Hello Possum,Goodbye Writing? Making Writing Dates
I was going to dedicate a big swath of the day to working on my current writing project. The hours stretched before me, enticingly empty.
Then the possum got stuck in our chimney.
Writing was replaced by a rescue attempt, involving ladder, long rope, and the partial dismantling of our slow combustion stove. Web accounts advised leaving a rope dangling in the chimney to enable the possum to escape. And to put up a note nearby to remind me, preferably before lighting a fire, that the rope was still up there.
I read some hilarious accounts of dealing with the varmints. My favourite involved the possum that shot out of the fireplace, knocked over things in the loungeroom, fought the owner’s Doberman—and won—then bolted out the door, leaving sooty paw prints all over a brand-new pure white carpet.
I resigned myself to not getting much writing done that day. But I was surprised to find that between rescue tasks, I still managed to get stuck into my project.
Picking up the threads of writing may be easy after a single interruption. But with multiple interruptions—the second, the third, the fortieth–it’s tempting to push artistic pursuits into the spare corners of the day, the space left after everything and everyone else is attended to. Writing should not be the reward for completing other stuff, but the main game for a period, whether that is an hour or a whole day.
To have a more productive writing period, it can help to set writing dates with yourself. How does that work?
- Set a start date|
Set a specific time to begin. I’ve been making a 10am deadline for me to be sitting at my desk, computer turned on, ready to go. It was hard at first, but I am now hooked on the virtuous feeling of starting to write when I promised myself I would. Having a specific start time also provides a reality check, giving a realistic sense of how much other stuff you can get done before your writing time.
- Set an end date
Our brain creates a huge writing distraction, sending SOS messages about all the non-writing tasks to do. You’re in the midst of writing a scene and suddenly remember you need to make a doctor’s appointment, ring a friend, check on your flight. Setting a definite finish time teaches your brain to put its reminding on hold.
- Honour the date
The specific period is for writing, nothing else. Honour this time by not multitasking or getting distracted with non-writing activities. Do you really need to answer the phone or check emails, tweets and Facebook messages? When doing Web research, if you keep getting sidetracked with IBMS (Interesting But Minor Stuff), set a separate time for Web work.
- Visualise specific outcomes
It is easier to handle interruptions if you have in mind a specific outcome for each writing period. Will you finish a first draft? Revise your chapter two? Identify what you can realistically accomplish in the time available.
- Make the date formal
Some writers find it helpful to put their writing dates in their diary. It keeps the period clear of other commitments and makes it easier to say no. You don’t need to say you’re writing, simply that you’re not available. Sorry, I’m not free on Thursday until after 3pm.
And the possum in my chimney? I thought it had escaped, climbing the rope to freedom. But possums are nocturnal creatures, and it must have been napping. That evening, I heard a scratching and banging. Glancing at the stove’s glass door, I saw a furry bundle drop down into the ashes. And there was the possum, on the other side of the glass, peering at me with its big black eyes.
Phase 2 of Operation Possum began. The doors leading off from the loungeroom were closed, the lights dimmed, the front door opened. Next, we created an ingenious ‘possum chute’,with a ladder and cardboard, to point the animal toward the door. I opened the stove door and kept very still.
The possum hopped out onto the floor, calm as anything. It then sauntered to the door and vanished into the night. The only thing left was its autograph—possum prints on my sign: