A Writing Strategy Inspired by Floodwaters and a Messy Office

Laura Ayo

Inevitably, my office becomes a dumping ground and storage room over the holidays. But as someone who has trouble being creative and productive in a disorganized space, knowing that Write by Midnight is coming up in February always motivates me to clean up the mess and return things to their proper places after the kids go back to school in January.

But not this year.

This year, a series of events prevented me from tackling the clutter and chaos, so my office looked like this on Feb. 1:








Consequently, I spent the first week of Write by Midnight writing at a local coffee shop, at the café in the grocery store, at a restaurant – anywhere other than my office.

But then the rain came. And more rain. And more until the roads and the kids’ schools were closed due to flooding. It felt like a literal sign from above that it was time to deal with the neglected disorder.

When I’m faced with daunting tasks like the disarray that was my office, I have to break the work into smaller, more manageable steps to keep from becoming overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. So, on the first day of my kids’ floodcation, I set a timer for 30 minutes and decided to see how much of the top of my desk I could clean in that period of time. Just 30 minutes. When the timer went off, I would walk away and do something else.

Thirty minutes later, I had not only completely cleaned the top of my desk, but had also put away the things that had been piled on my chair.








My reward for creating a clutter-free desk was a writing session. And since my 30-minutes-at-a-time strategy had been so successful in helping me tidy my writing surface, I decided to set a timer for 30 minutes to see how much progress I could make on my manuscript in that time. I managed 332 words.

I spent the afternoon rotating between 30 minutes of cleaning one specific area in my office and 30 minutes of writing; and by the end of the day, my office looked like this:

Much better, right? Plus, I had written four scenes.







That night, as I reflected on my accomplishments, I recognized my productivity had been something of an anomaly. I don’t lead the kind of life that allows me a full day to simply reset a timer over and over again to complete the tasks at hand.

I realized, however, the approach I had taken to cleaning my office could be applied to writing a novel. Much like I had to set small, reachable goals to conquer the chaos in my office, surely, I could have a first draft of my manuscript completed by using the same method.

Then, I saw this post on Twitter from author Victoria/V.E. Schwab @veschwab:

“If you write 10k a day, you will end up with a book.

If you write 1k a day, you will end up with a book.

If you write 500 words every Tuesday, you will end up with a book.

If you write 100 words before bed, or 50 whenever you can, you will end up with a book.

The only way you won’t end up with a book is if you quit.”

While quitting has never entered my mind, the timing of her tweet felt like another sign – and very much to the point of why the WriteOwls started Write by Midnight in the first place. The point is to write something – anything – every day. If you do that, you’ll achieve your writing goals. It’s up to you to decide what strategy will best help you get there and how long you want the journey to last.

So, the next day, as the rain continued to fall and my kids spent yet another day at home, I used my allotted “writing” time figuring out what incremental steps I needed to take to finish the draft. By the end of the day, I had a very specific to-do list and a plan to work through them by the end of February.

It feels ambitious, but do-able. Hopefully, it doesn’t take rising floodwaters for you to discover a strategy that works for you.

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