My best DIY tips for leaving the world behind + finishing your book …
Hey Beauty! Has this ever happened to you?
Your shopping cart begs to be filled, but your feet stand immobile. The mounds of choices stupefy. Would they prefer Russet potatoes or Yukon Golds? Purple Peruvians or purple yams? What’s the difference between yams and sweet potatoes anyway—and purple?
For the 3,000th time, it’s up to you to figure out how to delight and nourish your family when right now, all you really want to know is this: “When am I EVER going to find time to write?”
It’s been 1,155 days since that book took up residence in your heart and mind. Three years and two months, for f’s sake. Thinking of it makes your eyes water because you haven’t even completed two full chapters. And your outline? It’s as ragged as your mood.
I know this scenario. Like you can’t imagine. I know the heart-pounding stress of slogging a story around like a sack at my ankles, dragging and fraying with every step. I know the sting of the lie: that I’m going to “find” time soon. ASAP! But as you may have figured out lately, finding time is a fantasy. Like discovering a shiny, new quarter on the sidewalk, it happens. Like once in every 1,155 days. That’s cool. If that’s your strategy, you might finish that book … in your next incarnation.
You know where this is going, so I’ll cut to the chase. It’s time to block it out, my love. Your writing time. Fortunately, time is your friend, with right action. Here’s the 411 on a simple practice that’s worked wonders in my life. (You’re welcome. I just prevented you from having a TMZ-worthy meltdown in the produce section.)
Going Dark: Say What?
Going dark. I don’t recall where I first heard the term, but I instantly understood the slang: Going dark was to go silent. Disappear. Hide for a period. The very concept thrilled me. Under past deadlines, I’d written books at warp speed by fancying myself Queen of Focus, anytime/anywhere. No busy home, crowded venue, or clamoring emergency got in my way. I’ve got this. Just give me earbuds, Coldplay, and bananas.
Focus was my fix, my fashion, my frame. Ever pumped, and sometimes wearing it well, I stayed within those chapter outlines and got ‘er done.
But I got “tired for it,” as my son, Tosh, said when he was learning to talk. All caps T.I.R.E.D. I stopped saying yes to manic requests and started coaching instead of ghostwriting. My sanity depended upon open-ended everything to navigate divorce and deadlines. I blogged when the spirit moved me, which wasn’t nearly the once or twice a week schedule “they” advise. I threw myself into my memoir for months at a time and then no time. Life got full, fuller, fullest, and suddenly my book mostly stopped getting my focus. Wait. That’s a lie. It was my constant focus, whispering and YELLING at me depending on the day, always yacking no matter what else I was doing, eventually morphing into others—two books, three books (now four, but who’s counting?). Yet, mind alit, my body struggled to find computer time.
You’re familiar with the drill. I know you are.
So. A drastic measure. I blocked out a MONTH of peace from which to write. As in, I took out my calendar and drew a big black X throughout the entire month of July. It was only February, but I figured it would take months to plan for and get ready for. (It did.) Disappearing isn’t easy for anyone, mom/business owners notwithstanding. But my kid was in college, and I own my business, so it was time to act like the one in charge around here.
When July came, no one missed me. Or if they did, they didn’t give me any grief. The only thing I got was BLISS. And about 50,000 words.
For several years, July became my ritualistic “Going Dark to Write month.” When my man and I traveled to Alaska that first year, I left him grinning in waist-high waders with his buddy to fish in a raging river, while I holed up in a hotel room with a glacier view. From minute one of day one, I did feel achingly guilty—Who am I to take all this time away from clients? What about all those moms who follow me who never get a break? Then I remembered that an empty well is bone dry for all mouths. Besides, I used to be one of those moms and would have cheered to see a writer go rogue back then, inspiring my future AWOLness.
That’s when it hit me that my Going Dark to Write deep dive could give others permission. Something to fasten on their Vision Boards or Bucket Lists. (And by the number of comments and emails I received, it did.)
And it doesn’t have to be a month, either. A week will do! Even a few days. (Hell, even a few uninterrupted hours can do wonders!)
Give a time-starved writer a
All that said, July is a long way off [update: this post was written several years ago, so specific dates and mention of rain totals aren’t relevant], and I’ve been feeling itchy lately. Trigger happy. Still, it took the threat of Biblical rains to block out time. Record drought here in L.A. has morphed into record rains, which has been alternately both terrifying and beautiful. (Not unlike everything in life these days.) I don’t know about you, but rain stirs in me fierce writing cravings.
“I’m going dark to write,” I told my fiancé, who couldn’t tempt me with horseback riding or dog treks. Not with 60-80 mph winds and sideways rains forecasted.
“You’re on your own. You can find me in the closet,” I said, not even attempting to conceal my glee. (I have a pretty closet—with a view—and a door that closes.) “And you can bring me dinner,” I added. (He’s a really good cook.)
I warned my son, best friend, sister, not to call or visit. Then I got ready gettin’ ready. My going dark to write weekend was on!
With a plan to start writing on Saturday morning and not stop until Sunday night, there was some prep to do before bringing my best self to the page. If lists inspire you, and you want to do everything on mine that relates to you—and add items—give yourself DAYS to prepare. If, however, you’re chill and can work in a mess, do the bare minimum. But make sure you turn off your phone and have food at the ready. Glucose, which burns fast, fuels your brain. In other words: Good thinking takes replenishment.
Here’s what I did by Friday night to prep for my Going Dark to Write Weekend:
1. Finished all our laundry and put it away so piles of wayward socks wouldn’t be calling out to me, as inanimate objects tend to do.
2. Visited our horses, making sure their barn was battened down, told them I loved them, and they’d be taken care of in my absence. Then I gave them a handful of carrots, breathed in the sweet smell of their soft fuzzy noses with Eskimo kisses, and left without a hint of guilt.
3. Mentioned my #GoingDarkToWriteWeekend on social media, so clients would know I was offline.
4. Reviewed where I was in the manuscript I’d be working on, and what I most wanted to accomplish. Created a light outline for the weekend, but left it open to spontaneous inspiration, clear that the most crucial element was my INTENTION to produce.
5. Bought enough pre-made juices, salads, and Stevia-sweetened chocolate so that my synapses would be snappin’.
6. Cleaned and vacuumed the house. Again, so nothing would pull focus when walking by (I’m squirrelly like that and can lose hours in spontaneous cleaning jags).
7. Watered all of our indoor plants.
8. Took the dogs on a monster hike so they’d be less hyper stuck inside watching the rain (and my chair-bound butt would feel less saggy).
9. Paid my bills.
10. Answered essential emails and updated my auto-responder.
11. Snuggled with my guy in front of his macho car racing show. (Yuck on the racing, but it’s always good to connect with your real-life beau before bailing for your other lover—the page.)
On Saturday morning, here’s what I brought with me into the closet:
1. My pup, Merry, on her cozy bed, with her toys—so she had a comfy spot on which to rest her head. She’s muse-like. Holds space like none other. If your pup eats paper or pees indoors, disregard the desk bed.
2. Laptop (duh). Charger (double duh). Pad of paper. Pen. Highlighters.
3. One of my favorite writing books, The Emotion Thesaurus. (For that easy-to-find word or phrase to convey Excitement or Fear or Nervousness in a flash.)
4. Water. Tea. Raspberries. Raw cashews. Chapstick. A pack of natural gum. Like Goldilocks, I’ve gotta feel just right. Think about what makes you comfortable in your own skin.
(Obviously, I didn’t need to bring socks and a sweater because they were within reach in the closet! But if I’d been elsewhere, I would have. Dress in layers so you can cool down or heat up as needed.)
5. A photo of me as a baby with my folks, giving me that heavenly sense of protection.
6. A candle. Lit with a prayer to invoke sacredness. (It goes without saying: do NOT leave your dog near your candle, or either one unattended while you take bathroom breaks. If you’re spacey when you write, carry on without fire.)
7. Finally, I closed my browser and turned off my email notifications. Bye bye, Sugar Pie.
What if you don’t have a roomy closet or privacy in the house? Get your sweet ass to Starbucks (preferably in a location where no one knows you). The library. A park. A friend’s house. Even the car, parked by the ocean or sweeping cliff views whenever possible. (Hint: don’t park too close to the edge, and bring sweaters, snacks, and a blanket!)
What about social media? People always ask this. Going Dark looks different for everyone. If dealing with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram stresses you out, by all means, take a break. If, however, keeping tabs on the events of the day via SHORT, INFREQUENT social media peeks eases your anxiety, then dropping the habit completely would be a distraction that could pull focus and deter your greatest thinking. What’s going on out there? Has the President started a war with Australia yet? Where can I pick up my big fat protesting checks?
Being connected once a day for a speedy check-in, calms my mind, leaving it freer to wander.
A word about the Creative Process: Once you commit and schedule this time with your book, be forewarned! You’re going to get IDEAS. Your unconscious will say, “Oh, finally! You’re awake! Glory be! So anyway, here’s what I’ve been thinking…” and you’re off to the races. You’d better have your Voice Notes app on your phone turned on and pads of paper everywhere (by the bed, in the car, near the shower), or you’re going to miss significant bits. If you’re able to transcribe those bits into your computer before you go dark, all the better. That way, they’re organized and ready to plunk into your Word docs (or whatever program you write in).
Speaking of writing programs, for a few of my favorite organizational shortcut tools, this old blog of mine is still relevant.
Well, heck. I think I’ve given you enough to read already. You’ve got lots of ready-ing and writing to do. Go forth and prosper as you go dark to tap the light. It’s time! I can’t wait to hear about your plans, any tips I haven’t included, and how it goes for you over on FB. I’ll be cheering you on!
PS. For a heavenly writing retreat experience in Carmel, where you’re not allowed to go on cleaning jags or lose yourself to other manic distractions, you can find my upcoming dates here. Or, work with me now, virtually and via Zoom to bring your book to life.