This week I’m reposting one of my favorite posts—because I think we all need to be reminded now and then of the importance of keeping our butts in the chair.
I’m writing again for the first time in weeks and finding it difficult to sit still in my chair. Today I thought about what works and what doesn’t for me. What do I have to do to get from distracted-checking-my-e-mail-every-five-seconds Meghan to focused-writing Meghan? Here’s what works for me:
1. Make sure you’re in a quiet place where you won’t have any interruptions.
If you’re somewhere with noise, use earplugs or noise-blocking headphones. If you can’t afford those multi-hundred-dollar Bose things, get a pair of $25 construction headphones at Home Depot (that’s what I have). They’re big and bulky and block out all noise.
2. Make sure you have water, tea, and snacks at your side.
If you don’t, you’ll use that as an excuse to get out of your chair every ten minutes. Now you’re stuck. Ha! (You can also bribe yourself with something you want, like chocolate or a chai latte.)
3. Don’t check your e-mail, not even for ten minutes.
Once you do, your mind will wander to the content of those messages instead of the story you need to write.
4. Open Scrivener.
If you don’t have it, go here and buy it right now. Do the 30-day free trial if you want, but what happened to me was that I didn’t do the tutorial within the 30 days and then didn’t buy it for several more months. My recommendation: skip the trial and just buy it. I know many writers who swear by it and once I finally started using it, I loved, loved, loved it. Once you’ve bought it, do the tutorial. I opened a second Scrivener window at the same time as the tutorial and imported my book while doing the tutorial so I could apply what I was learning to my book as I went along. Buy it. Right now.
5. Open Freedom.
Formerly known as Mac Freedom, Freedom now works for PCs as well as Macs. If you don’t have Freedom , download it right now. It’s worth the $10 a hundred times over. You can also try Self Control, which only works for Macs. While Freedom is the preferred app of writers, Self Control allows you to blacklist certain websites while still allowing yourself to access others—and it’s free. Freedom founder Fred Stutzman has a similar app called Anti-Social, which blocks social networks you list, but it costs $15.
6. Set Freedom for the amount of time you want to work.
I usually do 180 minutes, but if that’s too long for you to go without Internet, try 120. Or 60.
7. Turn on your stopwatch.
If you have an iPhone, there’s a stopwatch in your clock app. If you don’t, but you’re on a Mac, go to Apple and download one for free. If you’re on a PC, I don’t know how widgets work, but you can always go to a sporting goods store and get a real stopwatch. I used one for years. Turn on the stopwatch (and turn it off whenever you get out of your chair of stop writing to check your e-mail, etc.)
8. Just sit.
Now you’re all set and panic sets in. You can’t write. You don’t want to write. You can’t think of what to say. You desperately want to check your e-mail. Or wait, didn’t you leave the stove on? Oh, maybe that’s the mailman. And you should pay the electric bill. Oh damn, you forgot to call Sophie to tell her you can’t make it tomorrow. Go ahead, think through all the reasons you can’t write right now. Jot them down on your to do list. But don’t get out of that chair. Just sit there until your brain calms down. Still don’t want to write? Then don’t. Just open up the document you were working on yesterday (or last week) and read it. Before you know it, you’ll be making edits and more edits and … look, Ma, I’m writing! Thirty minutes later, you remember that you need to add that movie to your Netflix queue, so you open your browser and … damn Freedom! You’re blocked from using the Internet! Sigh. Back to sitting in your chair.
9. Take a short break
Once your 120 minutes are up, stop the stopwatch, get up and use the bathroom (you’re also allowed to do this while writing, just make sure you stop the stopwatch when you do), give yourself a 10-minute time limit to check your e-mail, stretch, refill your coffee, eat lunch, whatever, then sit back down and set MacFreedom for another 120 minutes (or however long you plan to write. Have a goal before you begin.)
You just wrote for four hours! Congratulations! You’re awesome! Now go outside and get some fresh air.