How pretending you’re going on holiday can help you write faster

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Today’s message may seem a little strange but you can learn how to write faster by going on holiday or at least by pretending that you’re going to

We went on the worst holidays ever when I was a kid. We had no money so we always had to camp. Not that I minded camping. In fact, my husband and I hiked and camped — by choice — on our honeymoon in California, 25 years ago last month.

What I disliked about my childhood vacations was that we always went to the same places. First stop? Stemwinder Park, perched on the side of Highway 3 with big trucks thundering by all night. My father liked swimming in the Similkameen River,  adjacent; the rest of us found it icy cold. Following four or so days there, we always travelled north to Monk Park, located on the shores of Nicola Lake.  I wouldn’t have minded visiting these places once or even twice, but we went year after relentless year. (The photo above shows me, second right, with my four siblings at Monk Park on the happy occasion of my youngest sister’s birthday.)

But I learned some unexpected lessons from the prep for these holidays. You may have learned them, too.

My father was a self-employed public relations consultant in my childhood. He managed his own time poorly (on reflection, I think he had learning disabilities) and he always had a pile of work to wrap up before holidays. So here’s what he did: The night before departure he made a deep vat of coffee and shut himself in his office. He worked through mountains of paper, directing, deciding, and dispatching with an efficiency and ruthlessness he’d never displayed in the entire year.

Ironically, given our lamentable finances, he’d always dragged his heels at billing. But not before holidays! He could grind out invoices like he was preparing meat for sausages. The whole vacation-prep process usually took him all night, but he didn’t mind. He was a night owl, and that’s what nights were for.

While my father set some sort of bizarre nadir for pre-vacation behaviour, I think most of us can probably relate. We’re always more efficient just before holiday.

So here’s my question for you: Can you approach your writing as if you were about to go away tomorrow?

This intensely focused, pre-vacation strategy works for five reasons, I think:

1)   It forces us to plan. If we’re going to write without being able to research (at the same time), then we know we need to research first. Approaching our writing work in this way is like building the foundation of a house before starting the framing. It’s necessary.

2)   It makes us to eat our frogs rather than dine on cheesecake. Whenever we run into difficulty, our natural instinct is to turn away. But when our deadline is imminent, there’s no time for that! The best way to fix a problem is usually to work right through it. A short deadline — and the promise of a reward like a vacation — makes us more willing to face that fact.

3)   It inspires us to give up on the time-wasting strategies that usually suck up so much of our days. When we’re truly committed to finishing a piece of writing, we stop answering our phone, we ignore the chatter of co-workers and we stop ourselves from frittering away time on Facebook and Twitter.  Instead, we take advantage of what’s known as the Zeigarnik Effect — the knowledge that getting started on something and working on it without interruption is the best way to finish.

4)   It frees us from perfectionism.  When pressed for time, we stop worrying about how good the product we’re making is going to be. Instead, we focus on finishing. This is a particularly useful mindset for writers who are so often plagued by self-doubt.

5)   It gives us momentum and positive feedback. Have you ever had the experience of even momentary efficiency? Doesn’t it feel great? When you set a short goal for writing and achieve it, you’ll be buoyed up and feel more encouraged to accomplish other goals.

I’m going to be heading on holiday myself, shortly. My husband and I are going to the Czech Republic to see our son sing in an opera. (Yes, very exciting! Please post restaurant or sightseeing recommendations if you have any! Ditto for Amsterdam and Vienna, which we’ll also be visiting.) As our departure day looms, I can visualize myself working flat out, in pomodoros. I’ll be trying to presage all my clients’ needs and get enough of these columns written in advance so you won’t even notice I’m gone.

One thing I won’t be doing? Staying up all night, like my father.

What tricks do you have for encouraging yourself to write faster? We can all learn from each other and if you comment on my blog by July 31, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a copy of the very useful book The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. Please share your thoughts with my readers and me. If you can’t see the comments box, go here and scroll to the end of the article. 

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