The manuscript for my new book Strange Material is due in exactly one month. While I’ve been stealing away to coffee shops on my lunch hour and turning down plans with friends over the past few months in order to write, nothing works better for me than having long stretches of time to mentally meander, run word-counts as a mark of my progress, and simply write without a time constraint. I learned long ago that if I promise to go somewhere at 8 pm, my mind takes a unwarranted vacation from the hours of noon until 8 pm just because I know that I am going somewhere later. Likewise, if I’ve promised myself that I’ll write, but instead find myself out for drinks with friends â€“ I’ll end up being angsty (and a sheer joy to hang out with) because in the back of my mind I’m thinking about what I should be doing at my desk. So, ever so often, I need to go into hermit-mode. This week, I’ve taken four days off of my day job to do nothing but write.
With each of my books, I’ve been lucky to have weeks of time away from the world in order to think. I’ve house-sat for my parents. I’ve stayed in friends’ guest rooms. And I’ve made myself stay home. I’ve tried to ignore Facebook. I’ve spent less time on Twitter. I’ve even ignored email. I’ve forcibly stopped myself from playing with Pinterest, or dreaming up apartment decor ideas from DesignSponge, or fantasizing that I will one day live in a fabulous loft and collect abstract art for sale at www.saatchionline.com. I’d like to be planning something crazy for Halloween or sewing the latest Colette pattern, but for now I’m content with writing. I keep a list of these diversions to be my reward when the project is over.
I often find myself asked how I take on long writing projects â€“ especially while working full time, and my first answer is ‘I don’t know’. But really, I rely on a couple of simple tools:
- The eloquent and classily named ‘butt in chair’ technique. Frankly, if you want to write, you have to sit in the same place for a certain amount of time. I set myself a goal of how long I plan to write most days. I also set myself a word-count, usually 500 – 700 words a day when I’m working on a long project.
- Lunch hours â€“ I often eat at my desk while working so that I can go to a coffee shop and write for during my lunch hour. I find I can accomplish a lot in 45 minutes when I know I have to be back at the office.
- For days off and long stretches of time alone, I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique is life-changing. I’m not usually one to prescribe to others methods of working but this one works for me. You work for 25 minute increments, you take a five minute break, and then you start again. On my ‘writing retreat’ dates, I set myself goals of four 25 minute writing stretches with 5 minute stretch/tea making breaks, a one hour lunch break, and then four pomoderos to follow. You can use a kitchen timer for this technique, but I prefer a free app called Focus Booster on my mac which turns colour as my time is winding down. I wrote my entire last book using this method.
- Rest. Some days, no matter how hard you try â€“ nothing comes. This is when I turn to things like a long walk, a bike ride, cooking something healthy, or napping. Some days I get to my goals in a matter of hours, some days I know that I’ll procrastinate for several hours until I start to feel the fire of getting down to things. This is part of my process, and no matter how much I try to resist, I’ve realized is just better to accept that this is the way that I work.
Interested in learning more about the process of craft book writing? Last year I wrote this post on how to pitch a non-fiction DIY title.