Do you have a writing practice that works for creating first draft pages? Many components make up a writing practice. But one thing I’ve ascribed to this past several months is the setting of goals and the setting aside of days to work. That makes Thursday and Friday primarily writing day. So while I used to write (shop, play and do my bills) more randomly, I now set aside certain days to do these things.
The downside? That means I have to write when I’m not necessarily in the mood.
I bet you know where this is going. Yesterday was one such day. I’d set the stage the night before, opening my freewrite pages to the last thing I’d written so I could preview it before I started writing in the morning. I queued up the day’s task list and limited it to the page and a half of tasks to focus on—both writerly and a few non-writerly items, knowing I’d further hone the list to one page in a half hour in the morning.
I set up the espresso machine and its ten different parts and pieces, so I could make coffee with my eyes closed if needed in the morning. I eyed up what I’d make the kids for breakfast, gave the dog her meds, and went to bed.
In the morning after my half hour bike run (to counteract the day in front of the computer) and the stuffed kids were out the door, I sat in front of my cued up pages. And froze. You got it. An arctic blast of writers-freakin’-block.
So I sipped my coffee and decided to try on old trick I’ve nurtured through the years: Reading favorite passages from favorite books. For its condensed lyricism and haunting beauty, I pulled up Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. Within minutes her prose captivated and invigorated me. And I felt something in me release.
Checking my unwritten scene list, I realized I might finally be able to unlock something listed there: a chronology of segments about the blocking and unblocking of physical and psychological pain—as it relates to my memoir.
I suspected Fuller’s startling work about her family’s mental health and the loss of her baby sister might help me access some buried moments in my life. In fact, Fuller’s story sent the ober-editor on my shoulder—who’s particularly unfond of self-disclosure—packing. And I got down to some deep writing.
Consequently, I charted 6.5 hours of writing. This amounted to 11 pages. Unheard of in many months of scheduled writing time. Now, we know that all those pages won’t all make the memoir. Lots of it will land on the cutting room floor, but not before choice nuggets land in the book and not before spin-off ideas create other nuggets.
But here’s the key:
1.) I’d cleared the deck for writing by eliminating distractions
2.) I’d cued up the previous scene
3.) I’d readied my themes to be explored
4.) I greased my intellectual and emotional skids with another writers proven prose
5.) I had my iTunes “get-in-the-writing-zone” story soundtrack pulsing in the backdrop
6.) And I got lucky.
How many days have I done all this and one small component of preparation failed me—like the lack of a good night’s sleep? Days like that you have two choices: a.) slog through it hating every moment you’ve forced into the day to stick to some semblance of a goal/timeline or b.) write it off and do other things that buy you a writing day in the future.
But for a writing day, I’d say I set myself up for success. And, I’m stoked to have hit a double stride. But as we know, when it comes to this stuff it’s all One Day at a Time.
But, just in case, I’m going to repeat the same preparations before my next writing day.
What practices put you in your performance zone for your chosen skill? What takes your writing or art to the next level? What gets you unstuck?