Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The First Thing You Do at Your Computer...or the Last?

I just read a nice post from the Writer's Resource Center ( about how to structure your work habits. The piece talks like someone is reporting to an office and doesn't really talk about freelance writers, but it applies. 

Basically, do what's most important in the first hour of your day.

What's the first thing you do when you fire up the old PC or Mac? Check email. Yep! We want to know the latest news, who needs us, when we have to schedule an obligation (or a social event), and of course, learn more about the other movers and shakers in our writing industry. We want to become educated since we shut down the day before. Once we've answered the mail, we then write. Assuming we have time.

I've tried for three days to pen a new chapter. Someone dropped in to see me. Then the short trip to the grocery store turned into a much longer trip, plus a side detour to the post office, gas station and office supply. So at two AM, I'm still trying to catch up on email, Facebook and Twitter. (Yes, I communicate through social media much like I do email.) I have a personal mandate to be in bed by three AM, so some nights the novel never comes out of hiding.

Why the heck don't I write 500-1,000 words first and foremost - immediately when I boot up? Because I have a backwards clock.

What other people might do first, I do last. Email duties are easier daytime tasks. They can be interrupted. Plus other people wander around my They interrupt. I get distracted. I check 50-100 emails then do a chore. I research then feed chickens. I check out new websites, Twitter friends or blogs, then go to the gym. Email is made for interruption. FundsforWriters is a thousand little tasks that can be done a few or many at a time. Nothing frustrates me more than to be in the midst of a chapter and someone ask me what I thought about the news or asks me what's for dinner.

At night, however, when people are drowsy or in bed, when the dogs are conked out, when the roosters are roosting, when the phone never rings, I write fiction. The house is silent except for my tapping fingers. It's my time with my characters. The synchronization works, and I see places, feel August sun, fight tears and build anger in my bubble of space in the dead of night as a story takes shape.

So, when is your jamming, mind-blowing, energetic creative hour? Each of us has one. You need to identify it. One hour. Tie it down. Only do your heartfelt, most important project during that sixty minutes. Nothing says you have to stop after one hour, but you'll surprise yourself at your productivity to the point I bet you go over.

Yeah, I know email is one of those instant gratifications things. It's temptation. Click, read, click, read, forward, click, save click.

But think about sitting down to that blank screen and writing, or at that manuscript and editing, whether you do it first, last or at a designated hour in the middle of the day. Set a timer. Turn it over or hit the button. Then write, telling the rest of the world you are off limits for 60 little minutes.


widdershins said...

I do love serendipity .... (did you see the movie 'Dogma' with Matt Damon and ... um .. the other guy. Salma Hayek played Serendipity?)

... only today I was bemoaning the lack of actual writing time in my day because the bulk of my morning is taken up with emails, blogs, web-searches etc, and I wondered if changing my routine to do all that stuff in the evening and write during the day might help...

... it always pays to listen when Serendipity comes a-knocking, 'specially if she looks like Salma!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to the day when I don't have the kids in the same room as me first thing in the morning... and I get to right .. that will be a treat.

Anonymous said...

I love this article, and how true it is! I do the exact same thing, yet all day find myself feeling guilty for not writing. So by the time night comes and everyone else is going to bed, I'm happy to as you BEAUTIFULLY put it,
"It's my time with my characters. The synchronization works, and I see places, feel August sun, fight tears and build anger in my bubble of space in the dead of night as a story takes shape."
Ah, exactly! However, the only problem I encounter is complaints from others that live here (I've always been a night owl and haven't yet given myself a 3am shut off time, sadly lol) when I turn my music up just a BIT too much (I hate silence), when I get up to get a drink or take my dog out (she apparently has adapted my "mix up" of day and night).
That probably is the thing that frustrates ME the most; being in my element only to hear people shouting that I'm being too loud.
I'm not THAT loud. :) Okay... I admit... it is a NYC apartment, and is small. And okay, maybe the floors do have a bit of a creaking issue BUT nevertheless I will be very happy to live without roommates one day so the inner night owl will be able to come out and write without sparrows screeching at me! :P

Barb Hodges said...

Great stategies for getting things done. For the most part, I have the house to myself during the day. I must write a to do list and stick with it. There are so many distractions that I must discipline myself with rewards. Once again, Hope, you are so helpful to us. Thank you.

Laura M. Campbell said...

I go to bed thinking about a story idea and wake up with everything worked out, well at least for a first draft, then I start writing. Then there are days when I get bored later at night and use the surge of energy for some extra writing. I agree with setting priorities. I usually reward myself with email,Twitter and Facebook once I've written.

Sibilant Storm said...

I frustrate myself. I am a mutant Lark -- my "best time" is around 3-4 AM... everything after that is downhill... so I always plan on writing during that time, but then I wake up and let myself get distracted by a bunch of other stuff... prepping meals for the workday, checking emails, blogging... but nothing to do with my stories. I think, if I can just discipline myself to write first thing, before I touch any other projects (just like I disciplined myself to go to the gym before I turn on my computer at work), I might actually make the progress I need to meet my deadlines.

Hope Clark said...

A lot of time it's simply momentum. Make yourself do it one day, then two. Get the story in your head - make yourself go to sleep thinking about it. Toy with it when you aren't at the computer. Then it niggles at you until you crave to get back to it.

Anonymous said...

An article whose time has come as the email list to respond to grows longer and longer and the internet becomes more important than the telephone. I don't know what to say about my hour being from 5-6 pm unless subconsciously I do not want to cook dinner.

Amy Weaver said...

I wish I had a certain time. Usually it's mornings, but sometimes I scatter my time through out the day. I wish I could force a certain time on my writing, but that's hard for me. I need to work on it, so thanks for this post. It's very helpful!

Yvonne Mokihana Calizar said...

I love being reminded to simply grab 'the hour.' I share a computer and tiny space for living with my kitty, and my husband. We have different hours, same space.

What does help is the commitment I've made to invest in writing with renewed vigor. I have been in a long period of physical disability, yet I wrote a lot, wrote to SAVE my life.

Now, I have a life saved, and I write to live and the story loves that. My health will often shift my ability to be at the keys ... I listen, and then make my way back to the pen and paper or keyboard with the story read to spill itself onto the blank.

Lani Wendt Young said...

thank you - i really liked this. And needed to hear it! I do the same thing, check the emails and do other such 'impt' stuff first BEFORE hitting the writing. And yes, the idea is to get the little stuff out of the way before i tackle the real stuff - except the little stuff always turns into a marathon of indecent proportions.
Enjoy your blog.