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Bridget McNulty

The Productive Writer: an Interview with Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is the author of Strange Nervous Laughter, published in South Africa and the USA, and co-founder of Now Novel, which she describes as “an online novel-writing process that helps aspiring writers start–and finish!-their books.” Now Novel provides a structured writing environment that with the opportunity for feedback and mentorship during the book writing process.

McNulty is currently working on an e-book for first-time book writers, How to Write a Book (even if you never have), a compilation of the advice and tips she and her co-founders have been sharing on the Now Novel site. She shared some great tips with us, too, and gave us a peek at her habits.

What’s your own daily routine like? What habits do you cultivate and what benefits do you find in them?

For me, as a writer and a new mom, the most important habits are to do with carving out quiet space to think and write. I think our world is so busy these days—and so distracting—that it’s easy to get caught up in the swirl of news and updates and constantly being on the go and taking more information in. As a creative, I find it really refreshing to have quiet space to digest the day. The specific habits I cultivate are simple things (having a 4 month old baby doesn’t lend itself to complicated routines!) I like walking to work and not looking at my phone or listening to music or engaging in anything other than the 20 minute walk. I like having a cup of tea every morning and thinking through the day ahead—not reading the news or having a conversation or checking my email. I like having some decompression time at the end of the day with a gin and tonic and gazing out the window to gather my thoughts. I find that without these small pockets of stillness my mind gets easily overloaded and I can’t do any work—never mind good work.

The most common advice we hear about writing habits is simply to write every day. But what’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination and getting quality work out of your time spent writing?

Surprisingly enough, my best advice is to limit the amount of time you give yourself to write. I used to carve out luxurious 3 hour writing spaces and hardly get anything done, because in the space of 3 hours there’s time to look up a fact online and daydream and let your mind wander without getting many words on the page. But if you give yourself 45 minutes there’s no space to do anything but write. You have to keep focused and you have to use your time wisely and if there’s research to be done it’s a side note to yourself, not a half hour trawling unnecessary websites. I also think it’s vital that this time you give yourself to write is at the same time each day. There’s something about the subconscious mind that appreciates routine, and if you know that every morning before work you’re going to sit quietly with a cup of tea and your writing for 45 minutes, it’s amazing how much you can get done in that space of time. That’s how I wrote my last book—in 45 minute spaces in the stillness of the early morning.

Are there any habits you’re trying to develop now? What motivated you to work on them?

Last year I gave myself the New Year’s Resolution to meditate every day—and I did it. Every night before I went to bed it was on my To Do List, and if I hadn’t found a space to meditate during the day (just a short 5 minute guided meditation) I made sure to do it in bed before I fell asleep. The resolution was so successful that I didn’t bother renewing it this year, and of course I now don’t meditate every day, even though I know what a difference it makes! There’s something about making a pact with myself that brings out the competitive side in me and doesn’t want to fail, and without that it was too easy to let it slide…I really think meditation makes an enormous difference to those of us working in creative fields, because it gives our minds time to breathe.

Similarly, I’m trying to get in the habit of No Plan Sundays—which is harder than it sounds. A friend of mine does it every weekend – he doesn’t make any pre-arranged plans for Sundays and just lets the day develop as it will. It’s the most amazing breath of fresh air in our otherwise over-scheduled lives and I’ve been consciously trying to be less busy and incorporate it.

And finally, I’m trying to break the habit of looking at my phone to unwind. I think so many of us are so used to messaging friends or checking out Facebook or Instagram when we’re tired and want a moment of distraction, but there’s so much time lost that way and time is something I don’t have a lot of at the moment. I’m consciously picking up a book instead when I want to unwind—and it’s so much more satisfying! Especially because I am reading an extraordinary book right now (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).

Who or what inspires you? Whose habits would you like to know more about and why?

I am inspired by anyone who has managed to find that elusive balance in life—the delicate spot where they have time for their art, time for their work (sometimes one and the same thing), time for their families and friends, and for themselves. I think that’s what a successful life looks like to me right now… provides everything you need to improve performance in diet, fitness, productivity, and life. Join others who are improving their writings skills by adding these habits to your dashboard:

  • Walk to Work: a great way to get some time for exercise and contemplation.
  • Write for 30 minutes: a timed practice of writing each day. Or set up another timed goal for writing!
  • Meditate: try one or more of our guided meditation plans.