Not a fancy phrase there, but elegance would only obscure the issue. Yes, I'm talking about how to simply stay seated, stay focused, stay off email, and keep writing. It's a problem for writers at every level and in my experience, it doesn't get any easier. I've often shared the fact that I was a more disciplined writer when my children were babies, because I understood how limited my uninterrupted time was and didn't want to squander it. My time is stretched in other ways now, and I have no one to blame but myself. So I keep looking for tricks. (At the bottom of this post, I'll be looking for yours!)
After I write this, I'll spend 2.5 hours working on a novel edit. I'm doing some late-stage stuff: inputting changes I've manually written on a printed manuscript. I did well yesterday by parking myself at a cafe and keeping an eye on the clock, demanding 50 pages of corrections per hour for about three hours. Note the exact times, the pagecounts -- yes, that's how I keep my butt in the chair. Much harder to do when you're at the creative stage, starting a novel for example. You can sit three or four hours and still not end up with 500 to 1000 words, though that's what I aim to produce in that amount of time. This may all seem elementary, but I'd written for several years before I stumbled upon the very encouraging math: if you write 3000 words a week, and keep only 1000 of those words, you still have half of a good-sized novel at year's end. My 'problem' (if it is a problem) is that I toss so much of what I write and revise for as many months -- often more -- than I spend writing a first draft.
For me, all of this can be easier when I'm writing in a public place, because then my self-distraction options are more limited. Yes, I wander off to the bathroom, but I have to hustle, worrying about the laptop left back on the table. (Very old laptop. Hopefully no one will ever steal it.) At home, I'd probably end up flossing my teeth and doing the dishes rather than hurry back to the page.
In her January blogpost, Marybeth Holleman referred to a great trick by Ron Carlson. She wrote: "He calls it the twenty-minute rule. When you start to leave the page and get up for a break, make yourself write for another twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s only the twenty, which is something, but sometimes (oh miracle of miracles) it stretches to 30, 60, even 120 minutes."
So, we've got wordcounts and pagecounts. Hourly minimums or perhaps a minimum number of days per week (curse that Stephen King, who says he writes every single day, even Christmas). We have Carlson's twenty-minute rule. What else?
This is your chance to share with your fellow wordsmiths. I'm looking for three or four guestposts about how you keep your butt in the chair. Or how you fail to do so -- but keep trying. Please send to email@example.com.
I'll run them in early April, when we'll be having - thematic tie-in - an incredibly fun new event called the Raven Write-a-thon. Five hours (or better yet, 4.9!) of butt-in-the-chair time at a private, catered gathering held at Snow City Cafe on Friday April 8, with afterparty to follow, or in the convenience of your home, or at a satellite celebration (please contact us if you'd like to get organize one in your locale). This event is modeled on a similar font-raising/fundraising event in San Diego called "Blazing Laptops," as well as community writing 'lock-ins' held at other writing centers, like Grub Street. Registration for the write-a-thon will open in March. More details coming soon.
But look at the clock! I'm supposed to be writing/editing...