Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Time, Dr Who, and Writing - or not, as the case may be - Mari Biella

I sometimes swear I'm caught up in some kind of bizarre Dr Who-style time-bending experiment. I don't know what's happened to the space-time continuum, but it just doesn't seem to be functioning as it once did. I can remember a time when the temporal gap between one Christmas and the next lasted for about - well, about twelve months, actually: twelve long, glorious months that were stuffed full of exciting possibilities. Now I sometimes wonder if it's even worth packing away the festive decorations; before I know it, it'll be time to put them all back up again.

Time is a peculiarly elastic thing. When you're miserable, or trapped at a particularly dreary social event, or waiting for a delayed flight, it hardly moves at all. When you're actually doing something enjoyable and/or worthwhile, like writing, it zips by. Hardly seems fair, does it?

This problem becomes even more striking when you're trying to forge a career (I use the term loosely) as an author-publisher. When you're self-publishing, your 'to do' list has a tendency to become rapidly unmanageable. You have to write blog posts, tweets, and Facebook updates. You have to investigate all those lovely shiny marketing possibilities that you don't currently understand, still less implement. You have to make choices about book covers, blurbs, and formatting. You have to whine ceaselessly about what a headache all these things are...

What to do, then? Here are some things that have worked for me; they might not work for everyone. They have to be used in conjunction with a degree of flexibility, because you can never be sure what's coming next. Personally, I find it's not really about managing time - sadly, not being a Timelord, I can't manage time - but about managing my own choices.

Caught in the Web

The internet, for all its benefits, can be an unbelievable time-suck. You start off innocently intending to spend a few minutes checking your emails, and before you know it you've wasted several hours doing nothing in particular. It's quite a dilemma: we need the internet - living without it for any length of time has become unthinkable - but on many levels it's made life much more difficult. It's no coincidence that I got some of my best writing done during a week when my WiFi connection gave up the ghost, effectively banishing me from cyberspace.

I've recently got into the habit of setting an alarm during writing sessions. I set it for a short period - thirty minutes to an hour - after which I can have a break. The point is that during those short periods I do nothing except write. It sounds depressingly regimented - quite the opposite of fun, carefree creativity - but sometimes, if you want to get through the hard slog, you have to be quite regimented. Setting yourself a minimum word count per day - if it's realistic - might also help.

For the more technically-minded, there's a Google Chrome extension called StayFocusd (go to the Google Chrome store to download it) that limits the amount of time you can spend on sites like Facebook, or wherever you go to skive during your working hours.

The Depressingly Bureaucratic List

I've recently begun to make a list every Sunday evening, in which I write down exactly what I want to achieve during the coming week. It really is depressingly bureaucratic; after all, can creativity really be arranged according to a schedule? Perhaps not, but my list does give me something to focus on, and it can be good in helping me to deal with those niggling little administrative tasks that have nothing to do with creativity per se. Inevitably, I sometimes fall short of doing everything on my list, but it provides me with a clear set of goals - and the sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally cross an item off is wonderful.

Use the Power

Depending on your body clock, you can try to match your working sessions to your own personal energy peaks. Some people like to write in the morning; others find that they work best in the evening. You might also be able to arrange your writing sessions to coincide with those times when there's no one else around, and nothing to distract you. I suffer from insomnia, and frequently wake up during the early hours. This isn't an entirely bad thing, either; at four o'clock in the morning, it's wonderfully quiet. Nobody's around. Nobody's going to call or ring the doorbell. I can work without distractions.

Plugging the Gaps

Modern life entails a lot of what I call 'dead time'. This is time spent on trains or planes, hanging around at airports, or waiting in doctors' or dentists' waiting rooms. Luckily, writing is portable, so you can take your laptop or notebook with you. I've found that it's surprisingly easy to concentrate on your story in these places. They're generally so miserable that you're only too happy to disappear into your fictional world...

A Room of One's Own...

or a corner of one's own, at least. Having a dedicated writing space really does help, I find. I'm a creature of habit. When I sit down in my writing space (the kitchen table, in my case), my mind almost automatically switches into 'work' mode. This is no guarantee of success, but it does help...

The Greenwich Meridian. Which is somewhat connected with the theme of time, I suppose...

These things haven't solved the problem entirely, but they have helped. We're all different, though, and we probably all have vastly different ways of managing, or at least attempting to manage, our time. What works for you?

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Susan Price said...

Mari, snap! - I have this problem too. I think we all do. We share a few coping mechanisms.

I use 'the kitchen timer trick' a lot - that is, setting a timer for however many concentrated minutes of writing I feel I can face, and then writing until the bell rings. I also do 'pubowrimos' where I take my laptop or notebook to a pub, usually with a friend, and we have an agreement that we will not speak for a hour, but will write instead. It works!

I also have a fearsome 'To-Do List.' I don't care whether my creativity likes or dislikes a schedule - I have to keep track of the increasing number of things to be done somehow! It's on my computer, and I give myself points for completing tasks, and see if I can beat my own record.

On the list today - Get quote for bumper repair - book B&B for upcoming school visit - work on workshop - update website etc etc.

Other days it has things like Shop - Laundry - Post contract...
If it aint on the list, it will be forgotten!

Bill Kirton said...

Yes, another snap from me too, Mari. Problem is, I don't have your apparent self-discipline. And that whole business about the flexibility of time reminds me of a Camus passage which struck me as a student and has stayed ever since. I can't recall the exact quotation but, effectively, he's saying that if you want to live a long life, spend a lot of time in dentists' waiting rooms or queuing for things you don't want.

Lydia Bennet said...

Snap from me too!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

These are good ideas, Mari - and I use most of them. I'm an inveterate list maker - I have several and they do rule my life a bit- but it certainly helps, if only to see exactly what you HAVE done,even if you think you haven't achieved very much in a day. I'm lucky enough to have a whole room to write in and I've started putting the answering machine on as well. The ringing of the phone is a bit disruptive but not half as bad as the actual calls. For me, prioritising is and always has been the problem. Once I really get into a project I find it reasonably easy to keep going, but I do prevaricate and find other things that 'have to' be done. Except that if I'm honest, they probably don't. Once I'm deep into a novel, I do a lot of writing and editing at night. It's quiet, the phone doesn't ring and I seem to be able to keep tiredness at bay, although I'm not quite so enthusiastic about it the following morning!

julia jones said...