I wake up at 4:44 am every morning. I stretch, drink 1 litre of hydroperfected water, and then meditate for 10 minutes. I then move to my Sanctuary to begin writing. The words come easy. They flow out of my brain, down my arms, and splatter the keyboard with my creativity. I write until the inspiration begins to slow, about three hours. Although it feels as if no time has passed at all. Then I sit and meditate on what I have just conjured into existence, imagining the characters living their lives as I have written them. Then, I am I done. The work is complete. This is how I write.
It’s not. It’s nothing like that at all. I have a small child in my house. A tiny dog that whimpers when left out of the room. And it’s cold in winter and too hot in summer. And sometimes it’s harvest season so the farmers have been working all night across the road and next door, so I haven’t slept. Sometimes the water doesn’t work, and I must go out into the dark and do maintenance on the pump.
There are never four hours of complete quiet and solitude in my house. There used to be. And I squandered it. I wasted my time. The only try currency we have that we can never get back. Scrolled and YouTube vortexed it away with reckless aplomb.
And now I have no time and nowhere near the words written that I wanted to.
In the past year, I have been working hard to use my time effectively and write the words I want to when I can. To understand, hone, and ultimately master my creative time when I get it. It has not been an easy process. My attention has been stolen. But I have been working to change that to ensure I can get myself into a creative state whenever the opportunity arises.
The following are some steps to do this and some resources you might find helpful in this overly stimulated world we live in. This is not law, it’s just what works for me.
Not when but how.
I spent a long time thinking that in order to build a solid writing routine I needed to sit down to write at the same time every day. I needed to be consistent with when I am sitting down to work and that would lead to productivity. This can work, and I’m sure it does when you do have time for it. But I don’t. I need to take the moments when I get them. In fact, I am writing this in a shitty motel in the early morning before a day of business meetings in the city. The ‘when’ in routines should be whenever you can. Not at a certain time. The trick is to know your cues to drop into a state of flow.
A state of flow.
Getting the zone. It’s not random and it’s not luck and it’s just for gamers and sportspeople. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dedicated a large portion of his life to studying flow and how you can get into it.
The 8 Characteristics of Flow (Positive Psychology)
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
1. Complete concentration on the task;2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;5. Effortlessness and ease;6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;8. There is a feeling of control over the task.
1. Just write, if you need to research do it at another time.2. Set a timer or a word count and stick to it.3. Once you start to work time will change, you might lose track of it.4. Remember you’re writing because you want to and you have been blessed with time to do it, right now.5. Just let the words come, don’t stress if they’re right.6. Your research is done, you know what you want to write.7. You’re not thinking about how it will be received; your focus is on the words going down on to the page.8. This is your work and you’re getting it done.
If you’re a planner, you know this. If you’re a pantser you know something about what you’re going to write even if all you know is that your main character is going to punch the cop. The reason it is important to be prepared is that research is messy and muddy business. You can get bogged down in information. Wading through websites, books, videos, and forums and come out with nothing but the knowledge you haven’t learned anything. So, if you’re sitting down to write, be prepared to write. You can also block out time for research too. But this is a series on writing.
Blocking out time.
To have complete concentration on the task, you must have time allocated for it. It doesn’t need to be at a regular time, but it does need to be long enough to do something. For me, that is a minimum of 25 minutes. Why 25 minutes? Because I use the Pomodoro Technique to get help me focus. The Pomodoro Technique is essentially 25 minutes of work and then 5 minutes of break time repeated until your allocated time is finished. I have a Pomodoro app on my phone (if I have my phone on me), a Google Chrome plug-in, and an app installed on Windows. I have Pomodoro’s ready and waiting for whenever they need to be called into action. So, I have at least 25 minutes blocked out for writing and only writing. The other cool thing about this method is that I can then block out time in 30 minute chunks. Sometimes I will have an hour, that’s two Pomodoro’s!
Musical cues for a flow state.
I listen to the same music every time I write. When I hear it, I know it’s time for me to work. To write. To get the words down and out and feel fucking good about it. Taste in music is subjective and there is no specific type that works best for everyone, so this will take some trial and error for you. That’s ok, there’s no quick fix for concentration and productivity. For my first Pomodoro, at least, I listen to either this or this. They’re both fast-paced and have little to no words. I know them back to front and there is nothing in them that surprises me, but they also put me in a positive mood. However, they can become a little too chaotic after a while and I will usually move to some binaural beats or orchestral music. These are some of my favourites.
Hiding my phone.
If I can, I hide my phone. I put it in another room or in my bag. Phones are a fucking curse that I can’t remedy. But until there is a major change in tech law, I will have to live with them. You can get K-Safe, but they’re expensive. So, the cheaper option is to turn it off and get it out of sight. But do whatever you need to remove the distraction, cause if you’re looking at your phone you don’t have complete concentration on your task.
Turning off the internet.
What the fuck, Stuart?
Yep, turn it off. Now, you can do it literally by flicking the modem off or you can use software or applications to do this. I am using Freedom. I paid 30 bucks for the year. I can block all the sites I want to, and I can leave exceptions, sites that I need in order to work. I am new to Freedom and it’s something I have chosen to invest the cash in. However, there are plenty of free options. I used BlockSite for years before freedom. Why turn it off? Because the internet will stop you from having complete concentration on your task.
Start with some editing.
Now, this is about finding something that is challenging and at your skill level. I find that reading through and making minor edits to my work helps to drop me down into a state of flow. It also gets my mind into the place and space I was before I stopped writing. It’s not so challenging you can’t proceed but it is enough to keep you interested and thinking about what makes good writing.
Obviously, if you’re starting a new piece of writing then just get words down. It doesn’t matter you can just delete the shit you wrote that’s shit and boring and yuck. It doesn’t matter because we live in the future with magic on our side that makes editing and rewriting a simpler process (I mean, the thinking side of it is not any simpler.)
Write because you want to.
You want to be a writer, yeah? Well, this is your chance to sit down and crush your word counts, create your worlds, and live in your fantasy lands. It needs to be intrinsically rewarding. You need to be doing it because you want to.
Now, sometimes we must write something we don’t really want to. I have been working for the last three months as a curriculum writer for the state government, which has been an excellent experience and I loved it, but they weren’t the words I wanted to write. So, when faced with this sort of conundrum a minor pivot in your approach to the task is required. For me, I decided that I would treat the work as training. I worked on my sentence structure and find my ideal writing routine (hence this blog post). Find out what you, a writer, can learn or gain from working on a project that isn’t exactly what you want to do.
So, they’re my thoughts on routines. It’s not about when but how you write when you get the time. Feel free to drop a comment below on and tell me about your writing routines, tips, and tricks.
The following are great resources if you want to learn from actual professionals.
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
- Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Stolen Attention:: why you can’t pay attention by Johann Hari (please, everyone read this)
Long days and pleasant nights.