This Easter I’ve been home alone. Himself went away from Friday evening and came back on Monday evening. So I’ve had a self-catering writing weekend in Epping Forest. Usually I write in the time I can fit it into – around work, socialising, life. So having three whole days to myself was too good an opportunity to pass up without writing.
Some people have been asking about my productivity while I’ve shared about the weekend on social media, so I thought I’d put it all together in one post.
1) set a schedule and stick to it. I’ve been writing between 8.30 – 12.30 and then 3.00 to 6.00.
2) have breaks and exercise – I stopped writing for a long lunch break. I went for a walk around the town where I live. It was great to get out of the house and have some exercise too. It helped me return refreshed for the afternoon’s writing. I didn’t bother going any farther than my feet could take me. I wanted to focus on writing and the exercise.
3) keep meals simple – I’ve been eating simple inexpensive ready meals – pizza, curry, Chinese – and lunch has been leftovers from the fridge. Yes I’ve tried to get my 5 fruit and veg a day, but I’ve not worried too much about preparing things from scratch. As someone who enjoys cooking this is a bit of a change, but I wanted to make the most of the time available to write. You could, of course, live on meals you’ve prepared from your freezer.
4) Pomodoro - although I had scheduled writing time, within those times I use my adaptation of the Pomodoro technique. This is where you do one thing (in my case writing) and only that one thing, for 25mins, then break for 5 and repeat. I tried this before and found 25mins wasn’t long enough to get into the zone of writing, so I now write for 50mins then break (internet, make tea, empty the dishwasher, play with the cats) for 10mins. Rinse and repeat until the writing time is over. I call one 50/10 cycle a round of writing. I’ve done 6 rounds per day over the 3 days.
5) Neo - the other key part of my retreat was to write on a device that doesn’t connect to the internet. I use my trust Alphasmart Neo (about £30 used from Ebay). I’ve written all first drafts on mine since buying one in about 2014. This retro smart keyboard is so basic that it’s pretty much like writing with pen and paper. There’s no operating system to update and maintain. It doesn’t connect to the internet so there are no notifications or the temptation of ‘I’ll just check that’ a browser click away. It has a small screen showing 3-7 lines of text so you can focus on what you’re writing now. Yes you can scroll up and down if you want. If you don’t have a device that doesn’t connect to the internet you can get internet blocker apps. I have a friend who sometimes unplugs their wifi router and locks it in their car if they’re on deadline to write! Whatever works for you. But I personally can’t write with notifications bleeping away in the background.
6) Orinoco - I’ve sat in the back garden for some of this writing time. We live in a housing estate and neighbours were in their garden making noise. So I popped my earphones on and listened to music. I like to use Enya for this purpose – hence Orinoco. But Chicane, or classical music works too. Anything without lyrics I end up listening to basically. It helped me focus on the writing and not on what my neighbours were talking about. It also meant I could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.
7) rewards – in the evening when I’d completed my number of writing rounds, I rewarded myself. A long hot bubble bath with a big thick book! I completely packed away my writing device and binge watched This Life, while eating food. Ice cream was involved too.
I reckon I’ve done this whole writing retreat for the cost of the ready meals, which is less than £15. If I’d have eaten things I’d prepared from the freezer it would have basically been a cost neutral weekend – I’d have eaten anyway, regardless of whether I was having a self-catering writing retreat or not.
As with all things, this is what works for me. Your mileage may vary. It might not all work for you. For some none of it may be applicable. But I wanted to share in case you’d like to shake up your writing schedule and improve your productivity. I suppose most of these tips could be used even if you write full time.
While you're here, I thought I'd let you know about my last few new books out:
Kicking Up My Heels...In Heels (Kev 3)
It’s the year 2000 and Kev’s twenty. He’s a proper grown up now. Maybe. He knows what he’s doing. And what he’s doing isn’t what he wants to be doing. He’s working in TK Maxx and instead he wants to be singing and dancing and bantering and laughing on stage. He. Loves. It. And they pay him too! Contains gay pride marches, multiple incidents of alcohol-induced idiocy, friends and family who stick with you no matter what you do, a lot of showtunes and camp humour, and a complete absence of smartphones and social media. He’s Kev, fly him.
Unlocking the Doctor's Heart
Headstrong nurse Davie Penrose has moved to London from a small village in Cornwall to start work in the children’s transplant ward. He left to progress his career, but also to escape the painful memories of his ex-boyfriend, a workaholic doctor.
Ambitious Doctor Leo Westbury is in charge of a ward for now, but he has plans to be a medical director soon. Making use of his charm and avoiding commitment due to a painful past, he enjoys temporary relationships with male student nurses.