Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Getting work done: the nine-day technique

Writers are always being asked how many hours they work, if they sit at the desk from nine to five or allow themselves to skive off from time to time. (We do, it's what keeps us slightly sane. Sometimes.)

Every writer has to find the technique that works for him or her. One writer I've heard of straps himself to his seat. That way, if tempted to move, the belt restrains him and he decides to do a little bit more work first.

The playwright Bernard Farrell once told me he wrote for the same 9-5 hours he'd got used to when he worked for a ferry company. But he added that yes, he was still working when he walked the dog for hours on the beach or gazed out the window.

Creativity is an unpredictable master and sometimes it is a matter of making yourself write, even if you don't like the material you write because it's a craft and you learn by doing.

Which brings me to my technique for getting work done. I don't work 9-5, I don't have any set routine; I often works nights, weekends, sneak into the office when everyone's quiet or occupied; I frequently burn food because I've snatched a few minutes... but the main thing that has helped me get work done in the last year is my nine day writing cycle.

I was always told that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing... it's not true. it is a very useful thing, even if not useful in the way the knowledge itself was intended, and especially if dipped in dark chocolate and marshmallows and left in the fridge for half an hour. (Or maybe I'm thinking of strawberries?)

I have a friend who is studying to be a Shamen but when we shared a house, she introduced me to a smattering of numerology. The one part that stuck is the idea that you can reduce every day to a number between 1-9 - today being the 25th of May, 2010 = 2 + 5 + 5 + 2 + 1, ie a '6'.

Now 6 days are great for family, for meetings, for interaction of any kind. But that's all I remember about 6. I'm sure there are whole websites devoted to '6'. I've a huge number of them in my date of birth and my mobile number so I feel a certain affection for '6', regardless of the Devil trying to hog them all.

And here's the gist that I remember about the value of the days. 1 - good for starting things/ ideas/ adventures/ travel etc; 2 - good for finding the person/ partner/ mentor/ producer/ director that can help you achieve your idea; 3 - communication and creativity; 4 - hard work and graft, not always easy but if you knuckle down, you get a huge amount done on a '4' day.

5 - conflict and confrontation; a bit like the second act of a feature script. Doesn't mean you will fight with someone or fall out over a contract but it means you could, so be on guard, be calm, be prepared. 6, you know. 7 is for wisdom, learning, gaining knowledge; 8 for chasing what's owed to you/ business stuff; and 9 for completion.

And that's the important bit. I give myself cycles of nine days, always ending whatever work I've set myself on that '9' days. It's better than giving yourself a week because you can still, mostly, take weekends off.

And it's a realistic span of days, given commitments and urgent work that leaps onto your lap making mewling sounds. It's not too long and it's not too short.

And, of course, it's a deadline, even if it's self imposed. Especially if the cash incentive isn't there. When it's done, you can tackles something else, or a different part of the same project so you're not tying yourself down to an endless avenue of work on any particular project/ phase of a project, so you keep your mind fresh and motivated.

And sometimes, when a month turns into the next, you get a really long 'nine' days because the last days of one month can go all the way from 1 to 8 and the first date of the new month, because the month has changed, may be 1. So you get to continue that cycle until you hit a 9.

I've found it works anyway.


  1. And we were just talking about this today in my seminar group! This is such lovely stuff and exceedinly helpful. (especially dipped in dark choc) I shall have a go at the nine days! At the moment mid exm period I am managing about 9 minutes without globules of panic stopping play.
    More soon,
    Tanvi x

  2. Oh I don't envy you! Hope you have time to relax and think your own thoughts without panic when exams are over. (9 minutes... maybe there's a nine min exam studying cycle!?)

    Hope the nine day thing helps; at least it means you can also give up trying to do anything new when it's near the end and just wait for the next one to start!

    xx L