As I skip merrily towards the end of my first draft of my current work in progress, I thought I’d share with you a recently discovered activity that’s helped me focus and get those pesky words written over the last few weeks.
There are lots of downsides to being a writer, but the solitary nature of the craft and digging deep for motivation when four hundred and ninety-seven other things are calling me, are two that I sometimes need help with. However, I have stumbled across a way to solve both of these issues; the Virtual Write-In. I didn’t invent it – it’s a thing, but I’ve wholeheartedly embraced it.
The idea is you post, via private message or in a social media writing group, when you’re about to write and if anyone else is around, you sit at your virtual desks together, pass around a huge plate of virtual HobNobs and get those words down. I tend to plug myself into a pair of headphones to demonstrate to people in my real world that I’m busy and can’t be disturbed. At the end of a specified time, everyone checks in with their word count or number of pages edited – whatever they’ve been doing.
The person I write with most frequently is the lovely Clare Marchant because we are often writing at the same time of day and are both frantically trying to complete our manuscripts for the New Writers’ Scheme, but I also join in when local online groups run write-ins, or persuade other fellow writers to join me at random times of the day and night. Sometimes I fly solo, messaging friends with word counts that mean nothing to them, but everything to me. And 80,000 words later, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
So why does this work so well? After all, no-one even knows if I’ve written those words or just posted that I have – unless there’s a webcam in my study that I don’t know about. (If there is, I do apologise for the singing. And the occasional nudity.)
Firstly, the only person I’d be cheating would be myself. If I say I’ve written 1000 words when I’ve only done 70 and spent most of the time making tea, stroking #blindcat and painting my toenails a fetching shade of purple, my manuscript is only 70 words further on, and not the coveted 1000. So I take it seriously. Secondly, the feeling that I’m writing against the clock helps me to focus. My mobile is placed firmly out of reach, I don’t answer the phone or the door, headphones are plugged in and I make every minute count. If I want a wee, another Jammie Dodger or a quick peek at the news headlines, it has to wait until the end. And lastly, it allows me to be selfish, especially when other members of my household are about. They are told I’m on a write-in with real people, in real time, and because I have to check in, they must not disturb me unless their head is on fire.
And it really works. In fact, it works so well I have been known to pop some headphones on and pretend I’m on a write-in, just to be left alone. (Shhh… our little secret.)
Once a week, I also participate in a Work Jelly (didn’t make this up either – it’s also a thing) with a friend who crafts; she makes her beautiful cards, I write. This one involves real tea and less opportunities to cheat – Jacqui will crack the whip if I’m daydreaming. Plus she keeps feeding me huge wedges of her delicious homemade Weetabix cake to keep my strength up.
So with a bit of help from the write-ins (both real and fake) the end of the first draft is in sight for Cupboard Love. It’s a rubbish first draft – they always are – but I enjoy editing, so I don’t feel disheartened. It’s a chance to layer my story and pull it all together. And add some more funny bits.
All the times in between these sociable writing activities, it’s just me and the keyboard. Which is how I wrote the first three novels, so I guess it’s also a valid way to go.
Do add comments below, it’s lovely to hear from you, and let me know what helps you to focus on your writing. (And if you ever need a virtual write-in pal, you know where to find me… )