I have to question if recently losing all my writing time was a boost to my productivity. Has the necessary focus on squeezing all the available time and making time to write, actually been of additional benefit?
Last week I droned on at some length about my attempts at reclaiming writing time lost to commuting. This has been achieved by converting it to tuition time by using podcasts, as explained in last week’s post Making Time to Write, part 1.
My attention during this time has also focused on making use of the five lunch breaks; these can have a waste factor for scribbling of between 2.5 hours and 5 hours. This blog and last week’s were both written during these otherwise wasteful and fattening periods. So just what is the robust, reliable and portable technology utilised to capture this opportunity?
Although I cannot enter the final text into an electronic file during these periods, I can draft out ideas, paragraphs and the structure of the blog post. Free from the tyranny of the squiggly red line, words flow freely onto the page and there are minimal crossings out and no going back to tweak. This is a real bonus if you are an inherent self editor.
During transcription of these entries to the PC, much of it gets tidied, tightened or simply chopped. It would appear that my brain chews on these scribblings between the periods and by the time it comes to transcription, new weightings have been mentally applied to the entries.
(e.g. Twelve lines of substandard scribbling have been omitted here.)
One of the nice things about writing the blog over a few days, is the ability to capture thoughts as they occur and write paragraphs out of sequence, secure in the knowledge that it can all be rearranged later when it is transcribed. Of course this could be done sitting at a PC but normally I would sit down to write a blog post in one session, and I suspect most writers do the same.
This time is not just going to be used for writing blog posts, there are other far grander uses intended for this time. I am also using it towards writing a full manuscript. The method is not easy and takes a bit of initial investment but for reasons which I will come back to later, I am expecting a serious return on the investment.
Pantser warning: What follows will sound like “plotting”, but a pantser can still use this, although I must admit a plotter will benefit more.
The method is to turn all aspects of writing and promoting a project into individual tasks. Then to break those down further and keep doing so until we get a range of tasks, some quick and some that require longer blocks of time. Keep this list with you at all times, in your journal would be sensible, and reference it whenever an opportunity arises, e.g. lunch break, waiting outside school, waiting in the doctors, even waiting in a takeaway.
Making this list will take an investment of time, but the list making process itself can be broken down into sub-tasks. For example;
List about novel tasks
List about novel research tasks
List about platform tasks
List about promotion tasks
List about researching agent/publisher tasks
Each of these will expand further, let’s take the novel list for a moment;
Proust questionnaire for character a,b,c,…
What am I trying to achieve with THAT scene?
Dialogue snippet when hero finds…
Description of places or object or event
Thoughts about time line
Backstory on sub-characters
How can I make THAT work?
How can I strengthen that weak bit?
Better word for “a weak word you wish you hadn’t used”
You will see that most of the tasks above are well away from the areas defined by words like; plot, outline, structure and story arc. This is me tipping my hat to the pantsers out there and recognising their method of work. For me, as a habitual plotter, I personally would include all tasks associated with; plot, hooks, outline etc.
It must be noted that when I only have 10, 15, 30 or 45 minutes to make an entry in my journal, when time is that tight, I am more likely to use 10, 15, 30 or 45 minutes for actual writing. It seems because the deadline is so close, focusing on the task is no problem.
At some point I expect to shuffle all this together and making time to write will involve making larger blocks of time available. Hopefully by then, most of the thinking will have been completed, characters known and story fully developed.
This is where I am expecting a return from the initial investment of breaking the project into smaller bite sized tasks. It is also the thought which prompted this post’s opening question; “was losing all my writing time a boost to my productivity?”. Normally when I sit down to write, I spend a short period considering the story so far and what to write to continue the journey. Probably followed by a short, or long, period of procrastination before any words actually start to flow.
When transcribing the blog from the journal, my head is full of the thoughts developed up to that point. There is no initial delay, no procrastination before entering and editing the journal entries. I am expecting that the same will happen with entries for the project.
So if I am tightly focused when making the journal entries and I do minimal procrastination when transcribing, it may be that the restricted writing time might just be more productive.
A final important point about using a list of fragmented tasks in this way, is that I find that I must keep the task list with me at all times. So when an opportunity arises, a quick glance will remind me of any simple/short tasks that I can fit in then or later in the day.
Photo; Img_0096, Smithmikeg