Daphne Gray-Grant's Rapid Writing
When my 18-year-old triplets were tiny -- about eight months old -- I was stupid enough to agree to host a dinner party for 16. Let's blame it on the sleep deprivation. I did have some help with the food but, as you might imagine, it took a Herculean effort to clean the house, set the table and plan the menu -- all while managing three infants crawling around the house like Labrador puppies.
A few moments before our guests arrived, I was in the kitchen polishing wine glasses when it suddenly occurred to me that the kids had been quiet for far too long. I raced into the living room and, my daughter flashed me a grin I will never forget.
Still, when it comes to laying blame, I have to say the fault was entirely mine. I was trying to do too much. I was multitasking beyond all supportability.
In this crazy, action-packed decade, however, we tend to view multitasking as a good thing. We admire the executive who can chair a meeting while managing an office crisis, juggling a ringing phone, and responding to an email with thumbs.
So my question for you is: Are you trying to multitask when you write? This kind of craziness is an anathema to writing.
Here are three stupid multitasking habits that are domed to make you inefficient:
#1. Handling email while you write: This one falls into the "no-brainer" category -- it's so obvious, who could possibly argue in favour of email while trying to write? Yet so many writers fall into this trap. We tell ourselves "it's just one email" or "I need to hear back from this client" or we're bored and we seek a temporary diversion. Stop the insanity! Turn off the auto-check function on your email (in a Mac go to: Mail/Preferences/General and then set the "check for new mail" button to "manually"; in a PC go to: Outlook/Tools/Options/General and then deselect the button that states how often you will check for email.) You can then check email after your writing time is finished.
#2. Answering the phone: This is a tough one if you're self-employed. After all, it might be a client calling! In my experience, however, most clients are happy to have their calls returned within a couple of hours. How can taking 45 minutes to return a call possibly matter? Don't interrupt your writing time with calling time!
#3. Having a messy desk: I know some people take pride in their messy desks and that's okay, but I encourage you to sweep the desktop clean while writing. (This may mean putting the stuff on a pile in the floor -- just make sure it's out of sight.) Having a clear desk will help keep your head focused on what you're writing about -- not about what's lying in front of your eyes.
Now, here are two positive multitasking habits that will help you succeed as a writer:
#1. Start writing while you do something else. For example, you may choose to write -- gently and absentmindedly -- while you walk or jog. Or you may write while you knit, wash dishes, groom the dog, or go to a son's hockey practice. As my friend fiction writer Ann Giardini puts it in my book 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better, "I feel I have part of my brain that's always rumbling along on my book. It's like keeping the tap running in the back so the pipes don't freeze."
#2. Develop a retrieval system for capturing your work. It's far too easy to "forget" about writing when you're actually doing something else -- so don't let your brain spin into neutral. Develop some retrieval mechanisms that will actually work for you. Consider any or all of the following: your cellphone (most have the ability to record messages to yourself), a digital recorder (it's light, slight and costs about $60), a underwater writing slate that divers use (it allows you to write while in the shower), small notebooks, and a bucket full of pens.
Multitasking -- just use it wisely and sparely. Less is often more.###
(Thanks to Royce & Associates for the image.)
A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.