The Life of a Furtive Writer

You know what’s a funny sounding word, no matter what the context? Furtive.

Furtive. Furrtive. FURTive. FURT. Heh.

Yeah. I’m twelve.

ANYWAY. Over on terribleminds, Chuck dropped some great advice on how he fights the distraction monkey of himself. As I mentioned yesterday, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to getting anything done, and Chuck takes my vague directives and supplants them with some concrete-solid examples of what focus looks like. I totally recommend you go read it.

Okay? All caught up? Good.

Now, Chuck’s post is awesome for a number of reasons; the most valuable bit of advice is simply that we need to trick ourselves into paying attention. It might be as simple as putting “the internet” on another computer from the one you’re doing your writing on, or in another room. It might be something like Scrivener’s “writing mode” or WriteMonkey’s… umm… entire interface — that blanks out the rest of the screen and reduces the chance you’ll be distracted. Those are all good tricks.

There’s only one problem, and it’s a relatively tiny one: Chuck’s a full-time writer — man’s a pro (in more ways than one) and as such, there’s the teensiest possibility that some of his tricks aren’t things a part-time writer will find applicable.

So let’s go through the day of a Furtive Writer and add a few things to Chuck’s list of focus-tricks.


Wake up 30 minutes before you need to be at work. Snoozebar got a workout this morning, didn’t it? Send spousal unit to get The Child dressed, and throw yourself into the bathroom, shower, and closet, hopefully in that order.

Thank god for Oatmeal Squares.

Arrive at work only five minutes late.

Check email for all your accounts (work and personal). Catch up on Twitter and Newsreader. Do work stuff. Maybe get 300 words down in a 15 minute sprint, but probably not.


Go back out to your car, hit the nearest drive-through or pull out your brownbag and wolf a sandwich and soda. This leaves you 45 minutes. Pull out your laptop and get typing. You should be able to get roughly 650 words out in this time, assuming you don’t fuck around. Don’t fuck around.

If there’s some kind of wifi near where your car is parked, hook up to it ONLY in the last five minutes of your lunch break — just long enough to save your WIP and let Dropbox sync.

Back to the office. If you were using your work laptop to do your writing (not recommended if you have any alternative), reconnect it to the network and let Dropbox sync up.


During your entirely legitimate 15 minute afternoon break, knock out another 215 words. Otherwise, use your time-wasting allotment to look up stuff you needed to know at lunch, but couldn’t look up then.

After work

Pick up The Child. Arrive home. Make supper.

If you’re a super-parent, do nothing but hang out with the child until bedtime.

If you’re a pretty-good-to-all-right parent, alternate between some quality child/spouse time and pasting that stuff you looked up this afternoon into the spots in your WIP where you left text like [GDP OF SLOVAKIA HERE]. This will add about 100 words.

If you’re going to make up for some bad parenting at Christmas, drop your kid in front of Backyardigans, hand them a sandwich, and disappear til bedtime.

The Child’s Bedtime

Read to your kid. Steal ideas from their chapter book.

Blessed Silence of Night

You have gotten anywhere from 600 to 1300 words down. Assume it’s 600. Also assume you want about 2000 for the day, so you need about 1400. That’s two 700 word (roughly 3-page) scenes. Get to work. If you’re lucky and the words are flowing, you’ll be done by about 10 pm. If you aren’t, you’ll be done around 12:30 am.

1 am

Stagger to bed. Set the alarm for an hour before you have to get ready for work, so you can get some writing in. (This will never work, but it can’t hurt to try.)


Sound familiar? I expect it does.

So here’s a few extra tips I’d suggest.

Good Batteries

Make sure whatever laptop you’re using has them. Nothing sucks more than really getting on a roll and having your laptop go dead.

Good WiFi

This seems really counterintuitive, but you probably want to make sure that any ‘out of the house’ writing you do is somewhere with a decent internet connection. You don’t want to have it on all the time, but WHEN you need it, you want it to connect easily, quickly, painlessly, and you want it to be super-snappy-fast.


Simple: if it fails to be any of those things, you will fuck around with it, which will waste a lot of  time. A lot. I’m just saying.

Good Notebook

Have analog means of writing available. Sometimes the laptop isn’t an option. Sometimes you just want to write something down for later. Sometimes you’re someplace where people will look over your shoulder at your screen, but would never DREAM of looking at your longhand notes — society is a weird like that.

Back up early and often
I use Dropbox. Use whatever you want, so long as you use something. This is not. fucking. optional.

Don’t bring an external mouse with you

The harder it is to use your laptop to browse the internet, play Farmville or Torchlight, or scroll back to correct your previous work, the more likely you are to focus on writing. You. Keyboard. Screen. That’s it.

Personally, I do almost all of my writing on my little “triple e” — a netbook I bought awhile back as an award for meeting a tough goal. It’s comfortable to type on for long periods, has about a six to seven hour battery life for writing purposes, and when I combine it with a Logitech lapdesk, I can use it damn near anywhere (I mention this because the netbook itself is too small and too top heavy to really ‘work’ on your lap for more than the most desultory use, in my opinion). The netbook technically has all the same distractions available to it as my desktop (which, if I’m honest, is 90% a gaming rig), but they aren’t as easily accessible, aren’t as fun to use on the netbook, and generally just aren’t worth the effort — I don’t even like using my newsreader on the smallish screen. When I sit down with the netbook, I’m working; one keystroke disables the wifi, another opens either Word (for revisions) or WriteMonkey (for first drafts), a third shuts down my touchpad (so I don’t do something stupid by accident) and off I go.

For whatever reason, I’m shit at writing in the morning — I seem to have engineered my life so that interruptions occur in the A.M. — even when I try to get shut of distractions before lunch, stuff just happens that I HAVE to deal with. I’d RATHER write in the morning, and maybe eventually I will shift things around so it’s possible, but right now? No. That’s me. Your mileage may vary.

How about you? What tricks do you use to leave yourself NO OPTION but to write? Give me something I can steal.

6 Replies to “The Life of a Furtive Writer”

  1. I set a wordcount goal and write my progress on paper as I go, as a countdown, but I like to count things (note: not a vampire).

    Not the most sophisticated technique in the world.

    Also, saying things like, “You can’t get up to go to the bathroom until you have 1000 words done,” and drinking a lot of tea.

  2. On the weekends, I get out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to write. Not only is the household quiet (and dark), but I feel guilted by robbing myself of sleep and thus compel myself to use the time wisely by actually writing. Like many folks, once I’m in the groove, I don’t seem bothered by distractions. But getting there is critical.

  3. Yeah, you hit it bang-on, Paul; getting started is the hardest part. Once I’m in that space where I know what’s going on in this line and know what’s coming in the next line, I’m golden.

  4. I use the reward system. I’m not allowed to touch a computer with internet access until I’ve done a goal, say 1000 words. After I’ve hit the goal, then I give myself 10 minutes to “play” on the Internet. I enforce the ten minutes by setting an “event” alarm on my cell phone (using the most obnoxious ring tone sound I can find). Once that alarm starts going off, I’ll do just about anything to get away from it. Then I just repeat the process until I’ve hit my total word count goal.

Comments are closed.