Updated: Jul 28, 2019
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To expound upon what I discussed in the last post, I want to give you some solutions that have helped me deal with my personal jitter monkey when it comes to writing. Many of these I learned from listening to different authors and reading their work. Some of them overlap. But, I learned most of these suggestions from Neil Gaiman on his website, interviews, and Masterclass. I found most of his advice to be extremely helpful for those of us who have more than a little difficulty focusing on our writing.
If you haven't had a chance to read the previous post, on writing with anxiety and depression, then you can find it here.
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1. Write every day. This should be self-evident, but often times it is the most neglected. Work, friends, dates, the local team is playing, or you just don’t feel like it. Many things can get in the way of your writing if you don’t have a game plan. If you follow the advice below you’ll see that it's not the chore you think it is.
By breaking your work into smaller chunks, you’ll find that you will have more time to do everything else. An athlete doesn’t get first place in a triathlon because he goes hard one day at the gym once every few weeks. He works out every day for a designated amount of time and then gets on with his life. That is true for most successful people, and it will be true for you too. It will give you the slight edge you need to achieve your goals.
2. Outline your novel. Now, this one is going to tear a hole in some of you pantsers out there, but it needs to be said. Outlining will help you develop a structure so you can tell how far along you are with your story and it allows you to plan. Even creating a rudimentary outline with bullet points on a notepad will go a long way toward keeping you on track.
Here’s how. If you have a plan for the following chapter then you feel a sort of obligation to see it written. It gives you motivation and momentum. Trust, if you’re like me, you’re going to need it. Don’t worry. You can always change your outline. My outline has changed almost as many times as I've revised Supplicant. Its not set in stone, but it can be the stepping stone you need to keep your focus and stamina in the writing game.
3. Buy a good journal and pen. This one is going to be fun. I have an odd obsession with notebooks, journals, and pens. If you do too, then you’re going to love this. Go to the local office store. Look through all the notebooks and journals they have there. Pick a nice one. At Neil Gaiman’s suggestion, I bought and thoroughly enjoy the range and quality of Leuchtturm1917 journals. Then, once you have that, pick out a quality pen you're comfortable with and you think will look great on the page.
Now, this is where I diverge from Neil. I have little time or patience to write with a fountain pen. I’ve tried. Calligraphy is not my strong suit. So, instead, I use Sakura Pigma Micron 05. They look well nice on the page, don’t bleed through, and were voted least likely to ruin my clothes, by me. Sakura are one of the best pens I’ve used. Get the sampler first to see what size is you'd prefer. For me, I like the Micron 05 or 08.
Got them? Happy with what you’ve selected? Sitting down? Good. This journal and pen is what you'll be writing your book with. Don’t look at me like that. Believe it or not this is the foundation upon which the other points rest. These are powerful tools in your fight against distraction, as you will soon see.
4. Write when there are less distractions. This might mean a change to your routine, but let's face it, all of these recommendations will to some extent. For this, you'll need to write when there are less distractions. If your day is like most, then it is filled with rambunctious toddlers, chores, grocery shopping, or the just plain old nine-to-five. And, odds are you feel like you have no time to write.
But, the fact is that you do, if you adjust your routine. If it means getting up thirty minutes to an hour before you have to, then it will be worth it in the long run. Or tack thirty minutes on in the morning and thirty before you go to bed. However you do it, get some time away from the bustle and traffic of your day, and write. This is your time. Own it.
5. Write where there are less distractions. You’ve worked out your schedule, and you have a good writing time when there are less distractions, but now you need to concentrate on writing where there are less distractions. Each of these steps gives fewer opportunities for your little mind monkey to grab your focus and run away with it.
We love our people. We love our animals. However, at some point, it all becomes too much for us to get anything done. Find a comfortable spot, but not too comfortable that you fall asleep. Your writing time should be only for writing. Use a time lock to secure yourself in a room if you have to. This is where writing in a journal comes in handy. If you are not writing on a device, then there is much less temptation for distractions.
Get as much done as possible. If you’ve got writer's block, then stare out a window until an idea crops up. At some point your mind will begin to let you write out of sheer boredom. While you are in your allotted room and the allotted time all you are able to do is write, and nothing else.
If you can’t find a place to isolate yourself, put on headphones. If music with words distracts you, like it does me, then play white noise, ASMR, Binaural beats, film or game soundtrack without lyrics that reminds you of your project. Anything to block out the noise and concentrate. And, just remember, that journal of yours is portable. You can take it anywhere and it doesn’t even need batteries. Go to a library, local coffee shop or bookstore, go to the park, or maybe into the woods if you’re adventurous.
6. Write a page or less a day. This is where things get a little simpler. All you have to do is write half a page. That’s it. Bonus if you can write a whole page. Some days you will only be able to write two hundred words and on others you’ll be able to write two thousand. Don’t judge or berate yourself for not meeting a quota. What’s important is that you showed up and were ready. You are writing every day, even if its a little, but that by itself means more than anything.
7. Have a second or third project. So you have your time, you have your place, you have your journal, but no ideas. That’s where having a second project helps. Have a second or third journal so you can work on those stories while you’re waiting for your monkey mind to become interested in it again. So what if it doesn’t want to work on project number one? Well, then, we have project number two and so on. Whether it likes it or not, it's going to work on a project. Sometimes giving it a choice helps. Believe it or not, you can train that jittering monkey. Well, I wouldn’t bet on it being house trained, but at least it can dance a little for you.
8. Let your jitter monkey loose. Got your monkey by its tail? Well, now's the time to let it go. Write. Don’t self edit. There is a stage for that. For now, let it pour from your mind onto paper. You’ve directed all your energy and focus in one direction, your jitter monkey will be stir crazy to do anything other than staring blankly at the walls. This is the time to let it run wild. And, it will want to. Persevere, be patient, and you will master your monkey.
9. Give yourself a reward. Next, give yourself a treat only AFTER finishing your writing session, whether it met your expectations or not. This programs your mind monkey to be more attentive and forthcoming down the line. Didn’t realize that we were going to be domesticating animals today, did you? You do realize that is what all that 21 days stuff is all about, right? Forming good writing habits and training your mind are virtually the same thing.
Giving yourself a treat reinforces your reward and pleasure centers with the anticipation of another one once it completes your next writing session. This reward can take any form you choose so long as it occurs after your allotted writing time has concluded. Maybe a truffle, a special coffee, maybe a book you’ve been meaning to read or an album you’ve been waiting for. Whatever it is, make sure you enjoy it. You deserve it after all that work.
10. Write every day. Okay. Now what? Refer to number one. Write. Every. Day. Without fail. If friends and loved ones care about you, they will give you the time you need to work. And, after all, it’s only about an hour a day. Surely that isn’t too much to ask. You won’t burn yourself out, and if you keep it up, you will have anywhere between 182 and 365 pages written in a year. That’s a whole novel!
The only other question is what are you going to do with the rest of your time?
If you liked this article, or would like to discuss it, please like and leave a comment. What are some ways you deal with anxiety, depression, or ADHD?
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I will be gone on vacation, so you won't see me for a little over a week. Until then, be safe and be kind to yourself.