Archive for January 3rd, 2013

January 3, 2013

Three strategies to jump-start sluggish writing weeks

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

Sluggishness happens to everyone occasionally. These are the days when you can’t seem to stay in your seat, when you wander around your office or home doing menial tasks rather than focusing on the writing that you know you should be doing.

I’m not fond of wasting time like that–it feels like a bad dream where you’re trying to run, and you can’t.

It’s not exactly writer’s block. For me, sluggishness happens when the rest of my life catches up with what I’m doing in the writing world. I still have plenty of ideas to work on, but I feel guilty enjoying my quiet writing time when there’s so much to do around me.

Catching up from a holiday or vacation always creates a sense of sluggishness.

These days, there are dirty dishes in the sink and a few extra loads of laundry to do, snow to be shoveled, paperwork to file and bills to pay.

When I’m in my routine, these tasks seem to take care of themselves. It’s those fun interruptions that take their toll…and the longer those interruptions are, the more sluggish I tend to be when I finally do get back to work.

A decade or so of writing work has taught me three strategies for dealing with sluggish writing days. I’m listing them in order of my favorite, most used methods, here:

Use your timer, and work in a pattern. I set my kitchen timer for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I write a short pattern on a sticky note to help me get started. My pattern might look something like write, housework, write, housework or write, paperwork, play with baby, repeat.

On these days, the point is just to get started. One or two repetitions, and I find I’m feeling better about everything. I see progress in all the pertinent areas of my life, which allows me to relax into my writing.

Once this happens, I put the timer away and focus on the work at hand until I’m finished. So far, this has been my most successful strategy–and yes, I used it today to help jump-start my 2013 writing!

Use your timer, and work in big blocks. I use this strategy on days when I feel completely overwhelmed by deadlines or when I’m so into a book project that I simply can’t put it down. The house could be on fire and I’d still need to write–so the idea of the timer here is really to limit the time I allow myself to write.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a sluggish start at all, until you know the background of it: If I allow myself to write to my heart’s content, everything else in my life gets so overwhelming that once I leave my office, I have a hard time getting back to it. It might take me a day or two to finish all the little projects needing my attention, and by that time, my inspiration is usually so impatient with me that she’s gone. Just gone.

It’s better for everyone if I limit my writing time to, say, two and a half hours, then get up and do an hour or so of other work. I can come back to my writing later, when I feel like the rest of my life is back under control, and my muse is merely amused at how distracted I can be.

Use your timer, and let writing be its own reward. Well, writing IS its own reward, as far as I’m concerned, which is what makes all of these strategies work–but this strategy takes advantage of that by making me wait to write.

On these days, it’s something to look forward to, a treat for when I get the shopping done and the groceries put away. I set my timer for about an hour and rush around getting things done for my family, then allow myself twenty minutes of writing time.

It might seem counterproductive from a writing standpoint, but the truth is, if I know I’m going to get to write on one of my favorite projects in an hour, my mind becomes a prolific idea generator. Those twenty minutes of writing are truly enjoyable and super-productive, and it makes the non-writing work speed by like a daydream.

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