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A Time and a Place to Write

Are your writing projects always late? Is there a great novel in your future that you just canít seem to get started? Do you have a really brilliant business plan that is never going to get implemented because you just canít get it on paper? The easiest way to get past this time-hurdle is to put writing on the schedule, like any other task.

 

The first thing to do is to estimate more time than you think you need. If you have 5000 words due by Friday, youíd best reserve three hours a day for it, starting on Mondayóthatís three hours for every thousand words (a thousand words is about two full pages, not including images). Fifteen hours may not be enough, if you have research to do.

 

Next, block off these three-hour segments on your calendar. Go ahead, put them in there like a meeting or a dinner engagement. Those hours are no longer available for anything that does not qualify as an emergency. Double booking and long breaks are not allowed any more than they would be for any other work-related task.

 

The next part is harder. You need to evaluate the space that you write in and the tools that you write with. Some people feel more comfortable with a yellow pad and a pen, sitting in a comfortable over-stuffed chair. Other people are happiest in bed, typing on a laptop. Some can get the most done in a coffee shop or a noisy cubical. Still others can write on anything and do it anywhere. You need to figure out where your creative juices run with the most liquescence.

 

Before your scheduled writing periods begin, try out all the rooms and chairs in your house or office. Try different pens and pencils, different pads and notebooks, and all the computers to which you have access. Some combination of things will feel right to you, and youíll be able to outline your assignment, maybe get a few sentences written. Everyone is different. If you are a visual person, youíll like to work with a pad of paper more than the computer. If you are a language-oriented person, youíll like the computer. It doesnít matter what gets you started, as long as you know where to go and what to bring with you to get the sparks flying.

 

In each spot and with each collection of tools, work on your outline. At some point, youíll transfer a handwritten version into the computer, and you can print that out and bring it to your handwriting places, if thatís what works for you. After youíve tried a few writing places, your outline should feel solid, and you should be ready to sit and do the writing.

 

If research is necessary, do it before you start to write and before the allotted writing time begins. You might discover clarifying information, clever phrasing, or better examples than you would have if left to your own devices. You may need books, the Internet, and your own previous work, and you can try looking at these things in various locations as well.

 

When youíve gathered enough material to write and triggered your creative juices, itís time to sit at a computer, no matter where your preferred place is. Be sure to adjust the lighting, music (if any) and the chair to be the most encouraging.

 

If you know that you canít maintain the focus that you need for the prescribed time, plan breaks before you begin. Make sure that you plan breaks of a specific nature and limited duration. Knowing that youíve got a break coming up should help you focus until the appointed time. Be sure to plan the break activity carefully. The middle of your three-hour commitment is not the time to chat on the phone, walk to the store, or bathe the puppy. A good break should get you into a different physical position (stand up and stretch, do some sit ups, or fetch the mail), allow your eyes to focus at a different length (look at the view, water the houseplants, rummage in the garden or refrigerator), and let your mind float free from the task at hand. Donít play solitaire, watch television, or chat with someone. The change of physical activity will help your mind return to the task at hand, whereas doing something that requires intellectual focus makes it harder to get started after the break.

 

Donít quit writing until the allotted time is up or the piece is finished. If youíve got a first draft done, take a longer breakódouble the usualóbut get back to it while youíre still on the clock.

 

Itís important to over-estimate the amount of time you think you need to do the writing. Itís a creative effort and no matter how good you are at it, you just canít regulate creativity the way you might regulate tasks that donít draw on so many varied aspects of your knowledge and experience. There is no way to predict what will bog you down and what will go faster than you expected; you just have to sit to it and find out.