As I’ve mentioned before, I am a highly distractable, highly unscheduled, highly undisciplined writer of things. For example, the beginning of this post has been sitting in an open tab since Friday morning. It is now very early Sunday morning and I am just writing the third sentence. You can imagine how difficult it is for me to compose anything of significant length or seriousness. As I’ve also mentioned before, I find it quite inspiring to read about how other people structure their work since it is such a struggle for me.
Friday morning I was reading an article on the Locus Magazine website by Cory Doctorow called “Writing In The Age of Distraction” that I might have found on BoingBoing. You can, no doubt, understand then that, as a fan of Cory’s, this article got me all excited up on a number of levels. It addresses something I like (Writing) in light of a problem I wrestle with (Distraction) by someone whose writing I like (Cory). In particular, one passage really stood out and screamed at me.
Short, regular work schedule
When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.
This is a very interesting idea and something I’m going to try and keep going through The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories, which I am already behind on. Typically, I don’t write on weeknights because my work schedule can be so crazy at times that I have difficulty coming home, regaining my focus, and sitting down to work, especially when all I really want to do is eat something, hang out with my ladyfriend, and mellow before I go to bed. Of course I am never going to fulfill my obligations to TYO5KP&50SS by giving in to my base need to be lazy and “chill out,” as the kids say. That said, it is ridiculous to expect hours worth of work from myself when I come home at 10pm from work, maybe eat something, and sit in front of the computer at midnight. But 20 or 30 minutes I can do.
Since I don’t write in a program that shows a page layout like MS Word would, I don’t have a good indication of what a “page” is or when I reach it. A Google search shows that 250 words in 12-pt Courier per page is generally considered standard for a manuscript submission. Some of my own tests using a regular US Letter piece of paper with standard margins suggest that a page is about 350 words in 12-pt Times New Roman. Either way, two pages is, what, 500-700 words? That I can do. I think. Maybe. We shall see. I am really terrible at this whole “schedule” business.