Elite Death Squirrels

Sometimes… look, The Blank Screen is about being creative and productive, most especially for writers but also for normal people too. Consequently, you will always find something here that is meant to help you get more things out of the way so you can get on with writing.

But sometimes, you just have to say bollocks to productivity.

I'm having an odd day where I think I've got to go to a meeting later and I know I have to get through a lot of jobs before I can leave. So I sat down at 05:00 and I began doing Serious Jobs.

And at about 05:01 I wrote this: “I was forced to do it by Elite Death Squirrels”.

By 07:00 I had a thousand words of a story that I doubt I'll ever be able to use anywhere. It certainly doesn't fit any of the pitches I'm doing this month. But it's done, I like it, it's here, and if I now have to run out into the snow without everything else done, well, bollocks to productivity.


Pattern Weeks part 4 – did it work?


Last year I cracked getting up at 5am every weekday to write and it was a boon. It was bigger than that, it was huge. This year I want to stamp some kind of structure on my weeks, a base pattern for how Monday-Friday should go. It never will: no week is ever going to stick to a plan. But by having one, I hope to be aware of what I should be doing and have each hour be more of a conscious choice to do the plan or go off it.

Six days ago I told you my plan was finally ready for you to see, albeit a bit redacted. Now, read on.

Day 6.

I stuck to the plan perfectly for Monday to Wednesday, inclusive. Then Thursday was a day of meetings and a talk in the evening that ran late into the evening. I can't ever just go to bed when I come back from one of those so it was a late night and that had its impact on Friday.

The best thing from the pattern week is easily that it got me to make calls. This is, for some reason, a real weakness with me: I'm far better yapping face to face and I can write a crackin' email, but cold phone calls are tough. I do go in phases, though. There's a bit about this in my book, The Blank Screen, (US edition, UK edition) where I mention that my most successful calls happen between 11am and noon. That's quite true: I don't understand it, I can't see a particular reason, but I've noticed it. When I was writing that chapter, though, I think I was on a high for some reason because I said I had five calls to make and that I'd just whack through them. I did have them to do and I did whack through them.

But it was unusual. And I have to be aware now that while calls are a difficulty, I do seemingly have these highs and so it's far too soon to tell: did I make my calls this week because of the pattern schedule forcing me to or did I just happen to be good at phoning people? We'll see next week, I suppose. But for now I'm choosing to think it was the pattern. I made sixteen calls and perhaps seven of them were successful.

If you've ever worked in sales – and I haven't so I'm just guessing here – then I imagine the figure of sixteen doesn't impress you but the success rate might. It's certainly encouraging.

There was one other thing that was good about working to this pattern instead of my usual chaotic plate-spinning. And it was also a bad thing. That's great for having something to tell you about, it's ace that I can have a natural bridge between the good and the bad, but I didn't want any bad.

Here's the thing. At 10:59 on each day I was making calls, I would rush to start and then at 12:00 I would stop it and feel great. So far, so excellent. But that happened with each hour that I had planned and the pattern has huge, giant gaps which is where I'm supposed to be doing the work and instead, I'd look at that and think phew, I can relax a bit now. And I did. Too much.

As a result, I don't feel I got enough done in the week and that is exactly the opposite of what this was all supposed to do.

So I'm just going to have to work harder, aren't I?

Pattern weeks – part 2

I'm still fiddling. Previously on Pattern Weeks… I was working to bring some kind of structure to my typical or pattern week, chiefly because every week was changing and I knew I wasn't getting enough done. For a detailed previously and maybe reasons why you might like to think about it too, see Pattern Weeks.

Now I'm embarrassed to say that I wrote that and was planning all this back on 31 December and we're now a fortnight further on.

But I do have the plan, at last, sort of.

I ripped up lots of versions and settled for working out a list of things that I really have to get done. I used OmniOutliner for that; lots of bashing in things as I thought of them, as a search of my calendar and To Do list brought them up. And then lots of juggling around. A fair bit of realising that this bit or that was quite similar to something else on the list, I could save some time by doing them one after another.

I ended up with tent poles in the week: inviolate times when invoiolate things have to be done inviolately. They won't be. But they will be more than if I weren't looking out for them.

And that's nearly where I am now. I've got the list, the kind of super-list, the overall no-details-but-big-picture list and I have these tent poles. Certain few of these things have to happen at certain times and I know the things, I know the times.

The intention is to end up with wallpaper on my Mac with this pattern in my face. I'm about a quarter of the way through producing that image in Adobe Illustrator and it's a Tetris-like calendar kind of image with big red boxes, little green ones and some yellow 'uns too.

I'm trying to work out how I'll show that to you when it's done and all the boxes have all their text in – without you being able to see that the big red box that stripes across the whole week at the same time is really just breakfast.

But I'm getting there and it's proving useful plotting and pondering. So I wanted to share that with you, even as I can't yet share the plan.

I must be a great writer, I get up early.

Hand on heart, I'm having trouble adjusting to getting up at 5am to write. Given that today is the 190th time I've done it, I may have to accept that I never will figure it out. Alternatively, I'll have to accept the old man concept of naps.

But the problem is at the end of the day and during the evening, it's fine when I get up and often it is fine actually getting up. Not today, as it happens, but often. Okay, sometimes. Alright, once. Once I fair bounced out of the bed. Madness.

However, I think my getting up early like this works as much because the phones don't ring – and I cannot call anyone – as because it happens to be the time that suits my writing. In my head I'm a late-night jazz kind of guy, possibly without the jazz, but in my typing fingers I'm an early riser.

I know you can't equate the time you get up to the quality of your writing, but that hasn't stopped a lot of people trying. Now comes what may hopefully be the definitive analysis. It's got to be definitive because it doesn't come up with an answer. It just shows you a lot of facts. A lot:

We ended up with a roster of thirty-seven writers for whom wake-up times were available — this became the base data set, around which we set out to quantify, then visualize, the literary productivity of each author.

Take a look at Brain Pickings' gorgeous infographic about famous writers and what time of day they got up out of their beds, the lazy bastards.

Snoozers are (allegedly) losers

I now cannot imagine lying in later than 5am on a writing day. I can dream about it, but I can’t imagine it. The New Yorker here makes me feel a little better. Only a little. But alongside it’s harsh information about not snoozing on, there is advice we can all apply whatever stupid time we have to get up.

Here’s The New Yorker article.