Monday, 22 April 2019

Doing the Deep Work by Elaine Fraser

The monotony & solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. Einstein

I often wish I could just go into a cave and write and write and write. However, my life only allows me to do that for a couple of hours a day–unless I go on a writing retreat. 
In order for me to do my best work, the kind of deep work you have to do in order to go deep into the topic, deep into the research, deep into the thinking, with long cycles of reflection, I need to make sure I get to my version of a cave as often as possible. 
That’s how I develop ideas. That’s how I do good stuff.
After a busy couple of years of travelling, I was beginning to forget how to get back into the wellspring of the deep, quiet solitude of work.   

Hopefully, each book I write will be better than the last, however, if I’m so busy travelling and doing myriad other things, I question if I am bringing my best to my work. I want the quality to always get better, so I really need to put myself in a place where I can disappear into my thoughts. 

I’ve found that NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me. Neither does Stephen King’s advice in his instructional memoir, On Writing (A strict diet of 1,000 words a day, six days a week). 

Anne Lamott proposes something similar in her guide, Bird by Bird (Sitting down to write at roughly the same time every day).
The problem for me is that each week has a completely different routine. I also work from home with my husband, and we have projects and unexpected things that come up. 
So, I have to have a different approach. When I’m working on a book, I have to approach each week as its own scheduling challenge. The reality is that I just have to squeeze as much writing as I can manage in the most practical manner.  
Sometimes, this might lead to times where I write at a regular time or other periods where I binge write for days.
The point is that I commit to plans that I know I can achieve and commit to as many hours of deep work as I can. 
Every week looks different, but what’s consistent is that I rack up deep hours and watch my next book start to come together.
And those persons who can shut themselves up for long periods and work out their thoughts alone, constructing beautiful and orderly representations of their own spirits, are to me a continual mystery. I know this is the way that things are accomplished, that ‘monotony and solitude’ are necessary for him who would produce creative thought.Youth and Life by Randolph Bourne (1913)

In February, I went camping for a week and hardly looked at my phone or computer. I realised I'm rarely left alone with my own thoughts and imagination. One of my goals this year is to increase the number of hours I spend in solitude and in deep work.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, tries to log one thousand hours of deep creative time every 365 days.  He says, there’s no rule about how many you get in a day. Sometimes there’s zero and sometimes they can be nine or ten–it doesn’t matter if you’re sick, it doesn’t matter if there’s other stuff you’d like to be doing. Collins keeps 1,000 creative hours a year as a minimum baseline. 
The number isn’t important, but the overall objective is that over time there’s quality work. Creative hours lead to some kind of creative output–whether it’s research or writing or thinking–it’s leading towards producing something. 

Are you challenged in this area? Are you a Stephen King, Anne Lamott or Jim Collins? How do you get into the wellspring of the deep, quiet solitude of work?

Elaine Fraser writes YA fiction and inspirational nonfiction. She writes about life issues with a spiritual edge. Elaine blogs at, Kinwomen, and several other journals. She travels several months of the year and is otherwise found in her library in Perth, Australia—writing, reading, and hugging her golden retriever.


  1. Hi Elaine,
    I love what Einstein and Randolph Bourne have to say. Those deep hours are very valuable for me, and I sometimes wonder how celebrities, with so many demands on their time, manage to still guard the necessary hours to do what they might have become famous for in the first place. Coming to the end of many years of homeschooling, I think I've taken your approach, of snatching empty moments when they come along, and using them with appreciation. It seemed to work :)

    1. Snatching quiet moments in the midst is difficult. Celebrities would certainly find it hard, although they probably have someone manage all the housework and other tasks that distract! 😀

  2. I can totally relate to all you have written, Elaine. My weeks change all the time like yours, so it is a matter of looking ahead and trying to keep those precious days (or part thereof) when nothing else is scheduled and when no talks need to be prepared or no grandkids need to be minded as clear as possible for writing. It is so easy, as you say, 'to forget how to get back into the wellspring of the deep, quiet solitude of work'. I think though that in the midst of it all, we need to try to stay in that place of peace and not become frustrated, having to move in and out of writing, as we remember God is in charge and knows exactly what is happening in our lives.

    1. I like your comment about the importance of remembering 'God is in charge and knows exactly what is happening in our lives.' If we dedicate our work to him, he can help us manage our days well. 😀

  3. Thanks Elaine. It’s good to be reminded that we need to make time for deep thought and it sounds like you have a creative approach to incorporating that into your schedule :). I’ve discovered that even if you have some available time it’s easy to fill it with other things. Thanks for the reminder that we need to leave space for focused deep work.

    1. I get so distracted. My latest hack is to set a timer for an hour and write like crazy!

  4. Great post Elaine. Thanks so much for sharing. I am like you - my schedule keeps changing weekly so I have to go with the flow. I have been determined this year to order my time better - to be more productive, to try to write every day, but I confess I am a slow learner. I am still TRYING to get it right. I am pleased that very very slowly I am making progress in how to manage my time better. But I am a long way from getting to where I want to be. Loved all those quotes.

    As I have grown more intimate with God - I am also seeking at least 2 hours a day of leaning into God and spending time with Him. My problem is that 24 hours doesn't seem sufficient for it all. But I will get there eventually! With God's help of course.

    So thank you for your post which encouraged me - no I am definitely not a Stephen King or Anne Lamot or Jim Collins. Praying that by the end of the year - I would have struck a new normal in how I manage my time better and become more productive as well as keep walking in all His ways. Bless you for sharing and well done on all your wonderful writing.

    1. I think that your two hours with God would be a part of the deep work of creativity. Where else does our creativity come from? ❤️ I hope you find more of a rhythm as the year goes on. xxx

  5. Like others have said, each week looks different for me. I have a lot of medical appointments with my parents, but I do try to make sure they aren't on Thursdays or in the mornings, when I do most productive work. It doesn't always work, but it's a blessing when it does.

  6. Carving out exclusive time for writing is difficult, especially when you are caring for others. I care for my aunt and I know that appointments and so on can take so much time. I also try to schedule appointments on specific days to leave at least two days a week free, but sometimes it just doesn't work out! 😀