Everyone who wants to write will have heard the advice that writers write. Every day. That writing is a muscle which develops with use. I’ve spent my first ‘year to live a little differently’ working towards developing a daily writing habit. Back in February, I was very happy to finish a 67,000 word manuscript of a children’s novel in time to send it off to a competition. I allowed myself a little break, to do some blogging and plan another book. Then I set off on a week’s holiday in Cromarty, promising myself I’d start writing the new novel as soon as I got back, regardless of whether I felt ready. Two weeks later it was the end of April and I was annoyed with myself. Every passing day, there was a litany of important things I ‘had’ to do before I could embark on a new novel. Yeah, right. There was no hiding from the fact I was procrastinating, for all the usual boring reasons… What if the idea isn’t strong enough, or interesting enough, to last 100,000 words? What if I’m no good at writing and it’s a rubbish book? and so forth ad nauseam. Even though I’d told myself countless times the answer to these questions was ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m going to do it anyway.’
On the last Saturday of April, the weather was terrible and I was sitting by the stove in our cosy sitting room, listening to the rain battering off the windows and watching a contented greyhound snoozing by my feet. I decided, well, I’m letting myself off until Monday, but if I don’t start then, there is no way I’m going to achieve what I wanted to do by July.
For motivation, I read some blog posts on writing and came across this, in which Kara talks about those days when you have the stuck feeling and would rather do anything than write:
Instead of fighting it and avoiding what had to get done, I just sat with it, whether I liked it or not. This ‘like it or not’ mentality was used by Jerry Seinfeld when he was working as a touring comic. He had a special system, which forced him to write every single day. He believed that if he wrote daily, he’d create better jokes. His system involved a big wall calendar for an entire year. He placed a big red “X” when he wrote that day. Over time, this created a pretty impressive chain of big Xs. [...] The other bit of advice that I found helpful, is this – skipping one day makes it so easy to skip the next, so that’s why it’s important to make that commitment and write every single day. It doesn’t have to be something that you finish and press publish on. Think of it as practice, like working out.
You can read the full post by Brad Isaac about Jerry Seinfeld’s writing productivity techniques here.
From my infants’ teacher perspective, I instantly understood the appeal of a visible chart showing my daily progress. I didn’t need a whole year’s wall calendar to try it out, though. I nipped through to the kitchen, got a sheet of scrap A4 from the dresser drawer, and wrote out all the days from Monday through till the end of June. I didn’t like the idea of big red crosses so much, but it was already late and the dog was giving me doleful looks, wanting her bedtime walk, so I set the paper aside.
The next morning, I looked at the A4 sheet of dates again and thought ‘I need something more positive than red crosses like the ones teachers used on my maths mistakes when I was a wee girl.’ Inspiration struck when I looked out our bedroom door and saw the prayer flags that hang along the corridor wall. It’s the only part of our spacious, light house that feels gloomy and narrow, so we hung the flags there to cheer it up.
Photo credit: thecareyadventures.com
Perfect! I drew chains of flags, one for each date, and allocated colours to a writing code. Real Tibetan prayer flags are rectangular, so I made mine more like bunting, although I used the same colours as prayer flags. Red would be the book: the colour of passion and danger seemed right for the writing I was scared of throwing myself into. Blue would be for my blog posts, green would be for yoga teacher training homework (i.e. essays – counting my brief daily practice journal entries would be cheating). Yellow would be for any other writing, such as a short story, or morning pages (google Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron and you will find a ton of stuff about ‘morning pages’, should you wish to!). White would be the empty flag, breaking the chain and signifying no writing at all. If I did more than one kind of writing in a day, I could have extra fun doing a multi-coloured pattern on that day’s flag.
I found and sharpened four pencils and stuck the flags sheet onto our bedroom mirror at eye level, where I would see it many times a day as I walked round the room.
Here’s the first A4 sheet I did:
It’s a rough-and-ready design; I know lots of you could make a much prettier one. If you do, please link back to me here, let me know how you get on, and maybe even make the template available for anyone to use? But if you do one on a computer, keep in mind that the actual physical act of colouring in a flag each day feels like a satisfying and significant part of the process!
I found it very effective – I wrote on lots of days that I’d have otherwise excused myself from. I kept it going from April until I went to Orkney at the start of August. Just by looking at the completed flag sheets, I learned stuff about myself: the more disrupted my normal routine was, and the more people who were hanging round the house during the day (even if they weren’t directly making demands on me), the more blue and green appeared, red dwindled and white crept in.
My intention had been to resume in September, when the house settled into term-time routine. But I’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) with all the things connected to being in the final year of my yoga teacher training, learning about the business side of being self-employed, and the unexpected level of demand for my yoga classes. So, although I’m keeping a daily practice journal and maintaining a yoga website and facebook business page, I am itching to get back to fiction writing and more frequent blogging. This post is my first step. Set the intention, declare it in writing…and now I’m going to sharpen the red and blue pencils!
What writing techniques and tips have worked for you? Please share them with us!