I’ve had some time off work over the past week and a half, and I’ve been using that time to write. I’m slower than most (I think) and much of the heavy lifting is done via repeat edits. But for now I’m on a marathon, tapping out up to 1,000 words a day. This takes its toll on body and mind, but I have things I do to keep myself going. Here’s a few tips:
1. Affix the start of your writing hour at a realistic point. If you are groggy in dark winter mornings, wait until lunch. If you are hungry at lunch, wait until the afternoon. If an afternoon slump hits you – too bad. The early afternoon gets the most light, affords the most opportunities for staring out the window. After the sun goes down there is only you and the pale blue light of the computer. In other rooms, people are living night lives, drinking, talking, watching a film or curled up with a book shining with completeness and all those sharp literary turns you haven’t perfected yet. Do you want that? Don’t envy others their night. Work in the day, when you can.
2. Type lying down on a bed. V good for those who cannot afford a desk or ergonomic chair. Writing is like dreaming, in the early stages: fluid, sometimes exiting, strange and often incoherent and of little interest to others. Embrace that.
3. If you are experiencing a low motivation day: read a paragraph of a writer you admire. Be sure they found ways to procrastinate, either with or without the internet. Perhaps they were an angsty wreck of a person, or had to write seventy drafts before something was bearable. Perhaps they were good and true in all ways and you are not worthy. But whatever they were, they were human too (at least, there’s little evidence to the contrary), they got things done. Paper and ink. Screen and text. You are human and you can type. Go forth.
4. Failing that: songs are good. Or blogs. Blogs and songs and making tea in the kitchen. But remember – the day only has so many hours, and so does a life. Cycle through your stress and find the sweet point where you’re focused enough to write; a little captain of a boat going through rocky waters, but ones you know well enough to navigate with ease. See, you live on that island over there: that lighthouse, guiding the way? That’s where you live, that is you.
5. At the end of the writing day, reward yourself with something. Food is okay, but sometimes problematic for people. Alcohol – well, we all know plenty of writers who maybe should have passed on that particular reward scheme.
6. Exercise after writing. Defuse your overactive mind and build good strong heart to get you through. You can go low impact and have a wee swim. Or climb a mountain (as long as it’s not dark after you’re done. It’s better to have a view at the top, right?)
7. Don’t tell people how the writing’s going. Not in any detail. Discourage questions. This is especially true if people are only asking to be polite. They don’t need to hear your pained distress or temporary, alarming buoyancy, and you don’t need reasons to share it.
8. Props are encouraged. A favourite mug. A pillow. A photograph of a sea snail. A cat. Although a cat is one of the more unruly props (given it has its own mind), it has the advantage of distracting fluffiness and querulous looks as and when is needed (or absolutely at the worst time, but you won’t really mind).
How do we do this? However we can, and repeatedly, until the thing is made.