Cory Doctorow on getting past distractions

Matt Bruce
Nov 15, 2013 · 2 min read

Cory Doctorow — the author, blogger, podcaster, activist, copyfighter, and wearer of probably many other hats — is one of my favourite people. He not only churns out an impressive quality and quantity of work, fiction and non-fiction, but he seems to be a genuinely nice guy that I can relate to on multiple levels. He’s a contemporary polymath or Renaissance Man.

As someone who constantly struggles with finding — no, making — the time to write, I just read with interest an article he wrote in 2009 for Locus Magazine. Each point in the article is useful, but this one in particular stood out:

Short, regular work schedule

When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

Full article: Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction

If there’s one thing that puts me off writing on any given evening it’s the feeling that I need not bother unless I can achieve 3 or 4 hours of productive output and in order to do this I obviously need to get started straight after dinner, and if I get sidetracked for whatever reason then I obviously may as well not bother today. Twisting Jerry Seinfeld’s Chain System, I’ve successfully managed to keep a contiguous, unbroken chain of “I can’t devote 3-4 hours to writing tonight, so I’ll not bother now and will try again tomorrow” days that is quite impressive.

What struck me about Cory’s article is that it sits perfectly alongside the “write something, anything — but do it every day” mantra and it allows us to have normal working lives. I am intrinsically lazy and I also have a tendency to “collect” hobbies and interests (there’s very little in this life that doesn’t interest me in one way or another) that I may discard weeks or months later, but writing is something I think about every single day — even when I’ve not done any that day. Especially when I’ve not done any that day.

    Matt Bruce

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    Writer and blogger