As a committed late-night deadline-chaser, I hope EdJoWriWe will help me learn to work more methodically. I have a long-standing habit to break: aged 11, I learned the joys of doing homework the morning it was due, which translated into 4am writing sessions as an undergraduate. By the final week of my Masters degree I was in crazed seclusion, conjuring thousands of words at high speed. Friends still reminisce about delivering my staple deadline snacks (Haribo Tangfastics and orange Doritos) long after midnight. Bad news for Doritos and the happy world of Haribo: EdJoWriWe is set to change all this.
Sipping my tea on the morning of Day One, I questioned my motives for enlisting on this writing week. It dawned on me that accepting a challenge to “write that journal article in 7 days” might sneakily feed my deadline-chasing habits. Fortunately the first day’s opening session immediately assuaged my fears. Mixing practical advice with wry observations of troublesome tics and habits common among writers, Dan Soule’s workshop was entertaining and amazingly informative.
For me, Epiphany #1 came when Dan began describing the problems with a few different approaches to writing. Academics might ‘overwrite’, or struggle to get words on paper, or perhaps we might “binge write” in bursts of high inspiration followed by unproductive slumps. Dan noted that such splurges were almost always followed by days of exhaustion, or losing momentum in an overlong ‘well-earned break’. This is definitely my pattern. Bursts of fantastic productivity leave me disinclined to even look at a book for a few days.
Having defined the problems, we moved on to possible solutions. Dan suggested deciding when we write most effectively, then structuring our day accordingly. This has always been tricky for me. Daytime commitments make it hard to accept my trusty old productive hours of midnight til 4am. When I raised this, Dan’s response got me thinking. Why? Why 4am? What’s special about writing at night? Can you replicate that environment at a more conducive time? Fellow late-night-writer Ella suggested it could be a way of enforcing another kind of deadline (much-needed sleep). I realised that behaviour I’ve always accepted as instinctive isn’t an inevitable habit, and that tracing the reasons may help to change how I work.
Attempts to adjust my working practice aren’t new to me. I’ve always tried to write methodically, assigning chunks of time during the day, composing careful plans, promising myself ludicrous bribes. But although I can force myself to write this way, I find it painfully slow and frustrating compared with the thrill of a last-minute late-night splurge. The lure of the ‘binge’ approach is that it can be astonishingly effective, and all my best work has been written this way. In many ways I feel lucky to work well under pressure. Yet although the intense splurge can be great in the short-term, I’ve found it’s no good at all for larger projects.
Cue Epiphany #2, which came wheeling in when Dan detailed a simple four-stage writing process:
Stage 1. Plan
Stage 2. First draft
Stage 3. Restructure
Stage 4. Copy-Edit
Stage 2, the ‘first draft’, should be pure writing—no redrafts, no re-reading, no corrections. This was Dan’s favourite phase, the inspirational writing stage. I realised that it’s mine too—except I’ve never consciously treated it as a ‘draft’ stage. When I slowly grind out words in the morning or afternoon, I’m always trying to do Stages 2, 3 and 4 all at once, constantly altering, deleting, tinkering. At last, I understood why I’ve clung to my late-night splurges for so long: they enforce the creative phase Dan calls Stage 2. Writing late or to a deadline, I’m no longer distracted by hunting for references or changing the structure of a paragraph, simply because I don’t have time. I feel I have to get it all down as quickly as possible, and suddenly everything flows. I love it because I’m writing fast, without doubts or clutter.
By the end of the first day I had about eight pages of notes, including a few tasty classics in the margins: my favourite is on p.3: “YOU ARE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY”. I’ve already forgotten whether those were Dan’s words or mine, but I’ll be reminding myself of them throughout this week. I’m looking forward to kicking my late-night habit, and I think the tips learned today will help me to find solutions and workarounds. In particular, I have high hopes for the Pomodoro technique we’re trying later in the week. It may help to replicate all the things I love about late-night last-minute writing—but in less vampiric hours.