Lately, I’ve been working on a proposal for a major piece of work. It’s exciting but also daunting, because if it goes ahead I know I’m going back into my writer’s cave.
Towards the end of last summer, I co-wrote my first book. It was an incredibly intense time. I was juggling my research and writing with existing client commitments and the demands of three young kids in summer holiday mode.
Despite my early optimism, I quickly discovered I could not work on my book in the odd hour sandwiched between a business call and picking up the kids from childcare. Research is time consuming and writing can be fiddly. Both require sharp focus.
Nor could I make effective progress in the brief window of evening left after the washing was folded, the kitchen was clean and the children were finally sleeping. I tried it for a while but working until the wee hours only made the next day tougher. Sleep deprivation induces a special kind of madness, as any new mother knows.
For days on end I kidded myself that “tomorrow I’ll finish that chapter”. But then clients would call, an urgent task would land in my inbox, or friends would invite us to join them on a summer outing. As progress on my book stalled, I began to get more and more anxious about the rapidly approaching deadline.
Eventually I had to accept that the only way forward was to block out chunks of time. I needed to immerse myself in the project, without interruptions. But life is busy and that magic writing window was never going to appear on my schedule. I had to aggressively claim those blocks of time for myself.
If you’re embarking on an intense project, here’s three ways to find your chunks of time:
- Schedule regular half or full work days to your project – You have to prioritise your project if you want to make progress, even if it’s not an immediate money-spinner. Warn your clients you’ll be unavailable on certain days, activate your out-of-office and temporarily shut down social media and all but emergency personal calls.
- Negotiate for chunks of personal time – For me, this meant handing the children over to my husband on Saturday mornings, or getting up early to write for an hour or two before the kids woke up.
- Batch your content – My writing partner and I scheduled two intensive writing weekends, to make fast progress. We booked an exceedingly dull hotel room, met there on a Friday night and worked like demons for the next 48 hours, pausing only to scoff M & Ms or Thai takeout. By the end of each weekend my shoulders ached and I was in desperate need of a long run, but our goal felt infinitely more achievable. I recommend finding a hotel with a decent pool or a spa bath – you’ll deserve a long soak before bed after a day hunched over a laptop.
Blocking out chunks of time forced me to make my book a priority – and to ask those around me (kids, husband, friends) to make it a priority too.
I’ve now realised this is a strategy I need to apply to any major project in my business. From launching my website, to writing and recording my upcoming course, I work far more effectively in concentrated blocks.
Last summer I spent a lot of hot days in front of my laptop. I missed out on family beach time, weekends away and social engagements with friends. I was willing to make these sacrifices because writing a book was a major life goal.
But as I contemplate launching into another writing project in 2015, I’m much more aware of the demands it will place on both me and my family. This time I’ll be sure to schedule in exercise as well as writing time. Pounding the pavements is the perfect way to break through any narrative challenges.
I’ll also go a little easier on the coffee and dark chocolate, and up the green juices.
The writing cave can be an unhealthy place if you stay there too long. But somehow it keeps on drawing me in.