Writing Fails

Last time, I wrote about in some detail all the different ways that I harvest time throughout the day to actually get some writing down while having young children and a career. That post actually grew longer than I thought it would, and halfway through writing it I realized, I arrived at being able to harvest that time through trial and error. So this post will detail some of those errors.

First error: writing on my daily commute. My wife and I share a car, and she prefers to drive. This leaves me with twenty minutes each way to potentially get some writing down. It was quickly apparent that writing on the return trip home was an awful idea for two reasons. One, I was generally way too tired for creative work after working eight, nine hours. Two, writing is like rolling a boulder, it’s easier to make progress once you get started. After eight hours in the lab, the boulder was plum stopped. Writing on the morning commute was a more viable option, as it was a continuation of my morning writing sessions and the boulder was already effectively moving at that point. However, I wasn’t a great fan writing at this time and at times it made me carsick. I decide to ax it and use that time more effectively to talk and bond with my wife, which turned out to be prescient decision as the kids have grown older–they’re currently in a phase of never stop jabbering. So sometimes it feels like our commutes are the only time we get to talk.

First error part b: writing on planes. This is so hit or miss. And it depends on the task that needs to b done. Drafting? Is the seat empty next to me? Yes: write away! No: how aggressive is the person with the arm rest? How large are they? How big are the seats? Next up is the rogue in front of you, did they put the seat back? No: write away! Yes: how bad do you need to get write writing done vs. the arm cramps involved in writing in a squished situation (as I’m currently writing now—freaking goob). Editing on the computer from a hard copy? Forget about it. The only way that’s possible is with no one next to you. About the only task that is reliably possible on a plane is editing on hard copy. So, I still try and eek out some writing tasks on the plane, but I don’t plan anything extra.

Second error: Staying up late from an evening session to “ride the wave.” In this situation, I’ve managed to fit in a evening session and now it’s time to go to bed, but the writing is going so well, the end of chapter or scene is in sight, so I make an active choice to “ride the wave” and continue writing. This is almost always a mistake. I think the only time it’s not (for me) is if writing the last chapter of a novel or ending a story. The result ends up being that I’m too tired the next day and I miss the morning sessions and then I am too worn out for any other sessions. I gain an extra 30, 45 minutes at night, but lose almost 2 hours the next day. It’s just better to leave some quick notes about where to pick up in the morning and go get good night’s sleep.

Third error: Drinking alcohol while writing. Another one that’s almost always a losing proposition for me in terms of productivity. To be clear here, sometimes I make the active choice to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer while writing, but the key word there is enjoy. It’s a leisure activity I know full well will impact my total words for the week. I’m not as young as I once was, and even one drink these days affects my sleep which puts the morning sessions in peril. Also, I’ve found with alcohol that there’s a steep cliff in productivity after two drinks. Even during the second drink, my mind starts wandering way too much that I end up just listening to music (which I do while writing) while sipping a drink—which is not a bad way to relax. But if words is what I’m after, alcohol is a bad choice.

Fourth error: Working on two or more projects at a time. I’ve found for me and “my process” (snicker) it’s better to focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, it starts to feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not making progress on either project, which can be discouraging and lead into a downward spiral. It’s far better to just push the schedule to the right if it needs to and buckle down on one project.

So there you have some of things I tried that didn’t work for me. None of this is to say it won’t work for you (although I’d strongly discourage substance abuse as a writing plan). I think the important part is to try and experiment. Keep what works, toss the rest. And be mindful that both of those may change over time.

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