One of the positive things for me that has come out using Google+, was when I was complaining about my inability to make time to write, between early starts, a full time job and two kids, my wife and myself are pretty exhausted by the time they’re in bed.
It was suggested by some1 to stick or target a word count per day, post about it regularly and so build up the habit of writing. Once that suggestions was out in the open I had no choice but to try it.
A few other things have been percolating in my mind as well. I’m sure many of you have already seen the “sitting is killing you” infographic where it extols the terrible dangers of sitting. Made me think of how sitting in my favourite chair (which I loving now think of as my seat of DOOM!) in the evening, my body just turns off, leaving me, at best, to watch TV, or at worst, troll the internet from my laptop. I can’t write when I hit that seat in the evening, I’ve tried.
So, for my first experiment, I took the laptop to the kitchen table, turned off the wireless (the internet is nearly a bigger danger than my seat-of-doom) and started writing, resulting in about 1000 words and taking a reasonable amount of time, about an hour and half. So that became my target. Afterwards I retreated to my seat-of-doom and let my brain switch off for a while before bed.
And so far it seems to work. Sure there has been up and down days where I’ve written less than 800 words and other days where I haven’t written anything (I think falling asleep at the laptop is a good excuse). I haven’t slavishly stuck to the word count metric though, because sometimes starting a new section means pulling in notes and organising them and planning how to attack the section, so few words are actually written but the same amount of brain-space used. In that case the amount of time becomes important. I do post on Google+ about my word count but not every day, noting why I failed if I did.2
I think I’ve hit a good rhythm with the word count. It’s about long enough to get something done but not that long that I start to steer too much into brain-shutting-down-for-the-day. So I don’t have much re-writing when I read back over the words. I’ve also focused steadily on one project, which has made it easier to just sit down and start writing. This blog post is an attempt to use up some of that word count to do something else, such as blogging. And more importantly, I’m starting to get an “itch” when I get home, grabbing the laptop and bringing it in the kitchen so I can write while the kids play.3
But there is a downside. First, I’m not playing any computer games at all. I was really getting into Oblivion: Elder Scrolls, but now I’ve stopped. I have an not-yet-played copy of Portal installed. I haven’t made the time to play. I’m sure that doesn’t sound like a great evil, but still playing games exercises other parts of my brain than TV and books.
I read less. Much less. This is a greater evil! I have two books out from the library that need renewing, not a normal situation for me. I’m also spending over an hour, in the kitchen, by myself, leaving my wife in the living room by herself and sometimes left waiting because there is some show we like to watch together.
But so far, having a word-count target seems to have worked for me for getting over procrastination and other excuses. In fact, this post counts to 832 words of my word count for today. Yea!
And finally and probably the most important thing in this post, do you think footnotes work in a blog post? Are they distracting? (I have a tendency to want to read the footnote within the text of other people’s posts myself).
1 Not sure what the right protocol these days for naming names or linking to profiles. The discussion was on a “Limited” post on Google+. One of the strength of Google+, at least early on, was connecting with people of the same interests, writers (both with stuff published and not) in Ireland.
2 It seems folks on Google+ either don’t mind such posts or like to see them because they think it’s neat or even inspiring to see someone start a new habit. So there you go, another +1 for G+.
3 Doesn’t often work that well, spending 15 minutes writing one sentence because my wonderful son wanted to draw beside me and kept wanting me to look at what he was drawing is frustrating because of the context switching my mind was doing. Sometimes it’s better to shut the laptop and draw with my son instead.