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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 Tips for Keeping Up with Writing and Life

It starts with the best of intentions.  We set big goals.  Thousands of words a day.  Finish a novel in a month.  You name it.  It's all done with the noblest ideals at heart.  Trouble is, sooner or later we all get burned out.

Today, as we near the midway point of DIY MFA 2.O, I wanted to talk about keeping up: both with DIY MFA itself and with your writing in general.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when the goals get big and there's a lot at stake.  I know.  I've been feeling that way myself lately.  Here are some tips that help me when deadlines loom large and the stress monster rears his ugly head.

1) Work in short spurts.  I've talked about the Pomodoro app before, but this idea of working for short spurts then taking breaks has worked brilliantly for me.  When I know I only have to focus on something for a short while, it makes it easier to ignore interruptions.  I let the phone go to voicemail.  I let emails sit in my inbox just a little bit longer.  And it's OK, because it's only for 25 minutes.

2) Take breaks.  It's really easy to work through your breaks, especially if your "work time" before that was only a short spurt.  Even so, take a few minutes every hour or so to get up and stretch.  You'll want to stretch your arms and wrists (to prevent repetitive motion injury) as well as your legs, since writing is so sedentary.  Also if the bulk of your work is done at the computer, take a minute or two to look out the window.  Not only might it give you some writing ideas, but it can help rest your eyes and prevent eye strain.  Most importantly, taking breaks helps you rest your brain.

3) Save some writing for later.  Don't stop working at a logical stopping point.  If you wrap up your writing day too neatly (at the end of a chapter, or short story) then it's all that much harder to pick it up the next day.  Instead, try stopping in the middle of a scene or even in the middle of a sentence.  If you're writing a goal number of words, stop when you hit that goal even if it's in the middle of a thought.  When you come back the next day you'll find it that much easier to jump in and keep going.

4) Avoid binging.  As with anything in life, moderation is key.  If you're starting to feel like you're going on a writing binge, dial back the intensity.  Better to write 200 words per day for a week, than to write a thousand in an hour and not write for another two weeks.  Remember the fable and aim for slow and steady.

5) One thing at a time. This goes back to the idea of the short spurts and Pomodoro.  One of the reasons that technique works so well is that you focus on one thing at a time for a set number of minutes.  Not only is this good for maintaining focus and efficiency, it also helps maintain sanity.  These days, everyone tries to do eight million things at once.  Talk on the phone while they surf the web and walk across the street.  Check email and work and tweet all at the same time.  I prefer to do one thing mindfully at a time, give it my full focus and when I'm done, I focus on something else.

Bonus DIY MFA Tip: Use Your Idea Bank
I know it can be tough keeping up with all the prompts this time around.  DIY MFA 2.O is not like the first DIY MFA where all you had to do was read the posts and the homework can get overwhelming.  If you can't get to a prompt, don't worry.  Just write it on a slip of paper and tuck it away in your Idea Bank.  Just like saving pennies for a rainy day, you'll be saving writing ideas for when you're ready to use them.

This week, at our Facebook page, I'll share pictures of the new Idea Bank I found at a thrift store.  Feel free to share pictures of your own Idea Bank too.  I'd love to see what you come up with.

Homework: Today your homework is to give yourself a break.  It doesn't have to be a long break--30 minutes will suffice--but it needs to be a break nonetheless.  Do something fun.  Something relaxing.  Something that's not writing.  This is not optional.  You are not allowed to work and call it "fun."

When you're done doing your something fun, please share it in the comments or on twitter!  I'm dying to hear all about it.

6 comments:

Dave Symonds said...

Writing in short spurts is a great idea. Sometimes I feel like if I have five hours of free time, that I should use every minute to write. But it's not always possible to write well for an extended amount of time. So hey, why not write in a short spurt, then if you have time later, go back and do it again.

It's more likely you'll have a few short periods of writing time during the day than one large chunk.

Excellent tips!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

These are great tips! I love the pomodoro app. It's helped so much with my productivity. I agree with focusing on one thing at once and taking breaks. It's important not to overload yourself. :)

Kiernan said...

Ha - I went to a play on a whim with my mom. It was fun, different, and it gave me all sorts of ideas. :-)

J.C. Martin said...

Great tips. I may have trouble with this as I have 3 days off work a week for nothing but writing, although I do have to break it up for my weekly badminton sessions, housework, serving the fiaby (fiance/hubby) and checking emails. Wait, did you say my breaks had to be FUN? :/

As for stopping in the middle of a scene or sentence, that would infuriate my anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive side. I only ever do it when I get interrupted. :)

Kerryn Angell said...

Writing in short spurts and forcing yourself to take a break really does do wonders. By interrupting yourself you might feel irritated and want to keep going but the break refreshes you and intensifies that desire to write. I also find that I get more out of the time when I'm more aware of it.

Rambling Heather said...

Great tips! I find that I get stuck at times in that Binging mode. This is super helpful, thanks for posting!

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