Thursday, June 3, 2010

Claire's patented airline theory of writing focus

I come to you from Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the country from my usual digs. I've just spent most of the last week in Canberra, our nation's capital, attending a conference for work.

And in the three days I spent travelling and staying in a hotel, I wrote no less than 13,000 new words.

Let me say that again- THIRTEEN THOUSAND WORDS in three days.


Pretty amazing, huh? The funny thing is, I always have got a lot of writing done while travelling. I used to travel one week in two for my archaeology work, and I wrote thousands upon thousands of words then. I thought it was baby brain that had curtailed my output since Sophie arrived, but now I'm wondering if it's actually because I'm no longer travelling so much. Not that I'd trade one of those things for the other, but still- thinking about it has led me to the reasons why travel is so good for writing, and to a new theory on focus and productivity at home.

The reasons I've come up with are as follows.

1. Solitude

When you're travelling alone, there are no interruptions from family. No obligations. You don't have to get anyone dinner or do the dishes or feed the cat. You are responsible only for yourself, and you decide what you're going to do and when. These are ideal circumstances to spend a good amount of time writing.

2. Limited activities

When you're on an aeroplane travelling, you can't use the Internet. You can't get up out of your seat and wander off to make a cup of tea. You can wander, sure, but you don't get far and there's nothing to do. You can't turn on the TV to see what's on- or if you have one of those little seat-back units, you can, but again you're limited to what they show, and odds are good you won't find it interesting. Your distractions are comparatively few. And so you can focus fully on your writing without any of the usual excuses.

3. Time limits

Not only do you have a specific period of time on an aeroplane, but your time is organised by other factors. For the first half hour, during ascent, you can't use electronic equipment. Ditto for the last half hour. Somewhere in the middle, you get a meal served. You can turn it down, of course, but a girl's got to eat! My flight to Canberra went a little like this, timewise:

4:30pm- depart. No electronics during ascent.
5pm- Electronics allowed. Computer on. Get writing!
6pm- Dinner served. Half an hour to eat before it's all cleared away.
6:30pm- Back to writing
8pm- Descent begins. Computer has to go off.
8:30pm- Arrive.

In my four hour flight, I had a total of 2.5 hours writing time- and I got 4000 words written. I looked at it like a mini marathon- I had a particular amount of time to write, and I just wanted to get as much done as I could in that time.

4. Time to think

This is quite an important factor, I think- not only do you get time to write on a plane, but you get time to think about what you're going to write. For the half an hour at the beginning and end where you can't use your computer, you can either focus on the fact that you may well die shortly (if you're a nervous flier like me!), or you can use that time to think about what you have written and what you will write next. Time to think is something I know is lacking from my daily life, and it's more important than you realise. You also get time to think in cabs and while you're eating your solitary dinners.

So, there you go. My four factors as to why travelling is great for writing.

But we don't all travel all the time- most of us are stuck in the one place, living our lives day to day. So it occurred to me, during some of my thinking time, that it would be possible to take all these factors and apply them to writing at home.

How? By using the same principles during a time-limited writing session.

It takes four hours to fly to Canberra. If I planned to write for four hours on a Saturday, the same amount of time I'd spend travelling, I could replicate all the same conditions I'd get on that flight.

First, I'd close myself in my office so that I didn't have distractions.

Second, I could plan my time the same way. Half an hour of "ascent" to do non-writing things (in this case, probably bugger around on the Internet), then solid writing time, then a break to eat or have a cup of tea, then straight back to it.

Third, limiting access to distractions. Once writing time starts, there ARE no distractions. They don't exist as far as you're concerned. No access to the Internet. No getting up and wandering, beyond the office.

And lastly, write like that's all the time you've got to do it. Go hell for leather and get as much done as you can.

I'm planning on using these theories at home, now that I've given myself such an awesome head start. And next week, I'm going to talk about some of the writing skills I've learned or remembered while undertaking this mini marathon. I'll also post some little snips of what I've written. I've made it 3/4 of the way through my WWI section thanks to this trip, and I've had the biggest revelation of all time in relation to this story- the biggest possible change. Are you ready for this? I'll leave you to contemplate:

Lionel is no longer going to die in the war...



  1. WOW! Lionel is not going to die??????? How will Bill deal with having him around? Or is he going MIA? And most important: what will we do at all the house parties?

    Off to compuserve to see if you have more info...

    And by the way congrats on the amazing word count. I'm traveling this month too. With hubby and toddler. Don't expect to get much writing done.

  2. Oh, how I wish I could get some writing done in the car... we'll see - last year I forced myself to ignore the nauseau because I just had to finish Echo, so I ought to be able to apply the same discipline to my own writing.
    But still, 13000 words?? Wow. Have some champagne!

    And as for Lionel... does that mean he's going to be even more of a terror than ever at house parties?!

  3. And those Luddites among us *raises hand* who use pen and paper don't even have to wait for the electronics clearance to start writing *bg*

    If only I had a flight planned somewhere...*sigh*

  4. I thought I commented on this but didn't. Ahem.

    Claire!!! 13k! Whoot! That is so awesome! Ah! I'm jealous, and proud. :) It must feel so good to get into a groove like that. Go Claire! Yay!

  5. Congrats on all those words, Claire! I hope the roll keeps going when you're home; maybe try getting the little one to run around making airplane sounds ... ;-)