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.

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A bad word

Should

I really should…

I don’t want to but I should…

The way it works for me is this:

“I really want to sit down and do some writing. But before I do, I should wash the dishes, and put a load of washing on. And I really should ring that person, pay those bills, organise that drawer.”

By the time I get through my shoulds I have no energy left to write, and no idea what it was that I wanted to write about.

You’ll notice that the list of shoulds is full of worthy and worthwhile activities. They are all good things to do. You don’t usually think, “I should lie on the couch all afternoon and watch movies.” That’s a whole different type of procrastination. No, the shoulds are all good things that really should be done.

When I was trying to do everything just because I should I was trying to do too much. I had things on my list that were not suited to me and that didn’t fit into my schedule. It was too hard.

I had an escape when things were too hard. I have used it since my childhood. When I couldn’t cope with my list of things to do, when life became overwhelming, when it was all too much, I would get sick.

I wouldn’t fake being sick. I wasn’t trying to please anyone except the internal task master in my head. No, I would actually become sick – temperature, sore throat, runny nose, swollen glands, I need to stay in bed for a couple of days, I’m sick kind of sick.

Let me tell you, this is not a good strategy. It is bad for your body for starters. It’s a bit like jumping out of a 10th storey window just to get away from the jobs on your desk. And what if things become overwhelming because you are at the start of an exciting project – something you really want to do? You shoot yourself in the foot over and over again.

I realised in my twenties that something had to change. Actually, I was being interviewed for a volunteer position at church and a wise lady asked me, “What do you do when the wheels really fall off?”

That’s when I realised what my strategy was. I replied, “That’s easy, I get sick.”

And she told me in no uncertain terms that getting sick wasn’t a reasonable strategy. I needed to find another one.

I guess that was the start of my learning to say no journey.

I used to use the word should as a catch all and it was derailing all the important but non-urgent things that I really wanted to do.

In the end my husband, Moz, gave me a way to work around it.

Should became a bad word, a word that I was no longer allowed to use. I had to think about a replacement word. I had to think about why I was stressing about the task. Why it had got onto the should list in the first place. What was it that I actually thought about the task.

“I should do the washing up first,” could turn into “If I get the washing up done, my house will look cleaner and I’ll be able to concentrate better.”

“I should ring that person,” might become “I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t contacted that person in ages.”

The first task would stay on the to do list, the second would move towards the bottom of the list.

Sometimes, I would find, when I really got down to it, that the task was only on the list because I was afraid my pride would be hurt if someone worked out that I wasn’t doing it. That’s not a good enough reason to do anything. If the reason is “I should give money to that charity because my friend who is on the board would not like me if I didn’t,” or “I have to go to that concert because everyone else is going,” that task needs to leave the list immediately.

I have found that the simple strategy of replacing the word should with another word or phrase has helped me to keep my to do list shorter and to reduce the stress in my life. Maybe you can try it.

How about you? Do you have simple strategies that help with the overwhelm of life? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42