Wow. Three weeks have passed since my last post. Where did the time go?
It has been too easy to push my book writing project to one side. After the initial buzz I got from sharing my outline wore off, I turned my attention elsewhere. I thought, I’ve got lots of time, and lots of other things calling out for my attention. There is urgent client work to complete, special projects to push forward on (Paris and I are creating an online course in how to build your author platform – watch for it in May!) and, as always, the unstemmable flow of admin hassles.
Before I knew it, three weeks had elapsed.
I got waylaid not because I am too busy to do this project (I am, but that’s no excuse). It wasn’t because I haven’t got the ideas or the energy or the discipline to see it through. I got waylaid for one reason: because I hadn’t yet set dedicated time aside for the book or established a writing schedule. The first push came so easily and with such a big bang, surely this thing will coast on its own momentum, right?
The fact is, there is never enough free time in your schedule to effortlessly squeeze in the writing of an entire book. And if there were, it would probably be filled with snorkeling.
Some tasks, such as taking out the trash, demand that we return to them regularly, whether we’re “inspired” to deal with them or not. But my book, being a creative project that lives in the “big dreams” drawer, just didn’t intrude upon my other activities.
Nor should I expect it to. Our biggest dreams never come banging on the door like bill collectors. They are not going to email us weekly to remind us of our appointment with our highest calling. They are not interested in nagging us or fighting for space in our Google Calendar with the dentist. Like wild horses, they aren’t going to break themselves.
Instead, they slip into our midnight hours and disturb our sleep. They entice us to play hookey from our “real work”, nibbling at our attention while we are sensibly trying to focus on more pragmatic tasks. But what they won’t do is book a session with us through our assistant.
There’s only one solution: We need to make space for them, invite them in and fully attend to them. If we don’t do this, they will disrupt our lives like mischievous wraiths, always felt but never seen. Your book project will tease and torment you endlessly, but it will not demand that you sit down at the table with it. That’s your job. That’s my job.
That means creating a writing plan, and sticking to it, no matter what.
Now, what kind of plan will work for me and my book? That depends on whether I am a sprinter or a plodder. Some people will find themselves at the midpoint on this spectrum, but most of us have a dominant style in our creative pursuits, favouring either bursts of activity or a more methodical approach.
Plodders will find it relatively easy to set themselves a writing schedule. If you are a plodder, you love routine. It feeds you. It focuses you. It calms and energizes you. It puts you into The Zone. You will find a window in your week, insert “write book” into the slot, and then dutifully show up at the appointed hour. (You will face other challenges once you get there, but that’s a topic for another day.)
I am primarily a sprinter. That means I love to work in bursts of energy. Like a tornado, my creative energy can get very high very fast. It can be destructive to other things in its path. It is laser focused. It draws other things into it. And when it is over, it is over. It might whip up again the next day, or not at all for weeks or even months. And that’s the problem with sprinters. By the time the tornado comes back again, the landscape may have shifted so drastically, it can be very hard to pick up where we left off.
There are three rules for sprinters who want to successfully complete a large creative project that will take many sessions to see through:
1. Do as much as you can while the tornado is swirling.
When you feel that warm wind stirring, run outside into it and let it lift you up. Do not close the door on it for the afternoon and assume you can jump into it at a more convenient hour – in too many cases, you will find that the wind has died down while you were sensibly sticking to your plans. If this means canceling dinner with friends, do it. If it means skipping your workout, do it. You can get a hell of a lot done when you’re gripped by a creative fever. Yes, it’s manic. No, it’s not balanced. It doesn’t matter, because believe me, it won’t last forever. When the wind dies down, you will take your friend out for a nice dinner and thank her for her understanding. You will work out with twice as much joyful energy, fuelled by your sense of accomplishment.
2. Learn to create your own weather.
In drought-stricken regions, meteorologists use cloud seeding to encourage heavy skies to let loose their rain. Notice what was happening right before your last creative burst. Were you walking in nature, or doing yoga? Had you been reading a particularly inspiring book or blog, or listening to Wagner? Sometimes it’s quite possible to recreate that seemingly spontaneous state by understanding and harnessing your own creative triggers.
3. Embrace your inner plodder.
Most importantly, sprinters need to take a note from the plodders. You can coax your fickle creative tornado out to play more often simply by making space for it. Move with the muse when she strikes, but don’t only wait for her to come calling. Set a date with her, and she will show up, even if sometimes she’s a little lower in energy during those sessions.
This last point is crucial. It’s good to respect your natural rhythms, but even better not to be a slave to them. Even sprinters can use routines. I do it all the time. Feed dog, make coffee, take shower; morning accomplished. But I broke that routine this morning to make a date with this tornado of a process, the writing of these words. And I’ll do it again next Tuesday morning: 90 minutes of writing, no matter what. Sometimes it will be a blog post, sometimes a part of a chapter. Sometimes, like today, it will be a bit of both.
The dog, the shower and the coffee will still get attended to. And now that my muse knows I’m making time for her, she’s more likely to come calling on me too.
Are you a sprinter or a plodder? And what kind of writing plan works best for you? Let me know in the comments below!