05/08/2015

Give Up Ironing (by Kathleen McGurl)

I hadn’t come across Kathleen McGurl before; she’s been writing short stories for women’s magazines for some time, apparently, and recently had her first two novels published. However, I am in possession of this short book because it was recommended on Facebook by a mutual friend, and - more importantly - was available free to download earlier in the year.

‘Give up ironing’ isn’t a title that would naturally leap out at me; not because I’m a compulsive ironer, but the reverse; in the past five years, I think I have used an iron twice, both for skirts I needed to wear for smart occasions. A year ago our son borrowed our iron and ironing board, and so far I haven’t missed them.

The subtitle of the book: ‘A writer’s’ guide to time management’ was a whole lot more appealing. So I decided to read it this week.

It’s a short book; Amazon list it as having 50 pages, and I certainly found that the ‘percentages’ rolled by as I was reading on my Kindle. It probably took me an hour to read in all, over a couple of sessions. The style is friendly and chatty, the book well-organised, and the advice excellent.

The first section - after a brief introduction - is entitled, ‘Freeing up time to write’. That was never going to be a problem for me; living abroad without a full-time job, I can easily find at least a few hours every day. And I do write blog posts, book (and other) reviews, replies on help forums, and more. I look after the house and spend time with friends and have online ‘chats’ with sons and grandson, and they’re all important. But - and I know many would-be writers would be full of envy - I could easily find a couple of hours per day, often more.

So the first section wasn’t in fact all that useful, from that point of view. I don’t watch TV at all. I don’t iron at all. The only online game I play is a form of Scrabble, which doesn’t take very long. My housework is fairly minimalistic, my cooking, albeit all from scratch, is as efficient as possible. Exercise, the author points out, is important to keep us fit and get our creativity going… but, living in a hot country, I don’t even do that during the summer months.

Still, for those who insist that they don’t have time, there are some good points made. We all have the same number of hours in the day, and we all prioritise what matters most. When an emergency crops up, or somebody needs us, we ‘make’ time for them. If writing is important, something else may need to go.

The second section is about making the most of writing time. A lot of this resonated with me. How easy it is to make a detailed to-do list, and cross off things like ‘read article about writing’ or ‘buy new notebook’ or even ‘sharpen pencils’ without ever actually doing any writing. To-do lists are wonderful for ensuring we don’t forget things; but the pleasure taken in crossing things off can turn it into an exercise in procrastination. If I’ve completed 15 important tasks today, well, it’s not surprising I didn’t find the time to do any real writing. Even if most of those tasks took no more than five minutes.

The author stresses the need for discipline, and I found myself nodding a lot. If I allocate time to write, then ‘just checking email’ isn’t helpful.

The final section, ‘motivating yourself’, talks about making reasonable goals (such as 1000 words per day rather than ‘write a novel’) and even bribing oneself: a piece of chocolate, perhaps, or five minutes on Facebook when a certain target is reached. I’ve tried the reward thing in the past and have never found it all that useful, but doing a certain amount each day can certainly be constructive. Occasionally I write a short story, and I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo a few times. There’s nothing like a set goal, with a measure of accountability (even if nobody’s going to do or say anything about it) to get me going.

Probably the most useful part of the book to me - and I’m not sure which section it was in, as I can’t find it now - is one that talks about finding the most appropriate time and method for writing, and sticking to it. This is so true. I’m something of an early bird, but turning my computer on first thing never seems to achieve anything other than even more hours spent online. However, the few times I’ve sat in my beanbag and hand-written a story, or a chapter of a novel, has often been the most productive. I tried it yesterday morning, before finishing the book, and again this morning. My blank mind, which had no ideas at all, somehow managed to produce what may turn into a reasonable story. Typing up during the day is a doddle compared to the first writing process. I read somewhere else that the act of writing by hand seems to stimulate the creative cells… I’ve rolled my eyes and felt that it was a waste of time, but I suspect that, in fact, it’s my best writing time.

Now, all I need to do is ensure that I’m disciplined enough to stick with it until it becomes a habit...

This has been more of a personal walk through the book than a review - it’s not often that I enjoy something quite so much that so many things strike me as relevant. Moreover, unusually for a self-published non-fiction ebook, it's clear, well laid-out, and thoroughly proof-read.

I would definitely recommend this book to any writers, whether wannabes or experienced; or indeed, to anyone who struggles with time management. Many of the principles in the book could probably be used to apply to completely different activities.

'Give up ironing' is only available in Kindle format, both sides of the Atlantic. It's no longer free, but still inexpensive: well worth both the time and money, in my view.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Kath McGurl said...

Hi Sue - I'd seen your lovely review of my book on Amazon but didn't realise you also had a blog. Thank you so much for this review. I shall be following your blog with interest now!