Rule Number One when you’re trying to be productive: eliminate the distractions. Hence the gap between my last post and this one. I have actually been writing—yet another picture book, and a short story for grown-ups.
I’m hardly the first person to notice what a time-sucking addiction the miracle that is the internet can be. But noticing isn’t the same as acting. That’s why they call it addiction.
Here’s how it worked (or didn’t work) for me. Every morning, after breakfast and exercise and shower, and then maybe a little more of this and that, I would open my laptop, which was usually still in beside the living room couch, where I’d left it the night before.
First, I would check my email. Then I’d hop over to Facebook. And then, of course, I had to catch up with Mark Trail and Rex Morgan, because the Providence Journal doesn’t carry those comics. And then I would check the stats on my blog. And then I might follow Twitter for a while. And then I would try to do the Times crossword puzzle online. And then I might allow myself a round of mah jong solitaire. Just one. Unless, of course, it ended too soon. In which case I’d allow myself another. I should also mention keeping up with the various blogs I subscribe to. Oh, and how could I forget my endless rounds of multiple Words With Friends games?
Anyway, eventually I would carry the laptop upstairs to my desk, and sit down to write. But I would keep my email and Facebook and maybe even Twitter open, and the minute something new came in, or I got a tiny bit frustrated, I would hop online and get might happily get sucked in again.
Blame the witty, wonderful friends I get to hang out with online. Blame the election. Blame Sandy. Blame the excruciating slowness of the publishing submission process. Blame the blessing of having too much writing time, combined with the curse of having not enough deadlines. Blame the fact that writing is hard and goofing off is easy.
Whatever the reason, last week, on the Sunday before the election, I decided enough was enough. On the advice of my very sensible husband, I decided that I wouldn’t go online until lunchtime. I have cheated a tiny bit, but so far, the plan has been working very well. Here’s the idea.
You know how, if you have trouble sleeping, they tell you not to use your bedroom for anything but sleep and sex? And that rather than lying around sleeplessly in the middle of the night, you should get up, do something soothing, and then put yourself back to bed? That’s how I’m approaching my writing space.
Every morning, after breakfast and exercise and shower, I put my laptop on my desk and my butt in the desk chair. I turn off the ringer on my phone. I don’t open the internet. I just go to whatever document I have assigned myself to work on that morning.
Every twenty minutes or so, I walk away from the desk—shift the laundry, bring in the trash cans, get a glass of water, maybe just pace a little. Knowing I’ll stand up within twenty minutes makes it easier to keep my fingers on the keyboard.
I also stand up when I get stuck. Instead of hopping online, I hop away from my desk. But I don’t stay away for more than five minutes. Then I sit down and work for another twenty minutes.
I follow these rules until around noon. After that, I get to do whatever I want—work, play, work and play simultaneously, go out, whatever. But the really cool thing? Since I’ve gotten my writing muscles back in practice, I’ve been spending more and more of that free time at my desk, continuing whatever work I was doing in the morning.
Okay. There’s actually another piece to this story. For the first time in my life, I’ve joined a writing group. We’re getting together for the first time tonight, and I have to bring something to read. I could have chosen one of the manuscripts I have out on submission, or any of the dozens of pieces I have stashed away in my files. But I’ll be reading the new picture book I’ve been working on. Because for me, there’s only thing better than having a no-distractions writing policy, and that’s having a deadline.
If tonight works out, we’ll meet again next month. I hope my system keeps working this well—I mean, keeps me working this well—until then. If you don’t hear a lot from me here, it will probably mean that it is.