A friend recently wrote me this email:
I love your practice with surrender. I am about to spend a week in NYC alone to move the dissertation forward. I will remember your counsel.
She was referring to a recent letter I sent describing what allowed me to write the first draft of my book last summer in three weeks:
It was one of those singular experiences where words pour forth without effort once you put your body in the proper place.
Now that I know she is about to embark on her own period of intensive writing, I want to round out the picture. Surrender played a big part in writing fast. Here are several other factors:
- Radical reinterpretation of challenges. Every time a new potential obstacle arose, I interpreted it as a challenge to overcome. Wife out of town? I can manage that. Youngest son home with chicken pox? No problem, I’ll work around it. Technological difficulties? Frustrating, but easy to overcome. Reinterpreting these obstacles as challenges kept me in a positive mood and actually stoked the fire in my belly.
- Time was a liberating structure. The term liberating structure comes from Bill Torbert. It’s a framework designed specifically to transform the way you approach a situation and thereby the results you produce. By giving myself three weeks to write the book, I freed myself to say no to distracting activities and thoughts and focus on this project.
- Breaks every 90 minutes. As Tony Schwartz describes in Be Excellent At Anything, the human body can perform at a high level for 90 minutes. Then it needs to renew itself. This is as true for symbolic and conceptual activities, like writing, as it is for physical activities like sports. When I wrote, I set my alarm to ring at 90 minute increments. When it rang, I stopped, stood up, and either stretched, went for a walk, or grabbed a healthy snack. (OK, sometimes I ignored the alarm and kept writing, but most of the time, it worked).
- A clear screen and a clear desk. While writing, I closed out every other app on my laptop and removed everything from my desk that was not related to the book.
- A clear mind. I designated specific periods of the day to quickly check email and process key action items. And while I was writing, if a non-book idea would enter my mind, I would write it down and put it in my inbox behind me.
- Frequent meditation. Writing the book did not coincide with one of my recent ten-day “streaks” of meditating for 5-10 minutes every two hours. (If it had, that would make for a really good story!) But I did do short meditations several times a day. These helped my mind stay relaxed and focused.
- Great writing software. I used Scrivener to write the book. It does what Microsoft Word should do but doesn’t: allow you to divide a piece of writing into chunks that are visible in a screen “binder.” Rather than scroll up and down the document, you click onto different sections or chapters and can cut and paste easily between them. Scrivener also allows you to save “Research” files on the same screen so you can easily open them up and include them in the piece of writing. Scrivener is to Word as Google was to Yahoo Search. Once you make the switch, there’s no reason to go back. (I’m writing this blog post with Scrivener)
- Luck. I include this reason whenever I remember to. It’s always part of the game.