I just came back from a local writers' conference put on by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. One of the speakers is a writing coach who did a series of workshops on our exact topic this week: Schedules, writing time, and how to get back on track when you get derailed. (Check out Lindsay's website if you're interested in learning more about his coaching offerings.) I won't steal all of Lindsey's thunder - which, frankly - I doubt he gave us in full measure in a couple of one hour workshops, but here's what stuck with me.
1. Know where your time goes. Before you get into any kind of emergency situation with a writing project, know what you're doing and when you're doing it. He suggested taking a full week, declaring it a judgment free zone and noting down everything you do (to the 15 minute mark) for the week, including watching TV, surfing the net, FB, Twitter, whatever it is. This is not to be used as a cudgel to beat yourself up with once you have it. It is a tool meant to offer you some choices about when and how you allocate time for writing and for emergency crunch modes should you absolutely have to have them. (The point really is to prevent crunch modes.)
2. Set word minimums for yourself. Yes. You read that correctly. Minimums. And set them low. Lindsay suggested starting with 200 words a day. Not even a page. His reasoning went like this: Most writers have word count goals. 1k a day. 2k a day. That's a 20 foot ceiling in a big room that you have to fill up with words and when you do, you've only just been good enough. By setting a low minimum, chances are very, very good that you're going to blow past it. And then, you've exceeded your goal and gotten your brain high on the success. Even on days when everything has gone to hell in a hand basket, you can probably manage 200 words. It's just a few lines. But then, you get to word 200 and you're in the middle of a sentence. So you finish it. But then, you're in the middle of a paragraph. Might as well finish that. Presto. You've blown past your minimum and given your brain a shot of endorphins. Your brain gets addicted to that stuff pretty quickly and that, my friend, is going to drive you back to the page. Now. You aren't always going to have a 200 word minimum. At the end of each week, analyze how you did. If you consistently wrote past 200 words, raise your minimum by 100 words. If you only barely made those 200 words, or kept stalling at one hundred something, lower your minimum by 100 words for that week. This gives you a flexible way to accommodate that sightseeing trips through hell we all seem to take from time to time.
3. Run to the writing. This one really resonated for me. There's a story Lindsay told that I won't tell here, but the summary was him going to a professor and confessing that he'd stopped writing and didn't know when he'd start again. She told him that he had two choices. He could run away from his writing, or he could run to his writing. Writing, she said, wasn't the problem. It was the solution.
All of this is lovely stuff, but doesn't speak to crunch mode. Crunch modes happen because reasons. But unless you live entirely alone and have no friends or family, crunch mode affects everyone around you, not just you. So I argue for avoiding it by all means humanly possible. I say this after having to spend way too many days writing 8k a day in order to make a deadline that was an extension of the original deadline. That one wasn't life keeping me from writing - I'd been writing. It was the book not coming together the way I wanted. I swear I wrote that story three times over. Still. The book came out better than I'd hoped it could. The problem was that my family paid the price and that's not fair. Thus, expending my energy now on doing everything in my power NOT to get into a crunch like that again. That means learning about my production rhythm and managing my projects accordingly.