Today is the first day of Camp Nanowrimo for July 2019, and I am already way behind where I want to be with my writing.
Still, writing block happens, and sometimes it’s not a lack of enthusiasm but the interruptions that come just from living life, little bumps and hiccups, twists and turns that we’re not expecting that throw us off-course regardless of our plans or intentions, yeah something weird happened today and I don’t feel as hyped up to write as I did about an hour ago – but, that’s life, and I’m here to write.
As I have said and experienced multiple times, a one-size-fits-all strategy for getting writing done simply doesn’t work for me, and I’m beginning to see how maybe I’m not even a little bit alone in that regard. Having options is good; being flexible increases one’s resilience, and resilience is definitely something I’m going to need to achieve my Camp Nano goals. So, here is a list of the strategies I have currently identified as being potentially helpful, based on past experience, in getting me through writer’s block, whatever it’s source. I hope you find them helpful, and to that end I may as well start with the best one I’ve found so far.
I thought I came up with this idea all on my own – and to be fair, I did, but I’m not the only person who got the bright idea to write in company. And, I mean, that’s basically it: find another person or a couple of people who are looking to get some words down in writing, make a time to meet up, and then write your stuff together. It’s not a critique group, it’s not a competition; it’s moral support and company for an undertaking that can be very isolating and lonely. Do it. It works. End of story.
Well, sort of. Like anything where other people are involved, it can be very easy to get sidetracked, even with the best of intentions and most steadfast self-control (which I don’t have). Therefore, it’s good to have something – or things – to fall back on when it looks like you’re getting off-track.
The Windows Method is one that I’ve talked about a bit before on this blog, and while I’m not at all sure that I’ve coined this phrase I haven’t heard it used anywhere else, so I’m definitely all right with taking the credit.
The general idea is very simple: you give yourself a window of opportunity in which X thing can be done – and outside of that window, it can’t. In terms of writing, this goes something like “Between 2 and 6 PM I can work on X writing project; before and after that window of time I must not work on X writing project”. This does two things: it establishes clear boundaries on your time and how you spend it, and it it gives you a time-crunch.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Windows Method is, at best, what scientists like to call “iffy”. But as time goes on I have kept working on it, and recently I’ve realised that it’s the length of time I’m giving myself that’s the problem. Hours-long windows are too long; it’s too easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating for the majority of your window so that, when it comes down to the last little bit, you tell yourself “well there’s basically no point now, I might as well not even bother”, and nothing gets done. So, for Camp Nanowrimo, I’m going to be putting a very strict, very short limit on the size of my windows, as in no longer than 15 minutes at a time (and probably much shorter than that anyway).
This brings me to the second method, which requires a partner but also sounds quite fun:
This is definitely not an original method of my own creation, and in fact I had to look it up to understand exactly what it means, after seeing the phrase used a few times (usually in connection to Nanowrimo events). The idea is similar to the Windows Method in that you set out to write for a set amount of time – however, in a Word Sprint, you are competing against another writer, or even competing in a group of writers, to see who can write the most words within the time-limit. I’m sort of a competitive person, but I have definitely had some not-great experiences with people who take competition a little too seriously. Nevertheless, with the right group of people any kind of activity can be fun and fulfilling, and this sounds like something I’d be keen to try out this Nano.
Everything’s Fine Method
I don’t know that this deserves to be called a “method”, per say, but the idea is what it says on the tin: when the going gets tough, sweep that shit under the rug (for now). For me, this pragmatic tactic became part of my repertoire while writing Wolf Gang, when I got to a part of the story that I found dull, boring, necessary but utterly uninspiring.
So I skipped it, and wrote the rest of the story first.
For anyone who’s been following this blog since those days, you will know that this did not come without downsides: it took me another year to finish that dull, boring, necessary but uninspiring part of the book, and it almost killed the project dead. But in terms of keeping up the momentum that I had, it was crucial to keeping the project going. This is a strategy to definitely use with caution, but a valuable one nonetheless – just remember, you will have to deal with all of that unpleasant writing at some point if you want your project to, like, exist in a completed form. But it could be that taking the easy way out is exactly what your project needs in the moment, and we should not be afraid to do just that.
As for the stuff we’re sweeping under the rug: take notes. Why is it unpleasant? What’s difficult/confronting/irritating about it that is causing such aversion to writing it? Make honest notes about these things, and put them aside somewhere that you can easily access them. It gives you the opportunity to come back to the problem when you’ve gotten some distance and have a fresh perspective – and it could well be that, through allowing yourself to just stick to the stuff that you like, you might come up with a solution to whatever the problem is. Positivity begets positivity.
Here’s one that’s definitely a work in progress for me in terms of practice, but the idea is one that appeals to me deeply: set a (manageable) number of specific, manageable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals, some of which are writing-related, and some of which are not. Then, alternate between them throughout the day.
This is definitely one to keep in the back pocket as far as I’m concerned, not something I’d use as a solid foundation for a daily routine – but certainly useful in those situations where I want but don’t necessarily need a break from writing. It’s basically a compromise system, where you get to make sure you’re sticking to your writing commitments while also getting what you need and want out of life beyond just sitting in front of a computer and typing for hours on end. And on a macro scale, that’s how writing should be anyway – this is just taking that guiding principle of work-life balance and condensing it into the activities of a single day.
All In Method
On the other hand, sometimes the way you get things done is to go to the extreme. This isn’t really a “method” so much as a fairly common tactic that people just intuitively employ, which is just to devote yourself to Getting Shit Done.
In this case, I have the most experience with this “method” from my academic life, both last year as a way of coping with the massive almost-panic-attack I had when I fell way behind with marking the comics paper, and during my masters degree when I had a lot of shit to get done. And it’s incredibly simple: you aren’t doing anything else today except for X thing – in this case, writing my goddamn book.
This is also why it often doesn’t work: it’s bleak. On the face of it, this is a horrible experience to put yourself through, especially if you’re at a low point in your writing enthusiasm and nothing could be more off-putting than the prospect of losing an entire day to running around in circles getting nowhere with your project while feeling increasingly guilty as time goes by and writing continues to not get done. It’s another back-pocket strategy, an emergency button that I’ve found most useful in periods of extreme enthusiasm (in which case I want to make the most of that enthusiasm), or periods of extreme reluctance (in which case I want to kick my ass into gear and get out of whatever rut I’m stuck in). It works because, as soon as you make the decision to sacrifice every other want and desire you could potentially follow through on that day, it’s incredibly freeing, even empowering, to have a single, clear goal to put all of your energy towards – for today.
And to be real, this isn’t a strict thing like the Windows Method or a word sprint; this is all about attitude. If we’re talking about SMART goals, this one is pretty much the antithesis of it; you’re going to burn out, especially if you try to do it over a prolonged period of time. Never mind that people might sometimes need to take breaks, eat, sleep, maybe experience human contact, that sort of thing. And that’s good. That’s healthy. This “method” doesn’t “fail” if you do any of those things; it succeeds when you get the kick that you need out of clearing the path before you, making the sacrifice of your free time for the sake of achieving an ambition of yours, and making a commitment to yourself that you care about keeping. It’s actually not about being hard on yourself, nor is it about literally doing nothing but writing for a whole day; it’s about giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, being your own cheerleader, and embracing your own willingness to make some sacrifices in the short-term to achieve your long-term goals. It’s about building a good-faith relationship with yourself that you can fall back on when times get tough, and build on with more good, self-empowering habits.
And, at the other extreme: sometimes you just have to call it a day and do something other than write.
This is a hard one for a lot of writers, myself definitely included, because of the guilt that comes from not writing or being in a constant state of concern over whether or not writing is getting done. But we need breaks; we need to look after ourselves, and taking breaks is part of doing that successfully.
There is always the issue of taking too long of a break, and that’s what these other methods are here to try and counter – at least that’s my plan. I know I tend to take whatever I can get when it comes to avoidant behaviour, and that it’s definitely not good for me. But that doesn’t mean that taking breaks is wrong; it just means that I need to get better at taking meaningful time out that actually benefits me, lets me regroup and recharge so that I can come back to writing feeling refreshed and eager. And I think a big part of that is just making sure that you have a surefire way to get back on the wagon, because once you’re off it can be very tempting to stay off. And sometimes that is the right decision, but I think we all know when we’ve gone from recuperating to procrastinating – and that’s when strategies for getting yourself to write come into play.
That’s All (for now)
These are the ways of managing my writing time and energy that I’ve come up with over the past 19 years. Yeah, I thought I might have a few more by now, too. But hey, gotta start somewhere; and I’m looking forward to putting them to the test this Camp Nano, and finding more useful methods for staying on-target going forward.
How about you? What are some writing strategies that you’ve found useful? What makes them work? What are their shortcomings? I think the last time I explicitly asked for any kind of response to a blog post of mine was like a year ago because I am definitely not a Blogger, but I would genuinely be interested to hear other perspectives on this topic. It’s the bread and butter of how us writers do what we do, and having or not having the motivation to write is such a weird, existential, neurotic process sometimes, and I think keeping it to ourselves can make it even more difficult to deal with than it already is.
In any case, I hope something here has been helpful or made you think; good writing to you all – and for those of you participating in Camp Nano this year: good luck!