Thanks to NaNoWriMo a few years ago I learned that I can write about 900 words on average during a single lunch hour. I could also get between 1000 and 1500 words done after the kids went to bed at night, assuming nothing else needed my attention. So even on the best of days I would be hard pressed to knock out a chapter a day, let alone in one sitting.
Needless to say, that was hard on continuity. It seems I would always just be getting up a good head of authorial steam about the time I’d have to quit. By the time I got back to it again at least eight hours had gone by, and whatever muse I had been listening to had wandered off to find something else to do (Muses, it seems, have little interest in data analysis). Whatever flow I may have had would be gone.
Over time, however, I have found a few strategies for coping with frequent train-of-though track-switching. With a little effort you don’t have to let life, work, kids, pets, in-laws—whatever—derail your train of genius:
- Think in smaller scenes. Even if your chapters are upward of 3000 words, you don’t need to think in chunks that big. Break it down into scenes sized to the word count you can deliver with the time you have. Combine those scenes into chapters later, but for now, try to deliver a completed idea in the time you have. Or, if you can’t, at least choose a good mid-point that you know you can reach in the given time and try to end your session there so it will be easier to pick up later.
- Leave yourself notes. If you find your time is running out and you’re not going to reach the end of your scene or chapter, knock off a minute or two earlier so you can leave yourself a note as to where you are in the scene, what more needs to happen, and what your thoughts were. It may be just enough to recapture some of that vision and drive when you come back.
- Read yourself into the scene. Conversely, take a little time at the beginning of your session to reread the last thing you wrote. You are not allowed to make corrections! Just read enough to get the flow again and continue immediately where you left off. I mean it! Put down that mouse! No edits! Just write!
- Fix it later. Before resuming, leave yourself a little tag of some kind to let yourself know that your train of thought was interrupted at that point. Later, when you’re ready to edit your draft, you’ll see the tag and know to pay attention to the continuity and flow. If everything seems to hold together just fine, great! If not, you’ll have a fresher perspective and time to fix it.
While some of us have longer, uninterrupted blocks of time for writing, many of us are just trying to get by with whatever time we can find. With some effort we can learn to deal with those frequent interruptions and work around them. We all have to make do with what we’ve got, but it doesn’t have to do us in.