Time to Write?

Hello fellow writers! Sorry I’ve been so quiet the last few months. I cannot believe we are in November already. I don’t know about you but the sudden dark evenings and freezing weather has been an unwelcome, and overdue, wake up call. We have less than two months left to run in 2017 and I’m a million miles behind where I wanted to be. All those promises I made myself at the turn of the year. It’s that time where we dust off the enthusiastically scrawled to do lists from January and wince.

I’ve had an odd year from a writing point of view. My instinct while drafting this post was to write about how much I’d neglected it but I figure 130k in word count counteracts that claim. In fact, given I thought that I had no focus, no plan and pretty much no discipline all year, I’m pretty damn proud of what I’ve managed to achieve. I am hoping by year end, I’ll have another finished novel. Not bad for a year that I am putting fairly and squarely in the “crazy” category.

November is always a bit of a jerk back into reality for my writer’s brain because it brings with it NaNoWriMo and the momentus challenge of writing 50k while juggling a day job, remembering to buy Christmas presents and trying not to freeze to death. It makes me really think, more than anything else, about time management.

I recently went on a Management and Leadership course for my sins (thank you day job). And upon this course, I discovered apparently I’m lousy at delegation, I’ve got lousy people skills and I’m so cynical I probably have a complex but the one thing it turns out I’m pretty good at, is time management. It’s vital with my day job. If I didn’t have everything planned, scheduled, prioritised and recorded, I’d collapse and get nothing done. More than anything, what that course really made me realise is that I am capable of that level of dedication, determination and discipline.

Which got me to thinking, I managed 130k in a year where I wasn’t trying. Imagine what I could be capable of if I applied the same dedication?

And I don’t think this applies to just me. Most writers I meet say the same things. “I never have enough time to write”. “Whenever I plan to write, twenty four other things pop up that need doing.” Admit it, we’ve all trotted out those familiar excuses. And yet, do you meet your deadlines at work? Do you somehow find the time even when there is none to find and complete the project with seconds to spare? Can you imagine what your boss would say if you told them “sorry I can’t do that today, I don’t have time”? So why do we allow ourselves to do it with our writing?

So I thought I’d scribble a few tips on how I hit the 100k word count in under a year and how we as writers can stop making excuses and find time to write.

1. COMMIT YOURSELF

Mindset is very important for me. Why am I organised at work? Because I feel like I have to. If I’m not, I miss my targets, my bosses get annoyed and I get fired. It’s simple survival.

The problem with writing, particularly if you are the self published author type like me, is you are pretty much accountable only to yourself. And weirdly, we won’t let down our bosses, our friends, our family or even crazy aunt Sue, but we are perfectly happy to let ourselves down time and time again.

None of anything that follows will work unless we hold ourselves to it. And it’s hard. It is the hardest part of being a writer if you ask me. I’ve been trying to get better at it since I started this path over a decade ago and I’m still fighting my instincts. I find myself telling people that writing is a hobby, waving it away with a sweep of my hand and a “it’s something to fill the time.” From here on out, that stops.

Writing is my second job. It is not an addendum that I squeeze into ten minutes at 2am in the morning. I am committed to making it happen.

2. SPLIT YOUR DREAMS AND YOUR GOALS

Knowing what you want to achieve is usually a pretty good place to start. The thing I’ve learnt with targets is there are two types: there are the inspirational dreams, and the practical goals.

In the inspirational column we have things like “I want to be as successful as JK Rowling” and “I want to retire and live off the money from my books”. Both are do-able (in theory). But both are ideas. They are the final chapter when we’ve only just begun drafting the prologue. And that’s fine. In fact, more than fine.

I need my inspirational DREAMS. It’s what keeps me going. In my own way, they are my version of hope.

They are my long term dreams. On my worst days, I look up at these scribbles and they remind me why I keep going. But dreams are… well… big. It’s kind of the point. But big is intimidating. Big is Oh My God Where Do I Start? So to get to them, we need to break them down into practical goals.

These are the goals that come with an action plan. They are shorter term. And they can be assigned a deadline. If column one is hopes, then column two is the to-do list that goes with. Inspirational is what you want to achieve. Practical is how you plan on doing that. Essentially, your short term goals.

You can break them down even further. So instead of staring the face of a big, scary dream which would put off even the strongest will, instead we end up with a set of bitesize tasks that are altogether more manageable.

I write down my dreams once a year. Normally at New Year. They rarely change and regularly grow.

At the beginning of each month (more or less), I write down my goals for the month. I try to keep this short, two or three items at most. And then on a weekly basis, I come up with an action plan, bringing us to…

3. Have a plan

Now you have your goals, organise them into a plan.  The goal here is to break it down into parts small enough that they are manageable and can be practically fitted into our busy lives.

Couple of things I’ve learnt over the years:

  • Be honest – If you know you aren’t a morning person, don’t design a plan that requires you to wake up an hour early to get in 500 words before work.
  • Plan to your strengths – We all know our own writing quirks. I am more productive in a busy environment. I can write by hand but get frustrated if I can’t get my ideas down fast enough so I plan around that. Are you a night owl? Can you write straight out of the gate or do you need twenty minutes prep time?
  • Keep your eye on the target – At one point, I used to stick post it notes on the wall behind my computer with my goals on them. I find when I’m staring at a blank page with a killer headache from trying to force words out, seeing in black and white the reason why I’m torturing myself keeps me motivated.
  • Know what motivates you – Are you a carrot person or a stick person? Do you need cheerleaders or are you a lone wolf? Are you motivated by reaching for future success or are you in this for the joy of creation, or both? Build your plan around this. Simple question to ask yourself – do you think of your progress in your novel in number of words, or in moments? So is it, I want to write 500 words (deadline motivated person) or is it, I really want to finish this scene (creation motivated). Break down your project in a way that suits you. Not everyone is a word count person.
  • Accept things aren’t going to go as planned – Life happens. If you get stressed out every time the unexpected derails your plan, you’ll end up going backwards. Don’t let it deter you. Instead, note whatever was supposed to be achieved and work it into the next week’s plan. For example, I was hide-under-my-duvet sick for most of October. If I dragged 1000 words out in the month that’s a lot. But I’ve re-balanced November to accommodate for the distance I’m now behind.
  • Change it up – Routine is a buzzkiller (unless you are a routine sort of person). Routine means rut. Rut means boredom. Boredom means no more progress.

4. Stick to the Plan (By Any Means NeCESSARY)

Bribe, blackmail, guilt. Reminders. Alerts. Alarms. Whatever works for you. Find the thing that will make you open that manuscript when all you feel like doing is collapsing on the couch and disappearing into the wonderful world of Netflix.

5. Prioritise

At the end of the day, some progress is better than nothing and some weeks are going to be better than others. Know which bits are most important to you so when you need to make a choice, you already know which targets to prioritise.

6. Just Do It

No excuses. No rationales. No procrastinating. Even the best laid plans will only work if we put them into practice. At the end of the day, that’s how I’ve hit my 100k target this year. No matter atter how uninspired I felt. No matter how tired I was. I just got it done. I should caveat that there are genuine reasons why we can’t write. Sickness, children, work commitments, actually wanting a semblance of a social life to name but a few. This is about not letting the non-reasons creep in. If you hear yourself sprouting one, stop and turn it into a motivation cue to get fingers to keyboard and type.

We’ve all been there but “I don’t want to just write rubbish” is not an excuse. Words, any words, are better than a blank page. Don’t be Henry. Hands up who has written that opening before? I know I have…

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