Don’t Break the Chain

It’s T-minus 6 days until I turn 30.

Age is but a number and all that, but 30 comes with an annoying alarm sound, because my goal has always been to get a book deal before I reached the big three-oh. This isn’t because seven days from now, should an editor come knocking on my door, I’ll say, “Thanks, but you’re grand. [Meaning no in Irish-speak.] I’m 30 and a day now so the moment’s gone.” I presume I’d be just as excited getting a book deal at sixty as I would be today. It was just a goal, a self-imposed deadline intended to motivate, and one that I thought gave me plenty of time.

But there’s only six days left, and I don’t have a book deal. I’ve done all the other big things on the Before I’m 30 List—live in the U.S., see a Space Shuttle launch, see the Grand Canyon—but I’m still waiting for some Fairy God-Publishing Type to descend with a sheaf of contracts in one hand and a pen in the other.

But there’s a very good reason why I’m still waiting.

(At least one; I may also not be good enough. But let’s not dwell on that happy thought and just assume, for the purposes of this blog post and my continued mental health, that I am.)

I don’t have a book deal because I don’t deserve one.

I don’t deserve it because I don’t do the work.

I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but I’m not very productive when it comes to writing. I wrote Mousetrapped over the summer of 2008, and Results Not Typical between September of that year and May 2009, including re-drafting and editing. I wrote the first edition of Self-Printed in a month in April 2010—I swear, my fingerprints were starting to disappear after that session!—and although I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, after procrastinating for weeks on Backpacked, I ended up writing the whole thing in just a fortnight. (A fortnight in which there was only sleep, coffee and Backpacked, I might add.) I don’t like to talk about the work I do that’s intended for submission to agents and editors on here, but suffice to say that although there has been plenty of partials and chapter outlines and synopses and sample chapters and extravagant and superfluous visual plotting devices consisting of expensive and unnecessary stationery in complicated color schemes, I haven’t finished writing a whole novel since Results. Therefore, I have only ever written one novel, start to finish, and I ended up self-publishing that.

Therefore, I don’t deserve to get published.

(And anyway, what would they publish? My to-do list?)

But it’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve realized this—that I don’t do the work—and I’m all geared up to do something about it. And that something is my summer project, Not Breaking the Chain.

(I’m just back from a trip, and there’s another one planned for October. That makes a nice stretch of time in between: July, August and September. I know that’s not “summer” but just go with it, okay?)

Shortly after my realization, I came across three things on the internet that I really needed to see. The first was this post about training your brain to write on demand. The second was this dangerously useful post about how one author went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000. And the third was a post about Jerry Seinfeld.

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld.

Maybe I was the only person with an internet connection who hadn’t read it about yet (the date on the post is 2007), but according to Seinfeld the secret to his success was productivity, and the secret to his productivity was a method he called “don’t break the chain.”

Essentially, it’s this: get a large wall planner, the kind that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent. Arm yourself with a thick red marker. For every day you complete your writing task—another chapter, another page, a thousand words—put a ‘X’ in the box for that day. Do it a few days in a row and you’ll have a nice chain of red ‘X’s. Now, your only goal is don’t break the chain. As you can imagine once you have a week’s unbroken chain, you’ll want to keep it going and because you’ll probably see the planner several times a day, any break will be staring at you accusingly forever more. (Or at least until the end of the year.) You can read the full post here.

Just before I went to LA I visited The Writers’ Store website to get their address (I wanted to stop by when in LA but never got around to it) and lo and behold, weren’t they giving away a free download of a “Don’t Break the Chain” wall planner

I’m totally taking it a sign.

I love a good motivation idea, and I adore ones that involve the purchasing of stationery products. So starting next week, I’m going to try to not break the chain. I’m going to combine it with what I learned from James Chartrand’s post about training your brain to click into writing mode with a regular routine, and Rachel Aaron’s lesson that trying to simultaneously make stuff up and write it down is not good for your word count. I’m going to give it approximately 90 days—until the end of September—and see what I manage to achieve in this time. I’d like to manage 1,000 words a day, every day. If I did that—IF—I’d have a completed first draft  by the end of it.

I’m telling you this because I only ever seem to achieve things when other people are aware that I’m doing them. (And, let’s be honest, because I’ll get a few blog posts out of it.) I’ll keep you abreast of my progress. But for now I’m wondering…

Who’s with me?

Where I Write: A Retrospective

A few weeks back I wrote a post for about where I write, which at the time was a cubicle I’d just moved into in a shared office in Cork City centre. This was the fourth different place I’d worked in since I started taking this scribbling thing seriously back in autumn 2009 and, I thought, going to be the most successful by far. But would you believe, I have moved yet again. Having to have just the perfect place to write is like coal in the steam engine of my procrastination, so I swear, this is it. No, really. It is. No more moves, just words. Lots of them. Thousands per day, if possible. In the meantime, I thought I’d take you on a quick tour of all the places I’ve been writing…

By the Seaside

When I first quit working full-time to concentrate on writing—without even a smell of publishing success in any form and so, not recommended!—I promptly relocated myself to a holiday cottage near the sea in East Cork. It was October/November 2009, low season and utterly freezing, and so I got a gorgeous little home for a steal. The idea wasn’t my own: I’d read in an interview that crime writer Alex Barclay had done the same thing (i.e. take advantage of holiday homes in the off season) while she was writing her first novel. I’d come downstairs every morning around nine-thirty, turn on the coffee machine and then sit at the dining table to write, uninterrupted, until seven or eight o’clock at night. And it really was uninterrupted; the TV had only 3 or 4 non-static-filled channels, and there was no internet. Bliss. The bad news: I’ve never been quite as productive since.

In The Bedroom

Returning home from time abroad, quitting your only source of income and dedicating yourself to making your unlikely dreams come true required, in my case, moving back in with my parents. They were delighted (!), as you can imagine—but not as delighted as I was to go from the sizeable apartment in Orlando I shared with Andrea (with pool access and a patio that overlooked the Seaworld fireworks) back to the box room I’d grown up in, made even smaller now by possessions and a few more inches of me.  But the rent was a steal…

There was far too much of this… 

Somewhere Nice

The bedroom was fine for a while, but by the end of summer 2011 I was really starting to feel like the walls were closing in one me. I’d finished Mousetrapped, written Backpacked and Self-Printed, built an online platform and self-published all my books from one corner of my tiny room, but now I was feeling a bit cabin feverish, as if the walls were closing in. I needed a change of scenery for a while. Back to the little cottage by the seaside, perhaps? Maybe, but with the typical Irish autumn of wind, rain and grey, it might not make me feel any better. What I really needed was some sunshine… and that’s how I hit upon the idea of renting a holiday home abroad.

... and not nearly enough of this. (This being working, not blogging—and not staring longingly out at the sun, either!)

October/November was low season in Nice, France, too, and I got the most beautiful apartment only a ten minute walk from Nice’s famed promenade and picturesque Old Town. This time I was writing at a dining table in a sunny room, the smell of basil drifting in the French doors from the balcony. Utter bliss.

Sadly, the beach, the coffee shops and the free wi-fi proved a bit of a distraction and I wasn’t exactly working ten to eight like I’d done back in East Cork… Still, though, it was totally worth it. I mean, come on. The Cote D’Azur for six weeks? Yes, please!

Office Space

My Nice memories held me over for a while, but a couple of months back I started feeling really cabin feverish again. More so, I missed having somewhere to go. Being able to fall out of bed and work in your sweats all day was fun for a while, but now I actually started to miss having somewhere to go where I got up in the morning. I also wanted to start taking this writing thing very seriously, which meant doing it in an office instead of a place where re-runs of Oprah are never too far away. I did some research, and discovered that in recession-hit Ireland, office space is pretty cheap. I ended up renting a “hot desk”, i.e. a serviced desk in a shared office, and fell in love with the set-up on Day 1—especially after I discovered there was free coffee on tap all day long…

Home Again

But only five weeks after I moved into my new cubicle, my circumstances changed: an opportunity arose to take a part-time job a few evenings a week. Since I figured the only thing it’d be cutting into was my TV-watching time and it would help with my next goal—the purchase of a shiny new computer as this one is on its last legs—I took it. But now it was harder to find time to get into the office and if I did have a few hours to write, did I really want to waste at least an hour and a half of that time making myself look presentable enough to leave the house and sitting on a bus once I did? No, not really. So I decided to move back into my room, but with a twist.

Or two twists, rather. The first thing I did is rent a storage unit and put as much of my stuff as I could into it, including practically all my books. This left my room pretty empty, and not as claustrophobia-inducing as it might once have been. I put back in some nice things I got in IKEA, moved some other stuff around and ended up with a really nice space I can write in.

All it’s missing now is a coffee machine…