plan

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The (new) plan

Maybe there are just some things we have to learn over and over again.

I am not, and have never been, the most organised person. The piles of books I mentioned last week are just one small example. As is my general inability to find what I am looking for when I really need it. In fairness, putting a camera flash in the drawer where sundry running accessories go might not have been down to me.

It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea to have plans for some things, it’s just that it’s not how I think. I did my PhD by figuring out what I needed to know or find out as I went along, and then going and finding it out. It worked out fine and I was never bored, maybe because I was never quite sure myself what was coming next.

But it turns out that the same approach doesn’t necessarily lend itself to writing a novel. I have a lot of material I’ve written. An awful lot. And – despite the inconsistencies – some of it actually works together. But while some of the parts are, I hope, worth keeping, the whole doesn’t hang together and there is far too much that will never fit in.

So I have stopped churning out words for a bit. And the wallpaper has come out, which is an improvement on the A3 sheets I was using before to try to put some structure around my disjointed ideas.

Wallpaper

Yes, it’s a piece of wallpaper – and some very small writing!

So before I write another word, I am figuring out how I get everybody from where they start to where it all ends, from one end of the wallpaper to the other. And this includes deciding where the starting point is. I can take it back two generations before some of the characters were born – useful writing exercises, but not helpful for the task in hand. But having a structure around everything is probably the only way I’m going to avoid the tangents I keep going down. Even though they are so interesting and I want to see where they lead. The trouble is they don’t lead towards the end, or even to what happens next. They just take me somewhere that I can’t get out of.

I have now accepted that I need the whole to work, into which the pieces fit. Otherwise it just won’t work. Then I can get back to the writing part and this time not waste so much time on fascinating irrelevancies! And I get to look at some beautiful paperweights at the same time – the solution to automatically curling wallpaper!

paperweight

It’s over – time for a reboot

So, the Book Festival is over. I had to take one last quick picture after my last event this year – lovely to see the gardens still so full after two weeks. Only fifty weeks till we get to do it all again!

Book festival

I suppose that means we have to return to real life. And to the serious business of writing.

I tried taking a break (it was called holiday) from writing, which was great until it came to getting back into a rhythm again. I prefer to think of it as a rhythm rather than a routine, if only because my association with routine is not a happy one. It’s what I dread the most because I have no patience for repetition. I saw a great video the other day of a contraption which launched a tennis ball down a hallway for a dog to fetch. The clever part was that the dog had learned to reload the machine, knowing that if it did it correctly, the ball would shoot back out again seconds later. I am fairly sure that the dog could have done it all day, or until it realised how hungry it was, or it just ran out of energy. But repetition and routine are not for me. I just get bored too easily.

And then I realised that I have a pretty structured running plan which has never come close to being boring. So maybe I was being too black and white when it came to finding an equivalent plan for my writing time.

The keys to my running plan are:

– being realistic about what you can do in a given week. Three runs a day might work if running is your job. For me, five times a week is about right.

– running flat out every time you go out is a recipe for disaster. I had to learn this by getting wrong, thinking I had to push myself every time I went out. It doesn’t work (and it’s not fun). Your body needs recovery, and the recovery allows it to come back stronger. Over time, it makes a big difference and recovery is as part of the overall plan as pushing yourself on other days. So I have only two hard sessions a week – one long run, one speed session. Add on a recovery run (more like a slow jog) after each of the hard days and a medium length easy run and you have yourself a plan.

– Vary the sessions. Each time I go out, I have to check and see what it is I am to run that day. I have the overall rhythm of the training week in my head, but not what exactly I’m to do on a given day. That gives me a lot of variety and different challenges every week.

So I decided to replicate this (to some extent at least) with a writing schedule. So I have one day a week when I will write for a long time, another where I will just write quickly and not think too much about it (my speed session), a couple of days of balancing reading and writing (recovery days), and others where I just have to sit down for 45-60 minutes and write. Then I’m done for the day. And one day when I focus on my characters revealing themselves. I’ve tried to work this around the evenings that I know I will be sitting outside a dance studio while the girls are working hard, and I will leave behind anything that can connect to the internet, which I think should be renamed the distractanet, and take only my beloved Neo. On which I can do only one thing – write.

So far, I’m only a few days into this so I’m not getting too carried away yet, but it’s helping to get into what I hope will become a rhythm with some focus on the time I do have available.

I view this a a slightly more positive way of recognising the need for a balance of hard work and recovery than is perhaps suggested by Hannah Arendt’s somewhat more existential perspective:

‘There is no lasting happiness outside outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleasurable regeneration, and whatever throws this cycle out of balance … ruins the elemental happiness that comes from being alive.’