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pajamas

So I finally did it. By 12 noon, I was still in my pyjamas. I always knew it would happen one day. Just one more page, do a search for all those ‘then’s – they’re starting to bug me. Another fifteen minutes. The nursery school mini-bus drops off at 12.30 – I’ve loads of time. I can hide behind the gate when I open it.

Is this shameful? Not really – I felt elated at the end of that writing session because I’d run all the way to the finish line, played to the final whistle, for want of better metaphors. In other words, I really made the most of a chance to write. That’s one of my tips for getting your novel finished. Life rewards finishers. There are ways to become a finisher and stop procrastinating – it’s easy possible, but you’ve got to push yourself.

1. Take your writing seriously – it’s more than a hobby. Be disciplined about the time when you write. If the morning suits you best, as in my case, then designate a set time for writing, eg, between 9am and 12noon. It could be between 8pm and midnight – choose what’s best for you. Be tough on yourself – get the coffee or herbal tea ready so that you’re sitting down with it as close to 9am as possible. And actually start – no pfaffing around checking e-mails or blogging – you can do that later or earlier. Make the writing time part of your routine and honour it.

2. Work in bursts of say, one hour, if it suits you Stand up, stretch, do something that takes no more than 10 minutes, eg, put on the laundry, clean the shower tray, feed the chickens or collect the mail. Who am I kidding? Pour another coffee and raid the biscuit tin/cookie jar! But whatever you do – go back to your desk after 10 minutes and write for another hour.

3. Set yourself weekly or daily goals – be realistic. In my case, I went with word count – 1,000 words per day was my goal, but I usually exceeded that. Some days I struggled, but I forced myself to keep working. Others might aim for a chapter a week, or a page a day, or a paragraph an hour. Every writer is different, so set your target so that it is achievable and it suits you.

4. Never waste a session by reading back over everything you wrote the previous day. I allowed myself to re-read no more than one paragraph (which I invariably edited) from the previous day’s work. Keep the ball rolling (God, I’m sounding like a super sporty gal today), move the story forward and don’t worry about editing until you finish the damned thing.

5. Reward yourself with the occasional day off, or if you can’t bring yourself to enjoy such an indulgence, set up a mini reward system, eg, when you’ve reached your day’s target, be it word count or number of pages or paragraphs, knock off early. Pop out to Costa or Krispy Kreme’s and treat yourself to a full-cream latte and a mini disgustingly huge New York Cheesecake doughnut. Alternatively, if you’re otherwise inclined, a carrot juice and an ad hoc yoga session! I’ll leave you to guess what my choice was.

6. Grab opportunities which would otherwise be a waste of time, eg, sitting in the Dentist’s office, travelling on a long train journey, or waiting while the plumber repairs your washing machine. Think of these situations as bonus sessions. Squeeze in an extra 500 words on your laptop or if that’s a no, no, scribble down your latest thoughts on plot or character development and/or any great dialogue lines you came up with when walking the dog. Put these notes on your desk ready for the next writing session and I guarantee you, you’ll be itching to get started.

7. Don’t neglect your life/work balance. No partner wants a zombie-eyed companion at the dinner table at night and no kids thrive if mummy or daddy is continually pushing them away because she/he is burned out and exhausted. When you set your goals and decide how many writing sessions you can manage in a week, be sensible, be honest with yourself, but most of all, don’t kid yourself.

We’re all human, we all procrastinate from time to time – don’t beat yourself up or think of it as failure if you don’t finish the book when you planned. It’ll probably be a better book if you took longer to write it than you imagined. Goals are just there to help motivate yourself – you can always shift the goalposts (sorry – slap me!) and redefine them as you discover your own limits and abilities.

Finally, I’d just like to say that these tips worked for me, but I’d love to hear how others do things differently. Please leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or would like to add something to the list. I like the number 7 – it’s manageable, but 10 is normal for these kind of lists, it seems.

Happy writing, and just do it! Ouch – no need to slap so hard, mother.

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