Part of the job of being a writer, freelance in particular, is setting up your routines and then being disciplined enough to follow through on them. I am VERY good at the former, not so much at the latter. Because I write for private clients as well as myself, I have to make sure I put aside the time to get client work done, which is not difficult because 1) there is usually a deadline and 2) that’s how I get paid. So, I am motivated.
It’s very easy to not write. I have reached expert level at that. But as I get older and I see my time getting shorter (don’t worry—I have many, many croissants to eat before I go), I am much more motivated to get my own stuff done.
I am taking David Gaughran’s (free) course called Starting From Zero, since I am starting a journey into writing fiction. One of the things he mentioned was that he now starts his day by writing for however long he has set aside to write. He doesn’t check email, go online, go jogging (I like that about him VERY much), etc. He sits down and writes first thing, every day.
Now, he may get up early to do that. I am not an early riser. I don’t particularly want to become one. So I get up when I wake up. I go downstairs to the bakery and get my croissant, come back up and make my coffee. Then I sit out on my balcony for half an hour or so and watch village life while my brain starts to slowly rumble to life.
My second cup signals that it’s GO time. I come inside, get my coffee, and sit my ass down in the chair to write. I work in 45 minute sprints, a habit I pick up (and drop and go back to again—you’d think I’d learn) from The Power of an Hour by Dave Lakhani. I write for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break, then write for another 45 minutes.
I do this with client work, too. I work for 45 minutes, take a break, go back for another 45, as many times as I have to. But I now do my personal writing before I do client work. Otherwise, it gets pushed back and I never seem to get to it. “The client comes first.” No. The client work gets done on time because I set the time frame properly when I took the job. If it takes an extra couple of days, that’s fine. I figure that into my delivery estimate. Do they need to know if I do their work in the morning or afternoon? Nope. The client doesn’t know my schedule or workload or really, how long it takes me to do anything. As long as they get what they’ve contracted for on time, they’re happy.
Using the 45 minute technique makes me more efficient with client work. In our business, you can get sucked into the writing, and, especially with books, you can get lost in the weeds. You go down rabbit holes and can’t find your way back. Taking a break helps you clear your head and get back on track if necessary.
But what I like best about this technique is that I’m basically tricking myself. “I only have to do this for 45 minutes. If I don’t like it or nothing’s coming, I can stop.” I do this with things like dishes: “I’ll do dishes for two minutes. Anything not done can wait.” The dishes get done. It might end up being three or five minutes, but once you start doing something, it’s easier to keep at it. A body in motion and all that.
I love the time advantage I have by living in Portugal. I am five hours ahead of the East Coast. I can work all morning, taking care of my stuff, and not be interrupted. No phone calls, no social media dings, or texts. I need to not open my email before noon. That may be my next habit to form.
Because of this time advantage, I now totally understand why people get up at ungodly hours of the morning to start work. It’s a space of uninterrupted time where you can focus on what needs doing. For those of you who are having trouble finding the time to write, I would recommend getting up before the rest of your household is awake, even if it’s only for 45 minutes. (You might have to get out of your house and hit a coffee shop to get that time and space.)
I can write over 1,000 words in 45 minutes. That’s not superfast, but I notice I am getting faster. The more conditioned you are to sitting and writing, the faster you will write. I am in a group where many members turn out full novels in 30 days. (Some in two weeks!) Are they masterpieces? No, but they are not bad books, either. They hit their markets and are well-received. Many of these authors will say their first book took years, even decades. The second book took about one-third of that time. The third even less. The more you write, the more you write. But it’s so much easier to write when you’re not interrupted. Try it for a week and let me know how you do.