Today, a bestselling writer friend and I were discussing the recent disaster in my life. No, nobody died, though I don’t preclude the possibility that someone could die in the near future. By my hand. (Insert name of contractor.)
My wife and I moved into a new house two months ago. Within three days, the sewer line backed up due to a contractor plumbing error and flooded the entire first floor. They call it gray water, which is less dangerous than black water, though the distinction escapes me. Bottom line, our house became a petri dish for E coli.
For two months they’ve ripped out flooring and walls and disinfected. Lab tests. We can’t live in the house for at least another month. But I had already moved my office into the second-floor loft.
Circle back to my writer friend. “Matt, are you still able to write?”
“How are you able to do that?”
Because I’ve discussed the topic of finding time to write in other contexts, my friend suggested I explain in my blog how I’ve been able to continue in the midst of chaos.
Answer? At first, I didn’t have one. I had to think about it.
Answer? Habit and compartmentalization.
I got my first laptop in 1995. Suddenly, sitting in an airport, or taking a long flight, or getting bored at some conference was no longer wasted time. I could write on my laptop wherever I was! Yes, at first, I got distracted by violent turbulence and imminent plane crashes, by people blathering about problems fertilizing their lawns. Then over time I developed an ability to compartmentalize my writing brain. I no longer heard squalling babies. I learned to ignore distractions and to focus on my work.
No, I don’t write every day. I don’t write at a certain time of day. Believing that rule we so often hear, "You must write every day," only makes us feel guilty. Instead, I think about stories and characters whenever I have dead time. That’s where habit comes in. Mowing the lawn, driving to the store. Standing in line at the bank I might hear a woman use an interesting turn of phrase. I think about how I might work that into dialogue. Which character might say that?
If I’m not doing something that requires my full attention, my habit is to observe the world around me or daydream about a character. I’m doing this constantly. I know this is my staging area in the writing process. When my staging area has enough to use, I turn on computer, enter mental compartment, write.
You might develop different habits. Whatever works. But habit combined with compartmentalization can dramatically increase your output.
Even in chaos.
Even in a petri dish.
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