Writing Desk

The 28 Day Challenge: Preparation #1

Making it Easy

The easier you make it to start your routine (the writing itself) the more likely it is you’ll maintain your streak and establish a solid habit. Take this morning as an example. As I write this, it’s a Saturday in late March just after the UK has closed schools due to the coronavirus. The sun is shining outside, and from where I’m sitting, I can see the allotments[i] . My plan this morning is to get onto my little plot and do some planting. But I haven’t done my ten minutes. The resistance genie (the cousin of the procrastination demon) is telling me how nice it looks and how good it would be to get some salad leaves planted and why don’t I just leave the writing until later?

Two things saved me from putting it off and possibly forgetting. Firstly, the streak which is well over 1,000 days now. Secondly, the fact that I’ve made it easy. I use a Chromebook for most of my writing, and it’s just a case of flipping the lid and I’m able to write within moments. So, my ten minutes really is ten minutes.

It’s so easy, I might as well just get on with it and then get my wellies on.

And so, I did.

You’re reading it now.

So, much of what we’re about to cover amounts to making this habit as easy as possible to keep. One aspect, of course, is that it’s only ten minutes, but there’s more to it than that.

Your Writing Environment

I recommend having somewhere dedicated to write. In a perfect world, this would be a separate room, but it could be nothing more than a tray with your laptop on it. Having a great writing environment helps make the habit stick. Not having one, on the other hand, is no excuse. Do your level best to make the environment, however basic, something you look forward to inhabiting.

Unless you’re one of the hair shirt brigade[ii] who prefer to write using pen and paper (or quill and parchment) then you’ll need a computer of some sort, with an internet connection.

Which computer? It doesn’t matter. If it has a keyboard and screen, it’ll do. Whether it runs Windows, MacOS or ChromeOS, it’ll do. After all, writing a manuscript is functionally equivalent to using a beefed-up electric typewriter:[iii] it’s about the most basic task a computer can be used for.

So, if you’re putting off starting your novel until you can buy that fancy (and expensive) Macbook Pro, then just stop and get a grip! Lots of writers use Macbooks, but it’s not the Apple computer that makes them a writer, it’s writing.

I’ve written the vast majority of my words on a cheap Chromebook. I almost always buy them refurbed and they suit me perfectly as I like to write using Novlr.org[iv] or Dabble. Over time, as I’ve earned income, I’ve upgraded to posher Chromebooks with full HD screens (my latest is an Asus C434 if you’re interested), but I wrote hundreds of thousands of words on super-cheap equipment.

So, don’t put off the ten-minute habit because you’re saving up for a new computer—use the one you’ve got. You could press an old iPad into service if you paired it with a cheap Bluetooth keyboard and, at a pinch, you could even use the same approach with just about any smartphone. Both Google Docs and Microsoft Office offer Android and iOS apps. It may not be ideal, but it can be done.

In my view, the environment is more important than the equipment. It’s going to be tough to carve out ten minutes unless you find somewhere to be alone, even if that means going out of the house to do it. In a perfect world, you’d have your own room, but that’s not practical for everyone. In that case, I recommend having a tray with everything on it ready to go. Whatever you do, try to make your environment as inviting as possible, as that removes one more piece of ammunition from the procrastination demon’s armoury.

It’s all about timing

You must have an easy to use and reliable way to mark out your ten minutes, even if you intend to carry on writing afterwards. When I first started, I felt my shoulders physically lift when I knew I’d passed the ten minute mark. There was a sense of relief and achievement that, more often than not, gave me the momentum to carry on for a bit.

I’ve used all sorts of methods, but I began with a simple kitchen timer set to ten minutes. Oh, the sweet music of that buzzer! These days, being a geek, I use Alexa to track my time, and an Alexa Wall Clock to display how long I’ve got to go. Neither of these is necessary, however. A timer, a stopwatch or an alert on your smartphone all do equally well.

It might seem like a trivial step, but I truly believe that setting a timer is critical to cementing the habit, especially in the early days. Flip the lid on your laptop, open your document, take a deep breath and start the timer. Go!

[i] These are plots of land owned by the local government and split up into tiny parcels that are rented out to locals to grow vegetables.

[ii] I’m only kidding – many people say they find it easier to be creative with the tactile feedback of handwriting. For me, it would be an exercise in frustration both because I’d then have to type it in, but also because I can’t read my own writing…

[iii] Are you old enough/geeky enough/British enough to remember the Amstrad PCW? What a wonderful device. I’m slightly tempted to buy an old one, but I suspect, like when you meet your heroes, I’d be disappointed

[iv] Although in the case of this book, the first draft was written using the browser-based version of Word because it supports footnotes and most of the alternatives don’t.