesting writing challenge. Or indulgent fan fiction (we all do it). These are the mini projects where nothing matters. The plot doesn’t have to make sense. The characters can be two-dimensional and dull. You can use as many adverbs as you like. They are Friday night after a few drinks to just relax and unwind after a long week. They are freestyle. This is where you can just let loose. No rules. No restrictions. No pressure. And do you know what? When you aren’t concentrating, you’ll probably develop more skills than you’d ever imagine. And you never know, some of those silly meaningless snippets can be the start of something good.

And so my tip is this…. to #BeatTheBlock Keep It Varied. Don’t be afraid to juggle a few projects. Just remember the Golden Rule. If you are writing, you are making progress. If you are sat staring at a blank page, begging inspiration to strike, you are going nowhere.