In 1998 I showed my sixth graders at Southwest Middle School (Orlando, FL) a video about Roald Dahl. In it he discussed his writing habits — how he always used a yellow legal pad, stopped when the writing was strong (so it would be easier to pick up the next day), and wrote two hours a day, whether he had something to say or not.
For years I’d talked about writing a book. After watching the video, and with summer just a few weeks away, I decided to give it a try. I checked out a dozen or so books on the Oregon Trail, researched for two weeks,* and started writing.** Dahl’s advice to write for two hours a day felt doable. It’s been a pattern I’ve kept up ever since.
Except when I haven’t, which is most of the time.
It’s far too easy for me to get distracted by the computer, life responsibilities, and the like. This spring, while researching my second book for Putnam, I realized I needed to be better about using my time well. The idea of juggling two books at once was an overwhelming one. I needed a plan, something simple, like Dahl’s two-hour approach.
I started by simply writing down the amount of time I was researching each day. It was frustrating at first to see exactly how much work I was (and was not) doing. But it was a good, honest start.
When working on editorial revisions for BLUE BIRDS, I had the luxury of ten weeks to get my first round done. I aimed for three to five hours a day, five days a week. When the amount of work necessary to pull the book up to what it needed*** felt insurmountable, I tried to remember the small, daily work would lead to something better in two months’ time.
The act of writing down my hours each day pushed me to keep moving. On days where writing was cut to just a few hours or squeezed out entirely, it was also good to refer to my calendar. I had meetings, a boy with a broken wrist, and a retreat to pull together and facilitate in August and September. Seeing those full days helped me chill out a little. I wasn’t eating bon bons or wasting my time. I was busy living life.
If I commit to doing the work, it will get done.
What strategies do you use to meet writing goals?
* do not try this at home
** terrible manuscript but great learning experience!
*** it’s not there yet, but it’s closer
Joanne R. Fritz says
“Except when I haven’t, which is most of the time.” — Boy, did that make me laugh, and nod in recognition. Yep. So true! I try to write for at least an hour or two before I get on the internet to check my email, because checking my email always leads to checking blogs or Facebook or Twitter or… Of course, it doesn’t always work! Writing down my actual time spent writing seems like a simple solution, yet I never thought of it, so thank you! 🙂 I suspect all of us are busy living our lives, which usually includes tasks that are much more mundane than dealing with broken wrists (hope he’s okay now!) but are still necessary, like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry. What I need to give up is TV.
Caroline Starr Rose says
The broken wrist is back in working order!
Yes, simply writing down my time has kept me honest, motivated, and generally encouraged to keep plugging away.
Thanks, Joanne, for alerting me to the comments issues. Fingers crossed this will solve things once and for all.
Augusta Scattergood says
(Love the asterisks!) And yes, I’m commenting but I didn’t get here from a Facebook link. Does that matter?
Caroline Starr Rose says
Not at all! If you did (as I think we’ve discussed?) you couldn’t comment because of that Networked Blog thing. I don’t see duplicates, by the way. Hooray!
Margaret Simon says
I need a structure. One thing that may help would be to cut out FB and email until I at least open a file and write, but here I am checking email and reading blogs. I do get a lot of inspiration, though, and advice. One of these days I am going to commit myself to staying off the Internet until… what is a realistic goal? My problem is I make my goals too hard to reach. Thanks.
Caroline Starr Rose says
What’s something realistic you could do that would inspire instead of discourage? When my boys were small, I aimed for three writing sessions a week. Some only lasted 10 minutes! But the goal was pretty doable.
Jessica Lawson says
I’ve used Roald Dahl’s “stop when the writing is strong” tip for years! I always try to stop when I know exactly what I want to say next (which I sometimes regret, because that 5:30 a.m. writing session that you’re so excited to start the next day can be interrupted by 5YOs who hear that you’re up–and then they want to be up. And then they want early breakfast. And then… then, being a mama is always wins out. As it should. Ah, how they keep things in perspective. Youngest is going to full-day kindergarten this Fall and I’ll have 7 hours to myself for the first time in years. I will spend five of them moping and wanting my littles back.)
I try for two hours, but lately it’s like 20 minutes here and there and a whole lot of mental notes so that when computer time comes, it’s Go-time. Supposedly.
I relate to those days with little ones at home! Back then I had a more modest goal: three writing sessions a week (many lasting ten minutes). Anything else was a bonus. I’m so impressed with all you’ve accomplished with young children!