Ever have one of those lessons that you know, but you need life to kick you in the face with again and again, because you can’t make yourself learn it otherwise?
I’m currently letting life kick me in the face with this one:
Write First. Then Let Life Happen.
It’s hard to make time for writing. It’s harder when you’re worrying about all the other things you have to do as well.
Do you peek at your email before you sit down to work on your current writing project?
Do you do a survey of all the projects you want to work on?
Do you check Twitter, because, c’mon each tweet is only 140 characters long?
And do you end up finding it harder and harder to start work on your actual writing?
Join me in my new pledge: Write First.
As much as I possibly can, I pledge to Write First.
The rest of life will catch up with me as soon as it possibly can, whether or not I invite it in. So when I sit down to write, I will write first, email later.
To help me with this pledge, here are some things I’m going to do
Plan what I’m going to work on before my next writing session begins – I don’t want to sit down and think ‘hmm, what will I work on today?’. I want to sit down, knowing that I’m working on that scene where my main character is doing this thing. Or that I’m going to take this story idea and turn it into a first draft. If I have to plan this the night before, fine. If I have to plan it while I’m driving home from a day of Real Life, that’s OK too. But I need to be ready to go as soon as I sit down.
I will not have any social media windows open until after I have reached my goal for the day.
I will not give up until I have reached my word count or project goal for the day. Even if I’m feeling stabby.
How about you? Will you join me? What will your ‘rules’ be?
It’s hard enough to find time to write. Then, when you finally do, you face the paralysis of the blank page/blinking cursor.
The most useful tool I have discovered for getting past that frozen moment of potential is to do some warm-up writing.
Morning Pages And The Truth Point
I first discovered this technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the form of her morning pages.
Cameron advises you to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages’ worth of nothing in particular, just to see what come out. She lets you get several weeks into the program before asking,
Have you discovered the Truth Point yet?
And I had.
I discovered that somewhere on the second page (if I was writing longhand), my writing went from being awkward to flowing. Try it. After a page or two, you’ll find something to write about or you might just find your descriptions getting more interesting, your turn of phrase more entertaining and natural.
After writing ‘nothing’ for three pages, you’ll be able to plunge into an actual writing project and be at your best on the first line.
Flash forward a decade or two, and the website 750words.com offers an online version of Morning Pages, complete with somewhere to do your writing in case you don’t want to write on your blog or in a notebook that someone might find.
The host of 750words.com credits Cameron with inspiring the site, and says that 750 words is the ‘truth point’ for many people.
I have writing friends who blog first thing in the morning just as a way of warming up. Other people write letters to friends.
Tips For Warm-Up Writing
The only thing I would add is that, like 750words.com, you should be free to protect your warm-up writing. It’s not meant for display. It’s meant as warm-up. If you’re happy posting your warm-up writing to a blog or posting it off toa friend, great. But protect yourself as much as you need to.
And no sneaking off and reading Twitter or Facebook, or your favourite author, now!
Writing and taking care of small children are two not-entirely-compatible aims in my life, how about you?
Take today: I got up early, started to write… The kids started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”
I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was getting what they needed.
Something had to give. So I came up with a technique that has been working out really well…
So it’s the summer holidays here in the US and that means fun with the kiddies for we stay-at-home parents.
Which is all great, of course, but sometimes you still want (NEED!) to get some writing done. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to write and take care of a family, especially if you have small children at home with you all day. But it can be done.
I know some people can get up early or stay up extra late, or write while their spouse watches sports. That’s not me. Or if it is, everyone else wakes up early too!
Take today: I got up early, started to write, got all inspired and came up with tons of great ideas. The kids got up and started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and worst of all “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”
Oh, the guilt. I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was happy.
Something had to give. So I came up with a method, that has been working out well.
Getting Stuff Done With Little Kids In The House
My sons are 5 and 7 so they can’t be left alone (or together) for too long. They can, however, be set up on different floors of the house (or different rooms if you don’t have floors) with whatever toy/activity has captured their attention recently.
Today, for us, that means the eldest has a project making his own versions of Pokemon cards, while the 5 year-old makes a massive messHot Wheels track in the basement.
They both inevitably needed help, sometimes at the same time, (leading to more ‘just a minute’s and frustration). Finally I struck a deal with them.
I took the time-out clock (a kitchen timer) and set it for 10 minutes. They agreed to leave me alone until the timer rang so that I could get some writing done. When the timer rings, I go and check on each of them and ask if I can help or see what they have been doing.
I get what I want (writing time) and they get what they want (an attentive, engaged parent).
Then, depending on how things are going, I negotiate another 10 minutes.
KEYS TO MAKING THIS WORK
-Pick a time of day when the kids’ energy levels are right (that might be ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on their personalities. When you know they can concentrate on their favorite activity for a while, pounce!
-Work to an outline. I’m not sure that trying to do any brainstorming or really creative work could happen in 10 minute bursts, but writing a paragraph or two of a piece that I had already outlined worked brilliantly.
-Stretch the sessions to more than 10 minutes if it is safe or makes sense or if you find the kids can handle it.
-Sit where you can hear them (I’m in the dining room, and they are in rooms with doors open, where I can hear frustrated whining winding up or, worse, suspicious silences)
-Be willing to stop after two or three sessions. You can’t push this too far. Try to remember that they’ll be out of your hair entirely one day (if you do your job right) and that even these long summer days will be over sooner than you expect. Take some time to enjoy the kids — secure in the knowledge that at least you got a few things accomplished today.
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