Getting Started

the writing den
This is my writing space. I have been working on finding space for all my chemistry textbooks. The shelves are looking nice and neat now. Time to get words on the page.

So far in this new life of mine, I haven’t been very productive on the writing side of things. I have many excuses – time in LA, family time, Moz and Caleb being on holidays, and so on. And I have been productive in other areas – lots of work on the editing business, sorting out the bookshelves in my den, getting the housework done – all of these things are worthwhile but when they are taking the place of writing then they start to look suspiciously like procrastination.

There are many different ways of getting yourself to write. There is the method of word count – writing 1000 words a day, or 500, or even writing 50 to get you started. Or choosing to sit at your desk until you have accomplished your 1000 words, or 2000 or whatever. There is the method of time blocking (see below), there is the method of heading to a café to write, or using the library, both of which are especially good for productivity if there is no wifi access, I’m told. There is getting up at 4.30 am to write, or staying up after every one else has gone to sleep, neither of which appeal to me very much.

Many (if not most) writers don’t have any choice as to when in the day they write. When I was working full-time I wrote for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day and that’s all I had time for. Others write in their lunch hours, or in little snatches of time around looking after children.

I now have much more time to write. I don’t have unlimited time, I need to make sure I spend time on my editing business as well. But I have much more freedom as to when I write. I can choose (to a degree) how I will organise my day.

I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to block out time to dedicate to writing. This is the time blocking method I was talking about earlier. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. My problem has been one of perfectionism. I haven’t blocked out any time to write because I want to block out the perfect time.

Up until now I have written mainly in the mornings. First thing, before work. But now that I don’t have set times for work, I can decide exactly which hours of the day to dedicate to writing time. But I haven’t been sure which time to choose.

What if the best time for writing is in the afternoon when I have finished off some of the annoying but urgent business and home tasks? What if I need to be writing in the morning when my creative thoughts are freshest? What if straight after lunch is best, the dreamy time when I can get my self-editing mind out of the way? Or what if I put the writing time in my calendar in a place where I would be better off exercising, or editing, or answering email? I don’t want to block out hours and get it wrong. I don’t want to have an imperfect day when I get less writing done than I could if I got the timing just right.

And of course, this type of thinking leads to no writing being done at all.

So for the week ahead I have bitten the bullet and blocked out some hours for writing each morning. I have also blocked out hours for the editing business in the afternoons. In between I will do housework, have coffees with people, exercise, and make meals etc. If this week doesn’t work well, then I will try a different schedule next week.

Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist I just have to make a choice and see what happens. The other option is to spin around and around trying to find the perfect option and to never start at all. If you are facing a choice where there is no obvious right answer, and you’ve got yourself stuck in the perfectionistic spin like me, I encourage you to make a choice and give it a go for a while. Let me know in the comments how it went.

Incidentally, while I’ve chosen the morning hours for writing next week, I’m writing this at 5pm on a Saturday and it’s flowing really well. So there might be a bit of adjustment necessary, or I might just have to try different styles on different weeks until I find a method that works very well.

And there’s always the possibility that my writing process will change and that different things will work on different weeks. I need to make sure I give myself permission to change the routine when it’s appropriate. But in any event I need some routine to get me started.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Making things good enough

clean foyer
My clean foyer, at least it was for five minutes or so.

I got a very sad text last Wednesday. My cleaner, the beautiful angel who transforms our house, could not come this week. She was called in to her other job (the one I reluctantly helped her to get by giving her a glowing reference, I could do nothing else, she’s amazing) and she couldn’t get out of it. We were on our own.

So this morning I have been cleaning my own house.

I haven’t forgotten how. But I had forgotten how heavy my vacuum cleaner was. If you don’t see me lifting my hands in worship tomorrow it’s because I have had an ‘arms day’ today and I don’t think I’ll have the strength.

No, look, I’m just whinging.

But I have been reminded of my major problem when cleaning the house. It is this:

I am a perfectionist.

I’m the sort of person who can get hung up in cleaning the grout with a toothbrush all day so that one of the sinks is perfectly clean, and then be too exhausted or run out of time to do the rest of the house.

As I cleaned today I repeated the mantra given by Sandra Felton in her organising books, ‘Done is better than perfect.’ Just get it done. Get the house to a reasonable state of being. Then if you have the energy you can attack the grout with a toothbrush. Preferably not your spouse’s toothbrush.

It’s interesting though, because I’m reading two books at the moment (I’m actually in the middle of four, but I am reading them all for different reasons) that both mention the same idea.

One of the books is The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. I am reading it for book club (see our book club blog for our feedback on it). It’s pretty fascinating. But I was surprised to come across the heading in the chapter I’m reading today: ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.’

He’s talking about building communities that work and worship together and he’s making the point that if we wait to build the perfect community we will never get started. ‘It’s important to have some sort of vision and a plan but also to be open to possibility’ he says.

The other book, a quite different book, is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She is talking about creativity. About writing, painting, all the creative things.  She talks about being a ‘deeply disciplined half-ass’. About disciplining ourselves to do the work regularly but not worrying so much about getting it totally perfect. She says ‘We don’t have time for perfection…[it is] unachievable’ and quotes Rebecca Solnit: ‘perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.’

Her point is to go to it, do the work, and release things when they are ‘good enough.’

It seems that this idea, of done, of good enough, of getting started and seeing what happens, is everywhere. It’s one of the fundamentals of life. We are all tempted to be perfectionists, and I’m all for striving for excellence, but let’s not let perfect get in the way of just getting stuff done.

My house is clean enough for today and I’m going to stop on it now and go do some other stuff – read some more, and relax a bit. My house is not perfect, but that’s life. It is good enough, and I am happy with my efforts.

What are you working on at the moment that you need to allow to be ‘good enough’? Do you find perfectionism to be your enemy?