Remember you’ve got a life

Remember you’ve got a life. You might be thinking ‘how could I forget?’ – maybe organising the kids, job, household, eating healthily, taking the dog for a walk, phoning your mum, getting the shopping etc. is enough to remind you! What I mean is: when you are planning your writing or your creative project, remember you’ve got a life. Most people dishing out writing advice forget that writers have a life, and most time management ‘gurus’ forget that the project you’re managing has got to fit in with everything else going on for you. That’s what this post is about.

By the way, if you missed part one of this series, it’s here.

How long will your project take?

I said in a previous post that because of Hofstadter’s law we are terrible at predicting how long it will take us to do something and tend to underestimate – even if we know about Hofstadter’s law – so the best way to work out how long something will take is to look back to the last time you did it, and even better, to keep a record of how long things take – writing a blog post, finishing an episode of your screenplay, writing a scene from a novel – so that you have a pretty good idea of how long these things will take in the future.

Picture or itemise your goal

Do you have an end point in mind? A finished poetry collection or memoir? A TV series submitted to a production company? A finished novel ready to send to an agent? Can you get more specific about what that would look like? The more you can visualise what the end point will look like when you’ve achieved it,  the easier it is to break it down into small steps. (If you can’t visualise it, create an itinerary or a wish list for your goal.) I’ve written a whole book on goal setting and time management, so there’s a lot more to say about this – I’ll hold back for now – but if you’d like a free chapter from the book you can find it from here.

Do you want to do the maths?

You’ve got a choice here. You could take this process further and figure out – based on the length of time it took you to write and redraft (say) 1000 words previously  – how long it will take you to get to the next stage of your goal. If you remove the emotion that often comes with these things, you can simply do the maths. For example, based on the last time I wrote and redrafted 1000 words and the number of writing sessions I have scheduled, it will take me two years to finish my memoir. In my free course on NaNoWriMo, I suggest doing the maths like this simply so you can keep track of your novel and get 50,000 words down by the end of the month. But the ‘do the maths’ approach may not suit you. Alternatively, you can keep turning up regularly and gradually take small steps, one writing session at a time.

Remembering you’ve got a life

As I’ve said, Hofstadter’s law states that we’re not very good at predicting how long a task will take, and this may be because we forget about context too easily. I’ve written about context before in a guest blog post I did for ALLi but I’d like to apply Hofstadter’s law here too.

When it comes to finding time to write or to be creative regularly, it’s context that gets forgotten, which is why it’s so hard to estimate how long something will take. We tend to conceptualise tasks as if they are discrete, and as if they have a starting point, a mid-point and an end point, and there are definite benefits to thinking this way. However, in practice, the following might happen. These are both examples of context.

Two types of context

  1. When we’re conceptualising a writing task, we forget, for instance, that we might rewrite the beginning repeatedly, or rearrange part of the middle to make the end, or that we might think something is one story when it turns out to be two, or that we might think we’ve started one thing, when we’ve actually begun something else, or we might think a thing is finished only to have to work on it some more. This doesn’t make you incompetent, it’s simply part of the process.
  2. When conceptualising a task, we also tend to forget about normal everyday life that could be shaving hours off our working time. We get caught in the rain and have to take a bath, the kids get a tummy bug, we miss the train home, we need to get the shopping in, something happens to affect our ability to think clearly.

Both of these things are ‘context’ – one is context that affects the writing process and the other is life getting in the way. You can probably think of  your own specific contexts. Most time management systems act as if tasks are discreet – with no context – and have a beginning, middle and end, but real life isn’t like that. Simply acknowledging that helps.

What to do about context

  1. Plan and review. If you can do it, this works wonders. Make a little bit of time at the beginning of a writing session to plan, and create a similar window of time at the end of a writing session to note down what you’ve done, and to plan for next time. This only need be five minutes. Do this at the start and end of every working day, too.
  2. Once you’ve worked out your ideal time and place to write, the ideal length of session and what it takes to get into your flow state – read part one here to find out how to do thatand you’ve started turning up regularly, do this. Identify the things that interfere with or interrupt your writing sessions most often. Is there anything small – anything at all – that you could change to make things better?

Example interruptions

Here are a couple of made up examples. 1. My biggest interruption is the kids waking up. I get up early to write and end up waking up the kids when I go downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. Is it even worth it? OR: 2. My biggest problem is that I keep rewriting the beginning over and over again. I don’t seem to be able to move on. I feel like I’m wasting my time.

If you were advising someone else in these situations, what would you say? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Maybe get a ‘Tea’s Maid’ from ebay and position your notebook on your bedside table, so you don’t have to get out of bed at all? Or try switching tasks around so you answer your work emails first thing in the morning on your phone while they watch cartoons, and write for an hour after they go to school?
  2. Perhaps try getting hold of a book about writing – ask for recommendations on social media – and follow its advice about how to structure your work, then forbid yourself from even re-reading the beginning? Or could you join a writing group where you have to show the others progressive chapters from your novel and ask one of them to check in with you every couple of weeks?

There’s no right answer to either, but it may be that looking at the situation from another angle will help. Now look at your main interruptions and write down what you would say to someone else if they approached you with the same problem.

Happy writing,

Louise xxx



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