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Does your writing goal fit around your life?

Advanced tips for writers

Remember you’ve got a life

You might be thinking ‘how could I forget?’ – maybe organising the family, job, household, taking the dog for a walk, keeping in contact with your folks, getting the shopping in etc. is enough to remind you! What I mean is: when you are planning your writing or your creative project, remember you’ve got a life. Most people dishing out writing advice forget that writers have a life, and most time management ‘gurus’ forget that the project you’re managing has got to fit in with everything else going on for you. That’s what this post is about.

How long will your project take?

Because of Hofstadter’s law we are terrible at predicting how long it will take us to do something and tend to underestimate – even if we know about Hofstadter’s law – so the best way to work out how long something will take is to look back to the last time you did it, and even better, to keep a record of how long things take – such as writing a blog post, finishing an episode of your screenplay, writing a scene from a novel – so that you have a pretty good idea of how long these things will take in the future.

Picture or itemise your goal

Do you have an end point in mind? A finished poetry collection or memoir? A TV series submitted to a production company? A finished novel ready to send to an agent? Can you get more specific about what that would look like? The more you can visualise what the end point will look like when you’ve achieved it,  the easier it is to break it down into small steps. (If you can’t visualise it, create an itinerary or a wish list for your goal instead.)

Do the maths

You could take this process further and figure out – based on the length of time it took you to write and redraft (say) 1000 words previously  – how long it will take you to get to the next stage of your goal. If you remove the emotion that often comes with these things, you’re left with a simple equation:

Number of words in my project divided by number of words I can write in a session = number of sessions required to write a first draft

Or: Number of words in my project divided by number of sessions = number of words to aim for per session

You can then weigh up the results. Here’s a made up example: Based on the last time I wrote 1000 words and the number of writing sessions I have scheduled, it will take me two years to finish a first draft of my memoir. Do I want to schedule more writing sessions?

In my free course on NaNoWriMo, I suggest doing the maths like this simply so you can keep track of your novel and get 50,000 words down by the end of NaNoWriMo month:

50,000 divided by 30 days = approx 1667 words per day.

Personally I prefer to estimate roughly how much I’m likely to get done in 4 x Pomodoros and then forget about tracking the word count -but creating mathematical equations does help if you’re on a deadline. Having said that, it’s crucial that you do something about context amnesia as well. What’s context amnesia? I’m glad you asked!

Context amnesia

We’re not very good at predicting how long a task will take because we forget about context too easily. So too, when it comes to finding time to write, context easily gets forgotten.

I’ve written about context before in a guest blog post I did for ALLi, which provides some examples.

We tend to conceptualise tasks – including writing tasks – as if they are discrete, and as if they have a starting point, a mid-point and an end point, and there are definite benefits to thinking this way. However, in practice, context interferes. There are two different types of context:

Two types of context

  1. When we’re conceptualising a writing task, we forget, for instance, that we might rewrite the beginning repeatedly, or rearrange part of the middle to create the end, or that we might think something is one story when it turns out to be two, or that we might start one thing, then turn it into something else, or we might think a thing is finished only to have to work on it some more. Although awareness helps mitigate against these things, deviations aren’t ‘wrong’ – they are simply part of the process.
  2. When conceptualising a task, we also tend to forget about normal everyday life that could be shaving hours off our working time. We get caught in the rain and have to take a bath, the kids get a tummy bug, we miss the train home, we need to get the shopping in, something happens to affect our ability to think clearly – you know the kind of thing I mean. Keeping a planner where you check back to see whether you did what you planned helps enormously with this.

Both of these things are ‘context’ – one is context that affects the writing process and the other is life getting in the way. You can probably think of  your own specific contexts. Most time management systems act as if tasks are discreet – with no context – but unfortunately real life doesn’t cooperate. Simply acknowledging that  is a start. Here’s what else you can do.

What to do about context

  1. Plan and review. If you can do it, this works wonders. Make a little bit of time at the beginning of a writing session to plan, and create a similar window of time at the end of a writing session to note down what you’ve done, and to plan for next time. This only need be five minutes. Do this at the start and end of every working day, too.
  2. Once you’ve worked out your ideal time and place to write, identify the things that interfere with or interrupt your writing sessions most often. Is there anything small – anything at all – that you could change to make things better?

Example interruptions

Here are a couple of made up examples. 1. My biggest interruption is the kids waking up. I get up early to write and end up waking up the kids when I go downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. Is it even worth it? OR: 2. My biggest problem is that I keep rewriting the beginning over and over again. I don’t seem to be able to move on. I feel like I’m wasting my time.

If you were advising someone else in these situations, what would you say? There’s no right answer to either, but it may be that looking at the situation from another angle will help. Now look at your own interruptions and write down what you would say to someone else if they approached you with the same problem.

Looking for my other posts on planning your writing life? Go here. 

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

 

 

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