Neil Gaiman On The Benefits Of Setting Aside Writing Time

Hey, I’m back to write something super-quick, and I’m sure you’ll find this useful if you wish to pursue writing seriously. It’s something I read on author Neil Gaiman’s journal. This is him helping a Tumblr user get back to writing.

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable.

And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)

You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)

Inspired by Gaiman’s advice, I’ve instituted Nothing Hour in my daily life. The idea is to set aside an hour for myself. Hands free. Minds free. Mostly I spend my time pacing. Or walking to a nearby park. Or just sitting on my sofa, absently stroking my dog. I’m happy to say that the idea has been a mild success.

Initially you feel daunted by the prospect of a low-key hour to yourself, but you realise that your mind is not as boring as you make him out to be. When he starts talking, he shows no signs of stopping. But you don’t know that, because you’ve made him numb by throwing him inside the deep end of the Internet.

One more thing. I’ve been using Flowstate, a writing tool to write without obstructions, and it has helped me immensely. If you’re too lazy to click on the link, here’s the concept – if you take your hands off the keyboard for a span of 5 seconds, Flowstate erases everything you’ve written so far. Yep. It’s a brutal motherfucker.

So you’re forced to vomit on screen. It doesn’t matter if it’s puke or pearls. You need to keep you fingers moving. I’ve had mixed success with this. Most of my Flowstate notes are pure bilge. Stuff I’m ashamed to say I’ve written them. Stuff that will never be seen by anyone. Not even me. But I’m happy to report that occasionally I’m surprised by the results. It just goes to show – we may not be as wretched as we think we are.

A slew of mini-habits have cropped up as offshoots to Nothing Hour & Flowstate. One of them is writing a daily journal full of thoughts that I think about during Nothing Hour. Another is revisiting and editing Flowstate notes long after I’ve written them. I’d like to call these mini-habits my determined effort to bring down idea foeticide rates in my head.

Before I wrap, I want you to check out – according to me – the finest book there is on Dramatic Writing. It’ll teach you so much about premise, character and conflict that you’ll start looking at stories in a new light. Don’t believe me? Here’s the Goodreads review.

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