22 May 2011

The Writing Report

A month ago, I took Alison Gresik’s challenge, and wrote about my plans for giving my fiction-writing a solid effort. My specific pledge was to take four mornings a week to write for an hour to an hour and a half. At the end of a month — the span of her specific program — I would see how I did and decide if I wanted to continue it, change it, or drop it.


HOW DID I DO?
Had I done exactly what I said, I would be at my Mac, writing on my nascent standalone novel (or some other fiction project) for 16-24 hours. Over the last month, I have set fingers to keyboard and worked on that specific project for slightly over 16 hours.

Yay, WIN!!!

Well… yes, but not exactly. Instead of 16 sessions of an hour each, I put in ten dedicated writing sessions, and a couple of them ran long. I put in two or three sessions a week instead of four.

Booo, FAIL!!

I only counted hours actually spent writing. I’m not counting the time I spent noodling about the story, whether lying in bed before getting up in the morning or while driving to work, or when I was supposed to be concentrating on other things entirely. I’m not counting the research time I put in on a period of history that does much to shape the tale.

The sixteen hours I put in did not net me a lot of readable pages but it took the project from a gleam in my eye, populated by a handful of interesting characters, to a still-somewhat-rickety framework on which the tapestry can actually be woven. It went from a wannabe novel to a novel in progress.

I’ll take that.

WHAT NEXT?
In that previous post, I said I’d test the waters for a month. I would table the thing if I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted, or if it increased my stress levels more than it alleviated the itch to write. Conversely, if it worked out, I would formally commit to doing it for another 10 weeks, with the 10 week marker being the 100 days required to form new habits.

Well, on one hand, I didn’t really accomplish what I wanted. I wanted pages I could post, chapters I could share with you all, or at least with a couple of accommodating friends who privately offered to read it as a WiP. It did increase my stress levels a bit, because April screwed my freelancing schedule all to hell and back (as I talked about in this post) and therefore May has been an high-pressure exercise in trying to get caught up.

But it did a lot to ease that writer’s itch. Working on the story excited me, and if I lay awake at oh-dark-thirty fretting about assignments unfinished, sometimes I could redirect my brain over to Grae and his tale, his world, his friends and his foes. There’s a reason 3am Epiphany is such an appropriate title for a book about the inspirations for writing for me.

So yes, I’m going to continue this program, despite the stress and the shortcomings. I’m going to tweak it, and aim for just three days a week — that appears more in keeping with my schedule — but I want that itch to keep being scratched. Like most such things, the more you scratch it the worse it itches.

I’ll get back to you ten weeks from now.

A TANGENT ON UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Every creative person speaks of finding those times of day they’re most productive. Every book and blog advising creatives tells you to focus your work into that time, if you possibly can.

Most of my youth, I was a complete nightowl. I thought that was my productive time until I discovered that I was actually too tired at those hours to do all I wanted. Yes, being tired gives your creative brain free rein to run wild, but when the pillow looks better than the keyboard or the art table, you’re done. Eventually, I learned that mornings were actually good for me too, and joined the diurnal world.

Since the advent of the internet, I have been starting my day with coffee in hand, checking my email, my Facebook, Twitter, reading blogs and chitchatting while my brain woke up. After awhile, I’d say “Okay, time to get to work” and I’d buckle down …assuming I hadn’t gotten sucked into the social web, and surprised to find myself having eaten no breakfast, having not fed the dogs, and with the clock accusingly flashing “10:18 AM” or later.

But even if I got going by 8am, I’d probably been out of bed for a couple of hours at least — hours that I’d never see again. I’d already been making an effort to change THAT habit, not turning on my office computer first thing while the coffee brewed.

TIME TO WRITE
That’s the window of time I chose to write: very first thing after acquiring my daily dose of caffeine and a good round of doggie playtime. I write on a laptop in my living room, not in my office. I disabled the machine’s wifi to keep myself from sneaking a look at my email or a lively Twitter feed, and set a timer. Until it went off after an hour, I had no business doing anything but writing.

It’s a whole different mindset to working there and I loved it.

Now that part I expected, actually. When I was working 40 hours a week, early morning was the only time I could squeeze out some creative time, and I rather liked it. But I was getting up at 4:30am to do it, with predictable consequences of sleep deprivation. (I have some observations on sleep dep and productivity to share another day.)

The unintended consequence is that I intend to use the same time to do other writing, the blogwork for Library Journal or this blog. It’s not a good time for left-brain-style thinking, planning and analysis and deliberation, but it’s a great time for my creative brain to run wild, just like when I was in my 20’s trying to write at midnight. I’m tired, but growing more awake as time passes instead of less so.

And that’s why this post is going up early in the day.  I started it at 6:50, the writing part is done by 8:15, and the rest of the time will be spent proofing and illustrating it.

Tomorrow I go back to using some of my mornings to work on Grae’s tale. Because I have this terrible itch…

 

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2 Responses to The Writing Report

  1. Reading this with a big grin on my face, Liz! So glad to hear that you’re scratching that itch. And your description of your wake-up writing sessions is nearly identical to my experience. There’s something magical about that early morning state of mind. I wish you continued happiness in the next ten weeks.

  2. Liz says:

    Thank you for supplying the impetus for me to take this project on, Alison!