Sunday, 26 February 2017

Routine, manageable goals and the surprising importance of the deadline

(source: QuoteFancy)

I've been thinking a lot about my writing routine these last few weeks. Mostly, because I haven't really had a routine until fairly recently. Writing has been a hobby of mine for years. While I was still in school it was never difficult to find the time to write, but once I entered university, writing very much took a back seat. I often wondered how writers managed to write books. After all, they all have Lives too, and jobs, spouses, or even kids! Hat’s off to any writing parents out there. I can honestly say, I don’t know how you do it. 

 Naturally, I turned to Auntie Google for answers and very quickly realised I was one of MANY asking the very same question. And the answer was always the same: set time aside. Create a routine, and stick with it.

The routine was no problem. I knew from the start I would prefer writing at night, because that’s when my mind comes to rest and the ideas flow. But I had one problem. I was very good at saying “I will write for an hour every day”, but the “stick with it” part unravelled the moment a friend texted, there was something good on TV, or I was simply too tired to bother with anything more exhausting than sofa lounging (I’m an expert at sofa lounging!). In short, I loved writing, but I wasn’t serious enough about it to cut a slice out of every day. For years, my writing was either non-existent or progressed at a snail’s pace.

Enter NaNoWriMo 2015. If you have never heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, let me just say, it’s the most wonderful, motivational writing environment I have come across. The goal is to write 50.000 words in 30 days throughout November, with a great writing community, including published authors, sharing their struggles and breakthroughs, and cheering each other on. The 50.000 word goal seems daunting at first, but break them down into 30 days and you end up with a fairly manageable 1.600 and a little extra every day.

To be honest, when I signed up for it, I had been out of the writing loop for several months, due to that ever-present excuse called Life and a 6 week sofa-lounging session, because an inner ear infection made my brain insist that the room was spinning at 100 km/h the moment I put my body in a vertical position. NaNoWriMo was my way back into the swing of things.

Little did I know that a word count goal worked much better for me than a time goal. I am one of those writers who will sit and stare at a screen for an hour or more, before my mind catches up. Sometimes, I can feel the light bulbs go on: “Oh, are we supposed to be writing? Hang on.” And suddenly the words flow – or not, depending on the day.

And during NaNoWriMo they flowed as they had never flown before. It was partly because I gagged the inner editor, but there will be another post on that another time. I had found a goal that worked for me, and in simply sitting down and trying, I had also found my routine. On top of that, I realised something unexpected. In writing I always wanted to be my own boss. No pressure, no deadlines. NaNoWriMo taught me that a deadline keeps me focused. I’m less likely to get distracted by Life.

After NaNoWriMo I reduced my daily word count to 1000, mostly because I write at night, and as I got toward the end of November I was walking around like a zombie, because I had practically given up sleeping. And a social life, for that matter.

I stuck with my night time writing routine, because I prefer sessions with an open ending as I never know how long it will be before the actual writing starts.

The deadline was the tricky bit, because without the absolute necessity to have 50k by the end of the month, I slacked off. So I created fake deadlines for myself that put enough pressure on me to keep me focused, but were realistic enough to stop me from slacking. My parents' visit last May gave me the perfect motivation to finish the first draft of manuscript 2, because I knew I would not be writing while they were here. I also knew that, unless I finished by the time they arrived, I would be forced to stop halfway through my final chapter, leaving my characters and myself hanging.

Life still got the better of me once I started editing, but since the new year I am back on track, working with my daily word count and an imposed deadline - my parents' May visit once again serving a double purpose -  which helps keep me focused, even if the word count does not add up every day.

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