When I was a professional online poker player, it was popular for players who weren’t meeting their monetary goals to go on “lockdown” for a few weeks. Basically, you turned off your phone, boycotted Facebook and played. You might take poker-related breaks every once in awhile, but as a whole, you existed to play poker and for no other reason... When I went on lockdown, as I often did, I found it helped to re-focus my game. When I lived poker, I cared more than the people I played with. I analyzed the game deeper than they did, and most importantly, I won more. So, when I started writing, I took a lot of those concepts with me.
If I got bogged down by writer’s block, there were a lot of things I could try to help get me on track. I found that switching from a computer to a typewriter or another medium for a while helped a lot. I also found that buying a beautiful new pen really helped me because I was always excited to test it out… But occasionally, when all else failed, I would go on lockdown. When on lockdown, I either planned what I was going to write, wrote, or read/watched things about writing. The results were incredible. I didn’t only write more, I wrote better.
In my blog posts and interviews, I’ve often talked about how I managed to write Tiny Instruments in 7 months: about how I locked the door, rarely went outside and even more rarely communicated with other lifeforms… In effect, I was on a prolonged lockdown. It worked wonders for me, but I can’t recommend this for everyone. I realize that most people like to have some semblance of a social life (and even more so, that others have responsibilities to their families that make it hard to ignore everyone for a large portion of every day). There are a few ways around this. Also, you might find that you simply don’t have the time to go on lockdown. There are ways around this as well.
So, Where Can I Go?
In the way of short family-approved vacations, writing retreats are often quite nice. By design, they are typically quite secluded. Even better, you often have a lot of people, both from and outside of the retreat, constantly asking how your writing is going… It certainly gives you all the motivation you need to keep up your writing! The downsides here are obvious: if you function poorly under pressure, going to a place where the staff that cleans your room knows exactly why you’re there may not be the best idea. The second downside is that writer’s retreats are typically anywhere from a week to two weeks. They do occasionally go to three, but chances are there aren’t any of that length where you live. You’ll probably have to fly somewhere. The third downside is that Writing Retreats are extremely expensive. Some programs offer grants to upcoming writers, but they are hard to get. If you’re fabulously wealthy, writing retreats are probably your best option. Otherwise, see below.
There are places in the United States that are ridiculously cheap. In Harlingen, Texas, for instance, you can get a 700 square-foot apartment for $300 a month. Imagine living somewhere completely random for a month with nothing to do whatsoever but write. Trust me, the words will flow. Plus, you’ll have the added motivation of being able to get the hell out of Harlingen! Talk about a fire under your ass!
This works really well if you live alone or with a few roommates. It works TERRIBLY if you’re married, and even worse if you have kids. Your spouse will likely feel offended by the fact that you are giving him/her less attention than normal. Worse than that, they probably won’t take it as seriously as you want. Expect knocks on your door or questions about what will be made for dinner. The only positives whatsoever about a home lockdown under these scenarios is convenience and price (or lack thereof).
Mini Home Lockdown
Mini lockdowns are amazing. Actually, they’re incredible. Every single time I write, I go on lockdown. Single, married or otherwise, mini lockdowns are completely do-able. The first step is to tell everyone in the house that you are going to write for an hour. The second step is to find a secluded room that you can use during that timeframe (be sure that it IS secluded. You may think that you can write in the living room without being disturbed, but your roommate or significant other WILL pick that exact time to talk with you about dishes or about what kind of mess your estranged cousin Celia is in this week. The third step is to put up some kind of sign on your door that says that you are writing. It might seem tacky, but you need to make sure that the other people in your life understand how seriously you are taking this time. After that, set a timer for an hour (I use a beautiful Victorian hourglass because it inspires me to write more) during which time, you follow the standard lockdown rules.
Standard Lockdown Rules
Turn your phone off. If you are going on an extended lockdown away from home, set a daily time to check your messages and respond to calls. Do not go outside of that time.
No internet except to look up synonyms or information vital to your story.
Do not allow yourself other distractions. If you cannot write during this time, it’s okay to stare at the wall. What is NOT okay is deciding to knit a sweater when your timer is counting down. Believe me, you’ll find more often than not, it’s very hard to stare at a wall for full hours at a time.
When on extended lockdown, do not watch movies that aren’t related to your project in some way (whether films with similar stories or programs about the art of writing itself).
Don’t let anything but a fire disturb you. If someone knocks on the door, tell them to go away. Apologize later. If the yard people choose to rattle your window with a 50lbs leaf-blower, put in earplugs. This is your time, and the rest of the world will learn to respect that.