How to run a half marathon and stop faffing

I have spent a lot of time recently (and not so recently) faffing about instead of just getting on with my writing. When I was 18 and doing A levels, I would lock myself in my bedroom for hours on end ‘revising’. My parents were amazed and proud of my ability to work so hard. Except that  – ooo, at least half of those hours were spent faffing and distracting myself from the task in hand. I seem to remember my desk drawers always needed tidying, my nails were often in need of filing, and my old diaries made fascinating and essential reading. I still did ok in my A levels, but oh the A*s that could have been mine if I’d only stopped faffing!

Twenty plus years on, humankind’s apparent need to faff has been taken to professional levels. We don’t need to look for distractions any more – they find us. Children, and the metaphorical (and literal) detritus that surrounds them, Facebook, Twitter and email are my principal downfalls. And this blog. A friend asked me if it was the equivalent of filing nails when you should be doing history homework. My affronted answer was ‘No! It’s for my professional profile!’ The honest answer is – ‘um, erm, ahem’ and a muttered ‘kind of’.

So hurrah for the Guardian’s supplement ‘How to write a book in 30 days‘ which appeared in my paper the other day. Obviously the title is a bit of poetic licence (unless you’re a future Jonathan Franzen), but it has made me reconsider my faffiness. ‘Got an idea that just won’t go away?’ it asks. Well, yes, I have. It refuses to go away in fact, however much I try not to think about it. The Guardian is telling me to do something about it. It is my writer’s conscience.

I ran my first half marathon last weekend. I started training for it in July, running for 20 short minutes at a time, puffing up Northumbrian hills, gradually building my strength and training my muscles so that three months later I could run for 2 hours (ahem – 2.03.37 to be precise) without stopping. I did it because I had a great training programme which I stuck to, more or less. Interestingly, I never faffed over running, even when it was pouring with rain. So I’ve decided to treat my idea as my next half marathon, and ‘How to write a book in 30 days’ as the training programme. Perhaps the same psychology that stopped me faffing over running will stop me faffing over writing.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And if you have any top anti-faffing tips, they will be gratefully received!

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11 thoughts on “How to run a half marathon and stop faffing

  1. I find the settling-down-to-write part of writing the most fraught with potential faffing – once I’ve started, I’m fine. For some reason, I resist entering the writing. So I get everything ready first. For me, this means: desk clear, notes out, computer on, right documents open, right playlist set up, headphones plugged in – for extra ritual and moooood, fairy lights on and essential oils burning. Then I go make my coffee. Then I sit down, not to write, but to drink my coffee, listen to the playlist, and reread yesterday’s writing. And it lures me in. Getting everything ready first, as a separate event to writing, cuts out a lot of the potential “faff” avenues. Sitting down to read, sip, and listen to music is less threatening than sitting down to write, so I don’t have a fear-response fling me off into Facebook / email / etc.

    Another essential tool for me is MacFreedom: http://macfreedom.com/. This switches off the internet for set amounts of time. You get 5 free trials; I bought a copy for $10 as it helped so much. So when I do my “set up” time, I also switch off the internet for 75 minutes. That’s my usual concentration span of about an hour plus the 15 minutes or so that I’ll just be reading.

    I read once that “all procrastination is fear” – and then later a more subtle article on all the things that it could be and all the assorted fears, but the original stayed with me. It represents my experience well. I don’t find barrelling in with gritted teeth a helpful way through fear, either. Slipping gently through works for me.

    • I think Sylvia Plath said something along those lines as well didn’t she (may be horribly mis-remembering)?

      Your description of preparation for writing is so familiar it made me laugh. But the MacFreedom tip is an interesting one. I shall investigate… (and is your response to my blog post a pre-writing activity?)

      • Haha – no, I’m still down with flu that almost nullifies my linguistic abilities. (Oddly it does leave me with a more sophisticated sounding range of words, but no actual stylistic skill.) Even writing this message is proving hard!

  2. HI Lucy, from a fellow faffer. Great blog. I know I got more things done before Twitter, Facebook and e-mail – and I like to think I ignore them more than spend time on them. You’re right, they find us! I need to find somewhere away from my computer/house to work. Maybe there’d be less distractions then – or more?

  3. Your post is full of energy and determination. I’m so pleased that you’ve come away from your marathon success with, not only, a good time but also enthusiasm to write. Well done!

    As for procrastinating, I’ve found that my blog is the perfect way to ease me into my writing – I set my oven timer for 2 hours!

      • Or just switch off the internet 😉 Although will power can be trained over the long term, in the short-term the more you resist something the less energy you have to resist it next time. (Quoting studies reported in BPS Research Digest rather than stuff I done invented out of my own head.)

      • I simply lack will power Megan. I am just weak and pathetic. There is no other excuse, however much I dress it up in ‘suffering writer’ shtick.

  4. I’m certainly going to using that Guardian article. Thanks for posting it – I didn’t know about that. I love the word ‘faff’ but it should really be classed as a four-letter word. I think your marathon/ training analogy to writing is spot on! Good luck with the idea that won’t go away.

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