A few weeks ago I encountered this interesting post, from which this one takes its title, on the Thesis Whisperer which I tweeted from various accounts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the post proved popular.
I was quite taken with the idea and thought I’d give it a try. I’ve experimented with writing targets in the past and always struggled.
I sometimes set an entirely unrealistic target and, once I inevitably fail to meet it a few days in, I get disenchanted and give up.
Alternatively, I set an entirely realistic target which is transparently sustainable and eventually find that the lack of challenge means I get bored and give up.
Nonetheless, I’ve been attracted to the idea of a writing target for a long time because of an awareness of quite how habitual my behaviour tends to be.
The appeal has always been that, with a bit of forethought and preparation, I might find myself in a situation where I’m writing a substantial amount each day out of habit.
Not in the sense that it’s an unthinking process but rather that I would no more question the fact I’ll do my daily writing than I would question having a shower or brushing my teeth.
I think most people only have about two really good, creative writing hours in a day - two hours in which new ‘substantive’ ideas will make their way onto the page. Most of us are in the best frame of mind for this after breakfast and before lunch - whatever time of the day that happens to be for you. So writing new stuff should be almost the first thing you do when you sit down to your desk. Personally I find it hard to resist the siren call of the email, but if I am on deadline I do an emergency scan then close it until lunch time.So for the last two weeks I’ve been trying to do precisely this. It’s the longest I’ve ever sustained a daily writing habit and it’s certainly the most ambitious target I’ve aimed for in my many failed attempts to establish this sort of routine.
This advice also comes from Becker, who points out that thinking happens during writing. The surest way to slow the process is to worry too much about whether your thinking is any good. So give yourself permission to write badly. If you can’t think of a word use another/ equivalent/ filler words: don’t slow down and start to think too much.
Do this ‘free writing’ in bursts of about 10 to 15 minutes. When you need a rest, review and fiddle with the text - maybe plant a new seed - then move on to another burst. It’s likely you will produce more than 1000 words if you do this for two hours - in fact I usually did around 3000. It’s grueling and bad for your back and shoulders, which is why the two hour time limit is important.