Make No Little Plans…

Newsletter 57 – February 23, 2024

Hi,

Over the previous two newsletters I talked about interruptions and distractions, and about how my writing routine is sort of haphazard (and maybe a little too flexible). I think the main realization I’ve had, after thinking about this for a while, is that I need to find a way to keep my writing standards high but also become more efficient in my process.

My typical daily routine in the past has played out something like this. I wake up fairly early, usually between 5:00 and 5:30 AM. Minay usually wakes up about an hour after that, so in the past, after slipping quietly out of the bedroom and down the hall to my study, I would fire up my computer, open my browser to my homepage, open my Facebook page in a second tab, and open my email program. I usually spent a few minutes clearing Facebook notifications and responding to new email. Then I would go downstairs to get some coffee and swallow my morning vitamins with a protein drink. In that half hour or so I wouldn’t have done any writing on one of my novels.

After that, I would typically read through the newest chapters of my current work in progress until Minay gets up. We share my study (our Internet hub is there, so her computer is also there). She often (but not always) does her morning power-walk first, so when she leaves to walk I would fix my breakfast and bring it upstairs. While I eat, I usually browse a bit more or play a few games of Freecell solitaire (I don’t focus well while I’m eating). When Minay’s in the study she also browses a bit (fabric stores and news, mostly) and eats her own breakfast. We discuss the news and browse until she shuts her computer down to go into her sewing room to work on her latest quilt. The order of things varies slightly depending on whether she walks first or walks later (sometimes it’s too cold or too dark for her to head out right away).

At any rate. I would usually start writing around mid-morning, but after studying it I realized that I always kept my browser and my email open while I wrote. For research I usually have books for in depth topics (for example, the mid-1600s volumes of Samuel Pepys’ diaries for detailed information on the 1666 London Fire), but I often look up bits and pieces of things on the Internet when I need them quickly (like the date when a historical character was born or died). The biggest problem I found was that, when I started to write, I also usually left my Facebook tab and my email app open. Facebook rabbit holes are very easy to fall into, and it’s too tempting to check out an email whenever a notification pops up (interruptions, distractions).

Once I analyzed my typical day, I realized that it didn’t actually include a smooth, uninterrupted period of writing. I dropped in and out of various levels of concentration (going back and forth between the writing and popping in and out of Facebook and other distractions (like the above-mentioned solitaire game — or three). I worked that way (back and forth between one thing and another) for a couple of hours until lunchtime. Then I would take a break and eat with Minay on the living room couch while we watched a PBS program, or The Daily Show, or something else to fill about an hour. Then I went back upstairs and “worked” until suppertime (which is when I shut down for the day). The end result was that I was spending a lot of time in front of my computer monitor, and getting “some” work done, but not seeing much progress on any particular story. I also try (just for health reasons) to never spend more than an hour at the computer without some sort of break, so I do stop periodically to do various things around the house (exercise, get more coffee, wash dishes, etc.). Also, until my left knee is fully healed, I have been spending some time lying in bed, reading, and taking an occasional short nap (30 minutes to an hour). I’ll keep doing that until I get the all-clear from my doctor.

[Note — Update: I saw my doctor on February 6th, and he said the kneecap is healing nicely so I can stop wearing the immobilizer. Yay! And I can now drive myself, which lets Minay off the chauffeur hook. I still have lots of at-home physical therapy to do (to get my knee to fully bend again and to strengthen my quads). That doesn’t take up any more time than my usual exercise sessions, and the rehab is going really well.]

So, here’s my (tentative) plan for the rest of the year.

In the hour before Minay joins me in the study each morning, I will get my coffee, but won’t even open my social media accounts. I will spend that time writing what I can, and trying to get a sense of the flow of the story from where I left it the day before. That will help me plan what scenes I need to work on that day. Then, while Minay is in the room with me, I’ll check and respond to my email and social media. When she leaves to start working on her quilts (usually between 9:00 and 10:00) I’ll shut down my email and social media tabs, and write until 12:30 or so when we stop for lunch. After lunch I’ll do a quick email check, and then write until around 5:30, do a final quick check of my email and social media, and then shut down for the day around 6:00 PM. During that time I will still take my little breaks, which will cut into my writing time a bit, but will help me stay energized. Without the distractions I should see an immediate increase in productivity. Let’s see if it helps.

Maybe I should also delete the shortcut to my solitaire game to make it harder to open. 😊

The next newsletter will be about the evils of perfection.

See you then,

Michael

[“Make no little plans; they have no magic
to stir men’s blood…Make big plans;
aim high in hope and work”
From a speech Daniel Hudson Burnham
gave to London’s city planners, 1910.]

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