I’ve written elsewhere about a survey I did a few years ago with a class of 13 year olds and how it revealed some interesting things. One was that almost no one in the class had a particular space set up for doing homework in the evenings or on weekends.
One boy, who lived on a narrow barge with his parents, used a foldable table which he had to clear and lift up whenever anyone else in the boat wanted to move from one end to the other! The most usual situation was that children were expected to be doing homework anywhere in the house - the kitchen table, a corner of the living room, a shared bedroom - and in all cases the spaces were open to traffic and interruptions. This was non-optimum to say the least: the battle to get homework done was being made much less easy to win.
Of course the same principle applies when you are trying to get some writing done, which is why this article is based on one I wrote years ago concerning students at school. The parallels between trying to be a writer and being a student at school trying to do homework are many - probably one of the key differences is that a student often doesn’t want to do his or her homework and will try to get out of it, whereas a writer usually really wants to write. Apart from that, though, my advice to writers would be much the same as that which I gave to students:
Just as a child normally needs a dedicated, quiet space in which to work if he or she has any hope of completing homework assignments of good quality, so a writer needs a space dedicated to the art of writing.
Some have studies; some have corners of other rooms; some have sheds in their back gardens where visitors are forbidden. Whatever your circumstances, please strive to have a particular space for writing which should include whatever you use to write on - desktop, laptop, pen and paper - as well as perhaps a printer and, vital in today’s age, a wi-fi connection. (I sit right next to my wi-fi router to avoid any disconnection problems as much as possible.)
That space needs to be a ‘limited access area’ to some extent: family, visitors, friends, need to be restricted in their rights to intrude. Let’s face it - we give ourselves enough barriers and distractions without creating the circumstances in which others can do so. Shut the door, put a sign up, whatever it takes.
Similarly to needing a stable space in which to work, when asked 'At what time do you usually do homework?' answers amongst my student group varied hugely from 'during school if I can' to 'after dinner' to 'in the morning before breakfast' to 'on the bus', the most alarming pattern being that there was no pattern - children just did it as and when they could. I suspect this is the case for many writers: they just grab time when they can.
Establishing a clear time for writing, as part of a comfortable routine, is the way forward.
Imagine your job was like most other people’s employment, but that there was no plan as to when or where you would do it - and the time changed everyday! Result? Not much work done. It’s the same here. When you are tearing your hair out worried about not getting enough writing done, start by examining these basics: do you have a schedule? Do you stick to that schedule as though it was a job you were being paid for?
As I have said in relation to students, along with having a dedicated space and a clear routine, the other thing to watch is sleep. Many studies have been done on this. Most confirm what common sense would say: get enough sleep, and plan to get more than enough. A rested person is capable of tremendous things; a tired person has lost before they start.
If you are getting moody and miserable when you come to sit down and write, maybe it isn’t anything to do with ‘struggling with your Muse’ as much as it is to do with fatigue.
Lack of sleep is a primary enemy on the road to writing success. Establish plentiful sleep as a normal thing. Forget the myths about writers staying up all night to get work done - stay up all day instead and sleep deeply at night. (If your Muse is trying to send you messages in your dreams, you need to enter the deeper phases of sleep to be able to receive and retain them!)
Sitting at a desk, reading, writing or calculating can seem like a relaxing proposition to anyone engaged in hard, physical labour, as in a school situation - but the energy burned up in taking in data or getting involved in creative activity can be comparable to that expended in manual work.
Hours of school, being shunted from demanding subject to demanding subject, can be just as physically exhausting as a marathon run. And the same thing applies to writing. Make sure that you are eating good food in sufficient quantities to keep you 'fuelled up’. Think of every hour at your laptop in terms of calories burned and you won't go far astray.
As it's best to have an established routine for homework, so it's even better to have an overall stable and predictable routine in a writer's life. Some variation to avoid boredom is good, but get things set up so that each day is much the same as the last and you will find that over a week or two you will have accomplished a great deal.
Setting up a space, a routine, and keeping basics in is a recipe for a healthier and more productive writing career.
You can get more advice from some free gifts available here.