The Geology of Writing
What’s writing got to do with geology? Well, it’s all to do with prioritisation and focus.
I did this as an exercise, last week, at one of the writers’ groups I go to, and it’s a great way of showing how important it is having your writing projects correctly prioritised.
First you have time, represented by this jar:
Time is fixed. We all have the same amount of time. Nobody has any more time than anyone else. Those who achieve more simply use it more efficiently.
When it comes to writing, many of us have lots of plans and goals we’d like to achieve. Some of us want to write novels, or non-fiction books. We also want to write articles and stories. Perhaps you want to put together a poetry collection this year. And then there’s all the other writing-related stuff, like social media (because publishers are always banging on about how writers MUST have a social media presence). So we need to have author pages on Facebook, and we must interact with our readers, tweet them with our latest news, as well as all the other admin stuff of dealing with emails, sending out invoices, writing pitches, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough time.
It depends. There is, if you get the geology right.
Think of your top priority projects as BIG ROCKS. Need to get that first draft of a novel written this year? BIG ROCK project. Want to enter six short story competitions this year? BIG ROCK project.
Then there are the other projects, which are still important, but perhaps not as high a priority: articles to write, poems to create, those story ideas that you want to develop. These are your little rock projects.
And then there’s all the extra, low-priority stuff. You know you need to create an author page on facebook. Well, how do you do that? You’ll need to sit down at some point and research that, read up about it first and then sort it out. And then there’s all those emails to process, and Twitter messages to respond to … This is SAND stuff.
The problem many writers face is that they have all of these dreams and goals, but they forget to prioritise them. So if you have two hours of writing time today, you might just check your Twitter feed first. Or perhaps you’ll answer a few emails. You’re starting with the SAND projects. You’ve focussed on the low priority stuff first. That's understandable, because it's also the easiest stuff to do.
And there’s a problem with this. It’s the sort of stuff that easily distracts you …
Before you realise it, you’re spending more and more of your writing time on this. And suddenly, you realise you’ve spent over an hour and a half of your two hours of writing time on the SAND stuff.
So you panic. I must get some proper writing done! But, instead of tackling the bigger projects, you go for the less-difficult ones - the LITTLE ROCK projects. These aren’t so daunting.
And then, having slipped into a more productive frame of mind, you begin to think about those BIG ROCK projects. But, guess what? You’ve run out of time! They don’t fit.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t get the lid on.
Instead, you need to think differently. If you devote more of your time to your BIG ROCK projects, you’ll find that, over the course of the year, there’s time to fit them in.
And then you’ll see that there’s even enough time to fit in all of those LITTLE ROCK projects too.
And that’s not all. By prioritising this way, focussing on the important stuff first, there’s even time to deal with all of that SAND stuff that we know we should be doing, but never seem to find the time to do. In fact, stay focussed like this and you might surprise yourself about how must SAND stuff you can fit into your writing day...
(And before you ask - yes - the quantities of BIG ROCKS, LITTLE ROCKS and SAND was the same in both illustrated examples.)
I’m sure many of you will have seen this before. It’s a popular way of illustrating the benefits of correct prioritisation, which works best when ‘seen in the flesh’, which it was when I delivered it as part of a workshop at the writers’ group. I did question my sanity of doing this though, as I’m still One-Working-Eye Whaley at the moment, so pouring sand into a small container wasn’t the brightest of ideas. (Some of it did escape during the workshop.)
But the most useful aspect of this, I’ve found, is not the realisation that you need to focus on the BIG ROCK, high priority stuff first. It’s the sitting down and breaking down your writing time down into BIG ROCK, LITTLE ROCK, and SAND slots.
So, for example, imagine you have three hours a day in which to write. You could allocate 90 minutes of that to BIG ROCK projects, 60 minutes to LITTLE ROCK projects, leaving the remaining 30 minutes for SAND projects.
Then, with your time allocated like this, all you need to do is identify the geological type (priority) of each of your writing projects.
If you only work on BIG ROCK projects during BIG ROCK time, and LITTLE ROCK projects during LITTLE ROCK time, you will achieve your most important writing priorities. Not only that, but you’ll also have time for the less important (and quite often) fun stuff too.
This focus, knowing that you have time allocated for various projects can help you to keep on track. Remember the 30 minute LITTLE ROCK time mentioned above? Well, if you finish a LITTLE ROCK project in 20 minutes, you still have 10 minutes of LITTLE ROCK time left. So start the next LITTLE ROCK project. Yes, you only have 10 minutes, but you can still make a start. YOU CAN STILL MOVE THAT PROJECT FORWARD.
You’ll be surprised what you can achieve in that time. Last week, I had 10 minutes left of LITTLE ROCK time, and in those 10 minutes I found an editor’s email address, and I bullet pointed the idea I wanted to pitch to him. I didn’t have time to finish the pitch, but it didn’t matter, because the following day when I moved onto my LITTLE ROCK projects, it was easy to do because I’d already started it. I finished off that pitch and then started working on my next LITTLE ROCK project.
So, understand the geology of writing, and you’ll give yourself a solid foundation from which to get lots of writing done.