Ideas into action

Walk-write-walk-write: Naomi Alderman’s writing life

Walk-write-walk-write: Naomi Alderman’s writing life Image

As a novelist, journalist and games writer Naomi Alderman’s no slacker. She won the Orange Award for New Writers in 2007 and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013.  She’s been BAFTA-nominated for her alternate reality game Perplex City, and co-created the super successful iPhone game Zombies, Run! However, when it comes to her writing, it seems that staying in bed and going for walks are crucial to her productivity.

We’ve all been there. Determined to make progress on our writing, we set the alarm clock for an ungodly hour, stagger through the dark to our desk and stare bleary eyed at the blank screen.

However, rather than face the cruel, cold world beyond her bed sheets Naomi starts her writing day in bed. This isn’t an excuse for idling by pretending that reading magazines or checking Twitter is writing. Naomi reads 20-30 pages of a decent book and then writes “at least 100 words of work in progress before getting out of bed.”

Start with a walk

Once out of bed, dressed and breakfasted Naomi goes for a little walk before getting stuck into her writing day. She describes her writing routine like this:

“Start with a walk. Just 15 minutes.
Then another couple of hundred words.
Then another walk.
Then another couple of hundred words.
Then maybe some little chore around the house. Tidying up or something.
Then another hundred or two hundred words.
Then a little walk.
Then some more words.”

Just seeing her day written like that – the words flowing line to line like a poem measuring out the rhythm of her day – fills me with optimism. Being productive doesn’t mean having a punishing routine. Breaking it up a little keeps the mind revived and the writing fresh.

The words mount up

The walk-write-walk-write routine takes all morning.  “By this point, it’s usually about midday and I have about 750 words, which is exactly what I aim for every day. I stop at 750 words, even if it’s in the middle of the sentence, and especially if I know just how I want it to go on. The only time I go beyond the 750 is if I’d otherwise end on a problem. Never ever end on a problem.”

“I stop at 750 words, even if it’s in the middle of the sentence”

Like many writers Naomi uses word counts to measure her progress. I find it interesting that she has two different goals: an initial 100 words written in bed, then the more typical 750 words at her desk.

However, hitting her word count is non-negotiable, but “if the day is exceptionally busy or turns to ass, as days sometimes do, it’s OK to go easy on yourself. But not for more than one day.”

Prioritise and do not get distracted

Naomi Alderman

After seeing Anthony Trollope’s daily routine you’d think that the only way to be productive is to stick to a strict regime, rising at 5.30am and churning out 250 words every 15 minutes. Naomi’s routine seems far more relaxed in comparison, but it is incredibly focussed. She allows time for reading and walking, but she does not get distracted.

Naomi has a rule to not read rubbish in the morning, to not check Twitter or emails, and to hit word count goals by specific times. She’ll get on to the stuff of work after she has achieved her aim – emails, meetings and other work come second to her writing. She says, “then and only then: email-answering, other project work, chatting on Skype.”

Tips to take away from Naomi’s writing style

  • Start the day with intention: chose writing activities that get you inspired and raring to go, whether it is morning pages, reading a good book or editing yesterday’s work.
  • Prioritise your writing: do it before your other tasks. Email, social media and the internet can wait.
  • Break the day up: don’t feel bad popping to the shops, doing the washing, tidying around a bit.
  • Don’t procrastinate: be clear on the difference between displacement activities and reviving breaks.
  • Set goals: find a daily goal that works for you, whether it is writing for a certain amount of time or hitting a word count.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself: if you miss your goal one day, it’s not the end of the world, just try to achieve it the next.

Find out more about Naomi on her website, read one of her prize winning novels, or play one of her games.

Bec Evans About the author: Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ retreat centre for Arvon, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.

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