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Writing together makes us better

better together text

Anyone else a little busy right now? The only way I’ve been getting any writing done lately is to meet my friend Bria Quinlan at the library three days a week to write for several hours. Since we started, I’ve averaged more words per week than I have all year (even during NaNoWriMo).

The concept is simple, but the result has been epic. Writing at home always sounds great, and I can do it, but the minute I get stuck in a scene, it’s far too easy to get distracted by food, laundry, a dirty counter, my dog, my bed, business stuff, errands, email… At the library, I know I’m there for one reason only: to write. No excuses. And there are very few distractions (aside from the books on every wall).

We had to lay some ground rules—based heavily on the “Writers Camp” formed by Roxanne St. Claire, Kristen Painter, Leigh Duncan, and Elle Saint James—to make sure we don’t just chat the whole time. For example, we get 15 minutes at the start of the day to catch up with each other. We set a goal for the morning (e.g. word count, pages revised), and no one gets lunch until we both reach our goals. How’s that for motivation?

We take 45 minutes for lunch during which we can eat, talk, check social media or email, and then get back to work. Appointments are scheduled for other days of the week. This is Work Time. Writing is our job, and this is our version of an office with a boss.

In the afternoon, we each try to meet our goal for the day before we wrap it up. Even if I miss my overall mark, I’ve been so much more productive that I have no complaints.

Not only am I getting in more words, but Storytime (as Bria dubbed it) is freeing me up to spend more time on the business tasks I’ve been putting off, without feeling guilty for not writing (as much) on those days.

I realize not everyone can do this during the day. I’m lucky to work from home full time. But the concept can be modified. Maybe it’s two hours at a coffee shop on Saturday and Sunday morning. Or a couple hours at the library several evenings a week. Or take your laptop to work and find a spot to write during your lunch hour (the conference room?).

Honestly, though, this works best with a partner. Why? Accountability is a big part of it. (Having someone to watch your computer on a bathroom break is an added bonus.) If I’m not meeting Bria, it’s easy to skip writing to tackle all of the other things on my to-do list. If I haven’t reached my goal by noon, I can’t just give in, I have to keep writing until I make my morning word count. It often comes easier than I expect when I force myself through the block.

The key—at least for me—is to get away from the distractions and to set up an unassailable period of time where my brain knows that writing is the only option. Some people can do this at home. (I envy you!) After almost a year of fighting with myself, I’ve learned that I need an alternative.

Do you struggle with distractions when you want to be writing (or working on something else important to you)? Have you found a way to deal with it? Please share!

6 Comments

  1. Reply

    Love the idea, Gwen! I think we really need another person there–at a neutral site, so to speak–to keep us focused and on track for WRITING! To kick our butts, if you will. Like you, I’m finding it difficult to stay “on task” at home. Why is that happening now, when I was able to write previously without so many distractions?

    • Reply

      Mark: It really does help. When I first started writing, I wrote all the time, everywhere, even when I only had a few minutes. I couldn’t stop. I think it was 30 years of pent up wanting spilling out. I also had no clue what I was doing. 😉 Then, I started learning craft, made friends within the community, started blogging and teaching and writing about Scrivener, volunteered in my writing chapters…

      I still LOVE writing, but that editor sits a little closer to my ears these days, and I have a lot more distractions. But when I write consistently, the ideas start coming more frequently, and I want to keep writing. The reverse is also true. So, the key is to keep writing. That’s part of why Storytime has been so good for me. Good luck finding something that works for you!

  2. islandowl

    Reply

    Gwen, someone was recently telling me about a scientific study that (in a nutshell) showed that working at home actually detracts from the amount of “brain energy” or “thinking power” you can use to focus on work (writing).

    This is because when you are at working at home you actually make far more decisions than you do at work away from home. Each decision, no matter how small, takes brain energy. For example, working at home you might make a decision about “should I get up to move the laundry along?”. Even if you keep writing instead of attending to the laundry that is a decision you have made and you do it over and over during the day.

    I did not try to find the study to read the original research but the premise makes sense to me. We talk about the distractions of working from home, but when you think of it in terms of a myriad of little decisions that all use brain energy it is easy to see why writing away from home works so much better for many of us.

    • Reply

      islandowl: I’ve never thought of it that way, but the research absolutely makes sense to me too. Especially in light of everything I’ve read about decision fatigue. Scheduling out my day is another way I reduce the number of decisions I have to make. It’s not a question of “will I work on my newsletter this afternoon?” or “do I really want to go running this morning?” because it’s just part of my schedule, already determined. No brain power required. Thanks so much for sharing! I love to know WHY things work too. 😀

  3. Reply

    I went to that workshop, too, and it really appealed but I never did anything about it. When I read this post, it was the kick in the butt to remind me. I’ve started a group with two other writers. We’ve been meeting twice a week for almost three weeks now and could not be more pleased with how it is working out. Our word counts have soared. Thanks for the reminder and I hope yours is continuing to work well for you. 🙂

  4. Reply

    That’s awesome, Maura! I had to cut back on writing for a few weeks, but once I get done with my new training platform, I expect to lay down some really nice numbers again. 🙂

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