Whenever my husband has to travel for work I always tell myself it's an opportunity to do great things. I visualise myself working late into the night on new books and swapping Netflix for writing extra blogs and raising my author profile. The reality is, with so much time suddenly available, after a week I find myself struggling to get out of bed.
I think back to writing my debut book Shop Girl Diaries. I had a full-time job and I would get up early to fit in some words before work or sacrifice evenings out to bash out a chapter. Look how much time you have now, I scold myself, why aren't you doing more with it?
Sometimes I wish I had a boss ordering me to do things, instead of having to coax myself through my to-do list. Is my list even right? Am I sure I'm taking the right steps?
But that wish to have a boss is very fleeting and hollow indeed.
I'm starting to realise there are strategies available to keeping my energy up and motivation alive while working from home alone. With a bit of imagination, I think you'll find they don't just apply to writers either!
1. Work in Short Stints - I find using a basic online timer really focuses me. For editing work I'll set it for 45-60 minutes and work continuously until it goes off. I'll have a five minute break, perhaps a cup of tea, and then I'll set it again. For new writing, I might set my timer to just 20 minutes. The timer is currently running now... I won't feel like a failure if it goes off, it's just a device to keep me concentrated on the job at hand. While the timer is running there's less inclination to scroll through your phone. Some people find they produce a lot more work in three twenty minute stints than they do in an long hour.
2. Alternate Between Jobs - after two hours of editing, my head feels fuzzy and I start overlooking errors in the text. Instead of wrestling with a job, it makes much more sense to approach another. The energy you thought was depleted nearly always arises when you switch to a new task. For me, it may be blogging, writing or research. It might also be to putting the washing away or scraping mould off the walls caused by humidity! (Sob.) I know some people feel a need to separate housework from their other work, but I find a domestic chore a great palate cleanser.
3. Learn Something New About Your Industry - sometimes my well of creativity seems completely empty and I can't seem to create anything. I've discovered that when this happens learning something new about your industry or craft might well fire you up. There is so much juicy information online and wonderful opportunities for self-improvement.
For writing and marketing I turn to the Creative Penn Podcast or I might watch a lively webinar with author and marketeer Nick Stephenson. For insight into non-writing matters and for inspiration, I'll watch a short TED talk. After listening to an animated, encouraging voice I always feel a fresh burst of energy. If you think you have no time, perhaps you should watch Laura Vanderkam's talk How to Gain Control of Your Free Time. She argues it's not about not having enough time but about not making something a priority!
4. Read - this one is particularly for the writers out there. I didn't used to read as much as I do now. I used to think, I want to write books, not read them! Now I think that's a ridiculous thing to say. Reading reminds me why I want to write in the first place. Coming across great lines in a book fills me with admiration for the craft. I read for pleasure but I also read to learn about structure and plot, what makes good characters and dialogue. If I love a book, I'll go through it, jotting down details about how it is done. I no longer think reading is a distraction from the job, but a part of the job. Scheduling some reading time could provide the inspiration needed for your next task.
5. Allow for Thinking Time - I've left my latest novel to breathe a few days before I send it back to my agent. In the meantime I find myself panicking over what to write next. I thought I had a half decent plot but my fingers were very reluctant to type Chapter 1. Did that mean it was a bad idea? More likely it was the result of not thinking about it for long enough.
I find that until I stop and let myself DO NOTHING, the ideas can't come in. Yesterday, while washing up, an important plot twist came to me. Aha, I thought, and immediately regretted sending the half developed synopsis to my agent. Sometimes you need to stop everything before you can move forward. Allowing time to just be might be the answer to that sticky problem.
Deadlines and needing to pay the rent are often motivation enough, but sometimes staying fired up requires a few changes to the routine!
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