The Writing Contract

Alarm_clock_numbers_266493_lWriting, writing, writing.

It's really all we writers want to spend our time doing.  Unless we don't.  Our can't.  Or won't for some reason.  And then what we do is worry about the fact that we're not writing.

I've been doing free sessions (there's one slot left if you're interested) and mostly what people want to talk about is how to find time to write, or some variation on that theme, like how to focus when they actually find the time.

Not gonna lie here, I struggle with this, too.  I struggle to balance all the aspects of my writing: blogging, teaching, ghostwriting, coaching and novel writing.  Most often what goes by the wayside is my novel writing.

Which is stupid, because it novel writing is what defines me.  It is what makes me me, what I feel I'm here to do–communicate through story telling.  So it's an act of self-destruction not to do it.

A couple weeks ago, I had a good run of working on it.  The clouds parted and I found myself with several free hours to write.  Pure bliss.  And then it ended.  And I didn't open the file for a week.

I thought about the novel.  Worried about the novel.  Some might even say obsessed about the novel.  But obsession didn't turn into writing.  Because, you know, I was so, so busy doing other important things.

Yesterday at lunch I read an article in the latest O magazine, in which author Aimee Bender wrote about a writing contract she drew up with a friend.  The contract was written in official language, maybe even notarized.  They made a big deal out of it, but basically the conditions of it were simple: the friend would write an hour a day, and after doing so would send Aimee a one-word email saying "done."  In return, Aimee would write, "check." 

And it worked like a charm.

Which reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was working on Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. My friend Suzanne and I would each get up early (at, yikes, 5 AM, I believe) to work and email each other when we were up.  If one of us didn't hear from the other, we'd call.

That simple. 

And yes, it was very effective.  I wrote a rough draft of my novel that way.

So yesterday, reading the article and remembering this, I lectured myself sternly.  Self, I said, it is not so much that you don't have the time, you don't have the mental time.  You're allowing yourself to be distracted and unfocused when if you really, truly wanted to, you could carve out an hour to work on your novel.  That thing that defines you, that makes you who you are.

And so, I did. And in the process, I started my own version of a writing contract, which is a small spiral notebook in which I note my goal (one hour of writing on my novel a day) and then keep daily track of how I accomplish it.  (I only had time for 30 minutes this morning, so I owe myself another 30 later on.)

And I feel good.

I'll keep you posted.

So, do you have a writing contract with yourself or someone else?  How do you keep yourself going?  Please share any good ideas you might have.

**And don't forget the Authenticity + Creativity class I'm offering with Karen Caterson.  Click the snazzy button to the right or click here to read our page.

Photo by draganski.

18 Responses to The Writing Contract

  1. Sandra / Always Well Within 06/29/2012 at 21:12 #

    Yes, if I was talking to you this is exactly the same question I would be asking: how to find time to write. I have at least one day a week when I focus primarily on writing. But I find it harder write on on other days when I have other paid work. I think you have the secret here. To just start out with a contract and an hour and – for me – to do it first (after meditation, that is!). I think we all have periods where we are able to flow around these problems, but then get stuck again. So thanks for all your openness and allowing us to work through the stuck place together with you.

  2. Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living 06/29/2012 at 21:19 #

    This is so true. I am disciplined with exercise. I’m now into promoting my book which I enjoy as I love to go out and speak. Now I worry about writing the next book.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 06/29/2012 at 22:07 #

    Thanks, Sandra.  I think on the days when we have a lot of other work, it is hard to focus on our writing because our brains get so clogged up.  At least that's true for me.  And it it difficult to transition from one project to the other–my brain gets tired.  So writing first thing right after meditating is perfect.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 06/29/2012 at 22:09 #

    It must be hard to write the next book when you're in the middle of promoting one!  Is there anyway you can change that worry about your next book into action on it, even something as simple as note-taking?

  5. J.D. 06/30/2012 at 04:46 #

    Keeping on track is so difficult. Actually, it’s impossible; we just have to jump back on each and every time. Don’t you wish you were living in the old Fitzgerald Hemingway days when drinking was the only thing that kept you away?

  6. Charlotte Dixon 06/30/2012 at 07:01 #

    Oh God, do I!  Love reading those stories of the lost generation in Paris (and seeing movies–like Midnight in Paris). But I think you're right about today–we've got to just keep reminding each other and helping each other stay on track.

  7. Beverly 06/30/2012 at 13:23 #

    I use Greg Martin’s Treadmill Journal. This spring, a group of writing colleagues and I have been using a private group on FB (we call it the Accountability Group) where we post what our writing plans for the day are. Both seem to help…

  8. Charlotte Dixon 06/30/2012 at 13:24 #

    Ooh, I like the idea of a private writing group that allows you to post your goals.  Genius!

  9. Patrick Ross 07/01/2012 at 04:20 #

    A ha, that type of writing contract! :) I thought you were going to talk about your negotiations with your novel publisher.

    I’ve never done anything formal, but when I first left my last job and began freelancing, I found going from almost no time to write to lots of time meant, oddly, that I found myself doing less creative writing. I met a woman at The Writer’s Center and we would get together once a week at a local cafe, to talk a bit but mostly to write in silence. I knew I had to write then because she’d be there and would know if I wasn’t.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 07/01/2012 at 07:21 #

    I think the best thing to do would be draw up one that has your goal (ie, one hour per day five days a week) and how you'll acknowledge it (send an email to your partner, note it in your log book).  You might even build in a reward after a certain amount of time.  And yes, readers, please respond to Resham if you're interested in partnering up!

  11. Resham 07/01/2012 at 03:22 #

    This is absolutely fantastic! Charlotte, could you give an example of an actual writing contract? It would help :) Btw, anyone willing to have a writing contract with me?

  12. Charlotte Dixon 07/01/2012 at 07:23 #

    That's a funny paradox that I often find true, too–the more time I have to write, the less I do it.  When I've got a whole day to write, my mind tricks me into thinking I can do a million other things before getting to it.  In my weekly writing group, if we don't bring work to read, we write for 40 minutes and I get tons done in that forced amount of time.

  13. Barbara Shallue 07/02/2012 at 09:02 #

    I’m so glad to hear you have the same problem. If it weren’t for my writing group, I would probably procrastinate even more. I used to keep a writing log – I think it’s time to start it up again. Thanks!

  14. Charlotte Dixon 07/02/2012 at 09:31 #

    I am finding the writing log incredibly helpful, Barbara!  Thanks for commenting.

  15. Carole Jane Treggett 07/03/2012 at 08:21 #

    What a great idea about drawing up a writing contract with an accountability partner! I can see the benefits of setting SMART (specific-measurable-achievable-realistic-timely)goals for each person’s writing project and supporting one another in accomplishing those aims,while keeping it simple so it’s not too intimidating. Like you said, Charlotte, it’s way too easy to procrastinate and time’s-a-wasting.Thanks for another great post!

  16. Charlotte Dixon 07/03/2012 at 09:55 #

    Yes, I think we humans tend to be master procrastinators.  I know I have to watch myself very carefully not to fall into the procrastination trap.  Thanks for commenting!

  17. David Paine 07/07/2012 at 04:52 #

    Good stuff as always, luv. Terry Price is starting an accountability group here in Nashvegas. I’m looking into it. GOTTA find a way to be less scattered.

  18. Charlotte Dixon 07/07/2012 at 07:40 #

    An accountability group is good.  I have people I do accountability calls with for the business side of things and it really helps.

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