by Ashley Lister
A few years ago I was at Eroticon and ended up chatting with the wonderful Janine Ashbless. We were discussing the usual questions that are thrown at writers (“Where do you get your ideas from?” and “Do you do all those things that are mentioned in your books?”) when Janine said, “I don’t care where someone gets their ideas from. What interests me is how they manage to sit down and produce large numbers of words on a daily basis.”
And it’s a valid point. It’s especially pertinent in the age of distractions in which we currently live. Aside from all the demands of family, friends and the workplace, there are also time-vampires such as emails, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and all those other social media apps, as well as the distraction of excellent blogs (such as this one). In truth, sitting down at a computer and simply writing has become something of an endangered practice.
There are various proffered solutions to this problem.
1. Turn off your internet connection.
I don’t subscribe to this one. The idea of turning off my connection to family, friends and colleagues is a non-starter. However, if you’re suffering from a terminal case of the diversions, it might be one worth considering.
2. Set targets and deadlines.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this one. Targets are a helpful guide as to what’s to be done. Deadlines can give a definite endpoint. But missing targets can be detrimental to a writer’s confidence. And, the danger with setting deadlines is that we will often make sure the work to be done takes up exactly the length of time allocated. I do use both of these, but I try to use them judiciously. My targets are what we in the teaching profession call SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound). This time-bound aspect helps to ensure my deadlines aren’t too lenient or too restrictive.
3. Timed writing sessions.
This is possibly my preferred approach to writing and overcoming the problem of distractions. One of my favourite books on writing is Margaret Geraghty’s The Five-Minute Writer which supplies exercises that can each be done in five minutes. Timed writing sessions can last from as little as five minutes, or they can last as long as you think your focus can be stretched. Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique from the 1980s advocated 25 minute blocks. Personally, I use a timer on my phone to set aside twenty-minutes where distractions and interruptions are forbidden. I don’t know if it’s the most effective way of avoiding diversions. But I do know it works for me.
If your new year resolution is to write more productively, hopefully one of the above will be of assistance. And, if you’re using some other method to help you progress with your writing, I’d love to see you mention it in the comments below.