Tuesday, 14 October 2014

On establishing a writing schedule

Like a lot of writers, I'm a great procrastinator. I'm more than capable of starting the day full of good intentions, sitting down in front of the computer at 9 AM thinking "Just a few minutes to check my emails, then I'll get underway." And before I know it, I'm checking my YouTube subscriptions, reading an article about voting intentions in the 2015 General Election, reading all the comments attached to said article... and then the next thing I know, it's gone midday and I know there's no point trying to get anything done till I've had lunch.

I work best when I have strict deadlines I adhere to, and particularly when those deadlines are fast approaching. When I was researching my PhD, I did most of my work in the fortnight or so before I was due to submit a draft, spending the rest of the time metaphorically sharpening pencils and rearranging my file system. Once I even spent a whole afternoon going through all my documents, changing the font from Times New Roman to Trebuchet MS. (I changed back to Times New Roman before I submitted the final draft.) One of the curses of being an unpublished writer, though, is that there are no actual deadlines, meaning it's entirely possible for me to while away the hours achieving nothing when I really should my nose to the grindstone, churning out the words.

I recently saw a documentary on the BAFTA-winning screenwriter Peter Bowker on the development of his miniseries FROM THERE TO HERE. He talked specifically about the dreaded writer's block (which many people argue is, more often than not, just another word for procrastination) and detailed his own strategy for how to beat it. The Bowker Method, as I'll call it, involves setting yourself specific, brief windows in which to write -- say ten minutes at a time. For those ten minutes, you write. It doesn't matter what, as long as you get something done. It might be crap -- in fact, it almost certainly will be -- but at the end of those ten minute, you walk away from the keyboard and do something else for ten minute. Then you return to the keyboard and start writing again. The idea is that having these brief windows in which to write focuses the mind and forces you to make the most of every second. Gradually, you increase the length of the windows in which you're actively writing and decrease the downtime.

Beginning this week, I started applying an adapted version of the Bowker Method to my own work. I haven't gone as far as to split my writing into 10-minute windows, but I have set myself specific times in the day to do specific tasks. I have two projects on the go at the moment -- one a script, the other a prose piece. I actually find it quite beneficial to be working on two separate (and very different) projects at the same time. It means that, if I run into a brick wall with one, I can put it down for a while and work on the other. The process of working on something very different will hopefully stimulate some lateral thinking and provide me with a way of getting round that impasse once I return to it. So, each morning, I draw up a schedule for the day, splitting my work on the two projects into sessions of about an hour and a half to two hours each. A typical day might look like this:

10 AM - 12 PM -- Project A (script)
12 PM - 1 PM -- Lunch/email catchup
1PM - 2:30 PM -- Project B (prose)
2:30 PM - 3:00 PM -- Go for a walk
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM -- Project A
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM -- Email catchup/reading/general downtime
6:00 PM - 6:30 PM -- Dinner
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM -- Project A or B (depending on which I feel I've achieved the least on over the course of the day)

Obviously, this all goes out the window on the days when I'm out to work. In those instances, I just grab a moment to write when I can -- and 15 minute train journeys are often surprisingly productive, which sort of confirms the principle behind the Bowker Method. And of course there are other variables to disrupt the equation -- I quite often go to the cinema on a Monday morning, for instance, or I might (gasp) end up doing something that involves actual human contact. But on an ideal "writing day", the above schedule is pretty much the template I intend to adhere to.

I'm definitely going to keep this process up for the rest of the week at the very least, and, if it continues to prove productive, for the foreseeable future. So far I've manage to crank out 14 pages of my script over the course of two days, whereas prior to adopting this approach, I'd done nothing more than noodle what I'd already written for the last fortnight.

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