In and Out of Habits
I've been a bit quiet on here recently as I've been getting my head down, writing some new stuff, plotting some new projects and generally doing a bit of post-PhD tidying. It's been a rather hectic start to 2022 for various reasons with a number of different headaches and issues, but there's been some really excellent highlights writing-wise. Just this week I've had three new flash fictions published in a trio of fabulous journals, plus I've written two sparkly commissions that I feel will continue to bear fruit throughout the year.
When the year turned, I decided to get on top of a daily writing habit. Last year I did two successful bouts of Jenn Ashworth's 100 Days of Writing scheme and really saw the benefit of writing as a regular daily habit. Jenn's scheme is gentle and generous: a simple daily check-in with your writing, from focused hours of creation to snatched and sketchy fifteen minutes of something, anything just before bed. I found it really working for me and upped my productivity no end. However, for 2022 rather than setting an end goal of an X amount of days, I wanted to see if I could keep the daily habit rolling. So, I've invented my own variation. It doesn't really have a snappy name yet so let's call it...
! THE DAILY WRITING CREDIT SYSTEM !
I'm sure there's a better name than that. I'll see if one comes to me while I write the rest of this post. In the meantime, let me lay out the basic principles of the DWCS (urgh).
What counts as 'Writing'?
It's helpful to set this parameter first. Exactly what do I mean by 'writing'? Following the softly, gently approach of #100DaysofWriting where the main idea is to 'have contact' with your work, I've decided to continue on this kindness. So, my parameters for 'writing' are quite broad. These are the different activities and outputs that fall under the category of 'writing':
Creative fiction - the creation of new writing, as well as the editing of existing writing written by me. Also includes scribbling down overviews of ideas for stories, character briefs, rough plot synopses etc.
Blog writing - such as the posts I'm writing about autism for Medium or, indeed, something like this thing you're reading now. This counts.
Academic writing - as my postdoctoral life trucks on, I'm definitely counting articles and abstracts as 'writing'.
Live performance - if I read out any of my work at a spoken word event or an academic conference or symposium, that counts as 'contact with' my writing.
Submission of creative work - Sometimes it takes a bit of mental effort to submit your work out to journals, magazines, websites, competitions etc. Sometimes its about building confidence and faith in the quality of your writing, sometimes it's just the graft of finding open calls and prepping your work for submission. Oh and writing cover letters and endless bios and having to read through reams and reams of (sometimes quite pointless) 'submission rules'. So, yeah, I count 'doing a submission', even if its just one.
Job/commission applications - perhaps the most controversial of the writing categories, but I've been writing so many job applications & long-winded personal statements post-PhD that I've decided to incorporate them. I figure if any of them are successful, they could lead to exciting writing-based things (at the very least, earning money to fund writing retreats!).
That just about covers it all. Answering emails does not count, no matter how delightfully embellished they may be.
What's this 'Credit System'?
AHA! Now we get to the clever bit. Daily writing is a challenge and a grind. Most days sure, it's fine, I''ll find a bit of time somewhere to do something and the box will get ticked. But there are those days when it just will not happen. I might be feeling ill, something dramatic might have snatched away my allocated writing time, or I might have been having such a great day doing other things, I've forgotten until its too late. So, with the vagaries of italicised life in mind, I've baked in A CREDIT SYSTEM!
As and when I have a particularly good day writing, I award myself a credit. A 'good day' includes the following:
more than four solid hours of writing
the solving of a particularly knotty plot problem/character issue/tone shift - something major that has been bothering me and throwing up a brick wall for ages
two or more independent sessions of writing within one day
the acceptance of a submitted piece of writing
Take today for example. This morning I finished a job application and sent it off, and now I've sat down to write this blog post. That counts two sessions so I can pat myself on the head and give myself a credit.
But what is a credit? Physically, I use these fabulous golden cubes I've borrowed from the board game Terraforming Mars. They sit in a desk drawer and when I've earned a credit, I take one out and put it on my desk. And then - and this is the really good bit - I can cash that credit in at a later date and skip a day of writing. So if my day job has given me a headache, or my energies have crashed, or I've stayed out socialising and had one too many G&Ts, these shiny gold cubes are there to save me.
It should be noted though, that I have one rule: I can't gift myself a credit in advance. So, if I have no credits in play I have to write. This gives me an added impetus to actually do those long productive days because I know I'll thank my past-self for doing so!
It all makes a kind of nice sense. Some days you're killing it and really hammering away at those keys. Other days, nothing comes. Instead of beating yourself up about these latter days, let your strong days pay dividends later on. So far for me, 100 days into 2022, it has worked a real treat. And I especially like awarding myself a credit when a submitted story has been accepted - it feels like a real and tangible way of celebrating those little triumphs.
So how is it all tracked?
It could be done in many different ways, but I've made myself a little scrap of paper and I note down my daily writing on there. I have a circulation of five different coloured pens for each entry from blue to green to red to black to yellow then back to blue again. I use a pink asterisk to indicate a gained credit and use the same pink pen to note a day when I've cashed it in. I use a purple pen to note a story acceptance. I would highly recommend different coloured pens, you guys.
As you can see in the pic, the paper scraps have two columns and each entry is numbered so I can keep an easy track throughout the year. I don't go into any more detail than the title of the thing I've been writing that day, but I suppose if you wanted to go more elaborate you could also note down the exact activity (ie; editing, planning etc) or the number of words written in that session. I don't like to go that granular: as long as something is done, I'm happy. 100 days in, I find it pleasing to go back and look over just how much I've managed to do over the last few months. Without this record, I might have felt like I've got very little done, but that's not the case at all. I can count 8 new stories written, and a fair number of new ideas for stories scribbled down. I've also written three lengthy blog posts, a fair few job apps and done a sprinkling of submissions. Not too shabby at all.
So there it is the...
...no i don't have a better name for it yet...
...the DAILY WRITING CREDIT SCHEME!
I hope someone reading this feels energised and inspired by the DWCS! So far, for me, it has been the most successful daily writing habit I've ever concocted. It doesn't tie me to a particular time of day (which never works for me), plus it takes a bit of the pressure off the word 'daily' by allay the guilt of days that have to be missed. And it rewards our writing successes, which is something we're not always the best at doing.
OK, then! Do let me know if you like this idea and find yourself implementing it. In the meantime, I'm going to post this and then give myself a shiny new gold cube.