by Susan Dennard
Note: this post is (sort of) a continuation of If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It, and When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full.
A few people have asked how I managed to get my writing “swing” back, and I gave a brief rundown in the comments last week. I thought I’d go into a tad more detail here.
First off: writing has something of an ebb and flow to it—for everyone, I believe.
For me, the “ebb” is like the really steep incline on a rollercoaster. And then the “flow” is all the free-falling, loop-dee-loop, high-speed ACTION!
Fortunately, the high-energy, high-productivity bits last longer than the crap (usually), and I can ride a “flow” for a few months before the “ebb” hits. (Not always, of course. It’s definitely related to stress and other parts of my life. A period of nail-biting, hair-pulling stress or a week of mind-numbing melancholy can pretty much stop any writing rollercoaster dead in its tracks.)
When the “ebb” hits, I am miserable and reluctant for at least a week, and I usually let myself wallow in laziness.
Which of course, only makes me feel guilty because I should be working, which then feeds the glum mood, which then feeds the guilt… On and on and on. Sometimes, with enough sour gummy worms (or a looming deadline—those can be very effective), my productivity will return on its own.
But not always. And that’s when I have to resort to BICHOK—a veritable plunger for your clogged brain.
I MAKE myself sit at the computer. I disconnect the internet. I set a timer for 30 minutes.
And I write. My goal is 500 words, which I know I can write (under pressure) in 15 minutes. So 30 minutes gives me a comfortable buffer. I write until I hit 500 words or the alarm sounds.
If I feel good, I set the alarm for another 30 minutes and keep going, but usually, if it’s my first few days back, I jump from the chair and do something else before sitting again.
I start with 1000 words per day—two sessions. Then, as my comfort grows and my feel for the story increases, I move to 2000 words in 2 1-hour sessions. Then 3000 in 3 1-hour sessions. Finally, 4000 in 4 1-hour sessions (remember, I write full-time, so I have a bit more time to devote to it each day).
After a good week or two, the rollercoaster is back in high gear and I’m getting in 20 pages or so a day. Best of all, I’m back in the “flow”, back in the story, and back to feeling good.
BICHOK For Your Life
After my last rather rough patch of blues, I decided it was time for a Full Life Make-Over. This was something I did when I suffered from real depression during my undergrad. I had discovered that though the medication helped stabilize my moods, it also shattering my creativity.
Kind of like with BICHOK, I broke my life up into a very strict schedule. And, no matter how I felt, I made myself stick to it. For a week, then two weeks, and then until it became routine and my contentment returned.
I broke my day into strict chunks, making sure there was
- at least thirty minutes devoted to being outside
- at least thirty minutes devoted to exercise
- stretch breaks every 1.5 hours
- healthy eating
Sounds silly and obvious, I know, but bear with me…
In undergrad, I stopped taking the bus to class, and I walked (okay, not on rainy days). It got me outside and my heartbeat up. Now, I take my dog for a thirty minute walk/jog in the woods after lunch. No matter what (even in the rain and snow!), I’ve done this everyday now for 2 weeks.
Do I enjoy it? To be honest, not really…I get bored easily, so I try to keep my mind focused on my plot and the characters while I walk.
But have I noticed a difference? Yes. In my energy. In my mood. And I’m really proud I haven’t missed a day.
You tell me: Is there some time in your day you can add a walk outside? Or is there some way you can add 20-30 minutes of exercise?
During undergrad, I spent a lot of time studying, sitting in class, or working in labs. To keep my mind and body refreshed, I started stretching in between classes. Or during study/lab sessions, I’d take a five minute break to move (maybe just jog to the bathroom or roll my shoulders/touch my toes).
I’m not that into yoga (I get so darn boooored), but I’ve taken it before and love a good sun salutation. When I write, I stop every 1.5 hours to do two sun salutations, refresh my coffee (so walk upstairs and move a little), and stop staring at the computer screen.
When the timer dings beside my computer it means 1) I should have reached my 1000 word goal, and 2) time to salute the sun!
You tell me: Is there any time during your work day or writing time that you can pause to refresh your body and your eyes? Is there some way you can set a timer and get up for just a minute or two when that timer goes off?
Finally, diet and sleep. DUH, right? Everyone tells you this. All. The. Time. Eat healthy, you feel better. Get a good night’s sleep, you feel better.
But seriously, if you make a really HUGE effort to go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier, you’ll feel the difference the next day!
If you make an effort to plan your meals and have a good, solid breakfast (oh man, breakfast makes all the difference in the world for me!), you’ll really feel a difference. I was eating crap food for lunches (pasta, pasta, soup, instant rice, pasta), but I’ve been devoted for a few weeks now to eating salads and sandwiches (or, I like to make extra food for dinner and have left-overs).
Two more things I added to my life: a full-spectrum light and plants in my office and vitamin D. If I’m in the office, the light comes on and I water all the plants. When I check my emails (I get 30 minutes in the morning to do this according to the new Super Strict Schedule), I drink my vitamin D.
Does It Really Make a Difference?
I don’t know. Honestly, I can’t say if my strict schedule and BICHOK are what make the difference in my productivity and happiness, or if it’s something else.
It could be just the EFFORT—the attempt to turn my life around—is what changes my mood. Commitment can feel good. Getting excited about a new life is a great way to boost your happiness.
What I do know is that this method works for me. It might not work for you, or you might need more, you might need less.
BUT, it’s something you can try.
Do you do any of these things in your life? Have you ever tried strict schedules to turn your writing or life around? Do you have other tips to share?
Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.