When I’m in the middle of the book, there nearly always comes a time when I have to sit myself down and go all the way in—just write and write and write for 5 days straight, shutting out all outside distractions. I’m there now. I know a lot of what needs to happen, but there is a lot going on and I need to just go over into that world and let the story roll out. I need to do this without the distractions of my ordinary life, social media, or even my beloved partner.
I need to go all in.
My name for a week like this is a book blitz. When I posted on Facebook that I was going to do one this week, writer Lexi Ryan said she was going to do Camp Book, same idea, showing up for the book and letting other things go for the week. Loreth Anne White also said she had to do this, and she’d join in. She’s calling hers Book Boot Camp.
Whatever you call it, the idea is the same: for a period of a week, the book comes first, all day long. No appointments, no external commitments, just writing. Lexi is setting a time goal. I like a word count goal, something that’s much higher than I would ever do in an average day, in this case double my usual 2500 words per day, or 5000 words.
Some writers go for the full seven days, but you might, like me, find that too intimidating or exhausting. I go for five days, Monday through Friday, with the happy reward of getting the weekend off when I meet my goal.
The trick to making this work is to figure out what gets in your way, and then set yourself up for success. Some things to consider are family obligations, appointments that might break your concentration, and that old favorite, the Internet.
But the main stumbling block many of us face is simply not giving the time to writing that we give to other things. Drafting a novel is challenging work, and it requires a huge amount of mental and emotional focus. It’s exhausting to live all those lives, think the thoughts of all those people, arrange their tables and drive with them to their assignations and make love with them. A couple of hours is usually about all most of us can manage if we want to have any energy or emotion left for our real lives.
A blitz week reverses that equation. You give the book world all the mental and emotional energy, the focused attention, the physical showing up that your ordinarily save for your actual life. You let the housework and other mundane matters of real life go.
In a way, it’s a bit like NaNoWriMo, but a book blitz week is much more concentrated and demanding. It also only lasts a week, which is a lot more manageable. How do you go about setting such a week up for yourself? A few tips:
- First, set a goal, obviously. Will an hours-per-day goal work? Or will you be more productive if you set word (or page) count goals? Write it down as a promise to yourself.
- Clear your schedule as much as you can and block out the hours in your day that you’re going to be writing. No errands, no quick shopping trips, no lunches or coffees with friends. Just you and the page.This isn’t always perfect. I have to take my new puppies* to the vet for their third round of shots on Friday morning. Maybe you have to drive a kid to swim practice or something like that. Do what you can to move things around, have other people drive, etc. but don’t beat yourself up if you just can’t.
- Get the people in your life in on the plan. Tell partners, children, and friends that you’re going to focus totally on your book just for this week. Let them know it is important to you and you’d like their support. It’s only a week, after all.
- Automate your routines. Stock the house with healthy snacks and decide on a menu for the week ahead of time. I like the relief of cooking at the end of a long day of writing—it brings me back into my body to have a glass of wine and listen to music and chop things, so I have stocked things I can chop– but I’ll only cook every other day. Some people stock up on frozen foods or plan on take-out. Whatever works for you. Just make it easy, whatever it is.
- Also make it pleasant. Get your favorite healthy snacks, but also plan for a nice reward at the end of the day. Maybe you like a beer, or a little candy bar. Maybe you like to go swimming late or bingewatch that show you’ve been saving. You get the treat whether or not you make the goal.
- Build in breaks. For Whitehall, we had to storyboard the entire first series in a weekend. Seven writers and an editor worked for three days in stints of 48 minutes on, 12 minutes off, with time off at lunch. It was remarkably effective, and not nearly as tiring as it seemed it should have been. That 12 minutes off gave us all a chance to stretch our legs, talk, focus out of the book world. When I’m drafting, I prefer a longer stint so I go for 90 minutes on, 20 minutes off. Any longer on the break, and I tend to drift away. I will walk around, stretch, do some tai chi, make a snack. NO INTERNET! I do allow myself to get online at lunch time. I also allow a short nap after lunch, which resets my brain. Your mileage may vary.
- I also have to have exercise every day or I don’t feel well, think well, or sleep well. In my schedule for the blitz are slotted spaces for a morning walk, a few minutes of tai chi at lunch, and if I’m not too tired, a little puttering in the garden after supper. Fresh air is good for the brain. Wordless pursuits allow the girls in the basement to work on problems in the background.
- Decide what you’re going to write. I have a section sketched out and I’m going to make more detailed notes tonight. Each day, before I begin, I’ll sketch out the scenes I’m planning to write. This helps prevent delays born of indecision.
- Turn off all social media. This is not negotiable. I use Freedom, which lets me make a list of sites that will be blocked, while allowing me to look up facts and figures.
- Know that it will not be polished work. That is not the point of this kind of writing. The point is to draft quickly so that the editor on your shoulder doesn’t have a chance to say anything. For me, the reward is in much more passionate, powerful work, and it allows for a lot of happy surprises.
- Reward yourself at the end. Do not skip this part, seriously. Plan the reward, and at the end of the week, carry it out just like the rest of the steps in the blitz week. Enjoy the reward even if you don’t make your goal. Enjoy it because it’s a gift to the creative side of you.