What The Hell is “Hitting the Mattresses”?
If you’re a bit new to the site, then you may not yet have noticed that I do a work log post every Tuesday, where I report my word count for the previous week, and general progress overall.
All of my word counts and books are scheduled on an annual production schedule, so my weekly progress is measured against where I should be on that production schedule.
Often, I’m behind.
Sometimes I’m very behind. Usually because I’ve procrastinated myself to death in the last week or so.
When I hit that point, I have one of two choices.
The last choice is to rework my schedule, slide in a boxed set or somesuch, and give myself some wiggle room. It’s my last choice for a reason: It feels like cheating. And readers probably feel like it’s cheating, too.
My first choice is something that I’ve referred to more than once as “hitting the mattresses”. The last time I said I was going into overdrive was January 5th, and I did hit the mattresses and I’m only just starting to pull out of that.
So, what does it mean?
The original source of the phrase is from The Godfather. There’s a clip here that demonstrates the idea. In the movie, they called it Going to the Mattresses, and it’s basically an emergency when two families were at war with each other. The soldiers (family members) would all stay in one heavily guarded house, and sleep on mattresses jammed into rooms (and, apparently, eat a great deal of spaghetti and meat sauce).
I took that general all-in-until-the-emergency-is-over idea for when I reach a point when I’m so far behind my production schedule that I have to pull out all the stops and catch up in any way I can.
There are a lot of things you can do to floor the gas pedal and get a book done, or more than a book (depending on how excessively you’ve blown your time).
- Use your production and admin time.
If you’re like me and use half your time for writing fresh manuscript, and half for everything else your business demands of you, then for a short while, you can use admin time to write, instead.
When I’m hitting the mattress, I get the admin stuff done first thing in the morning. I do only the bare necessity, what absolutely must be done that day, clear the decks and get back to writing.
- Use your weekends and off days.
If you don’t write on weekend, or if you take off days between books, then they get used for writing until you’ve caught up (or preferably, are ahead a little).
- Use your evenings
Ditto, if you don’t write in the evenings, use up your evenings for a while. Negotiate with the family (while simultaneously apologizing for getting so far behind).
- Get up early, stay up later…or not.
This isn’t a tactic to use unless you’re facing a deadline that has no negotiation room — a contractually bound deadline, say. Or one that has dire consequences if you miss it, such as losing your pre-order priveleges on Amazon. And only use this tactic once you’re used up all other ideas for finding extra time.
Screwing with your sleep schedule has some nasty health consequences, so I would suggest only shorting your sleep for a single night, or two nights max. Don’t go short on sleep over the long term. Your writing will suffer, at the very least.
In fact, I would actually suggest the opposite, if you can manage it: Sleep MORE, if you can. Hitting the mattresses is tough, physically and mentally. Extra sleep will help you survive the crunch.
- Use Vacation time
If you have a day job, and you’re in a real bind with your production schedule, take a few days’ vacation from the day job and use the time to get your word count in.
- Drink water
Stay hydrated. It will keep you mentally alert, help maintain your energy levels, and also make you move every hour or so, even if it’s just to use the bathroom.
- Use sprints to max your word count.
Not only are you maxing the time you spend writing, you also need to max your hourly word count and nothing does that like word sprints.
I like using 50 minute sprints, then ten minute breaks to get up, stretch, use the bathroom, etc. You can use 20+5, or some other combination. If you’ve ever used word sprints before, then you’ll already know what time period works best for you.
Sprint are also good for ensuring you don’t sit still for hours on end. They keep you alert and your energy high.
- Even if you don’t normally remove distractions, do it now.
You are recovering from bad habits you fell into. Now is not the time to trust your self-control will keep you from switching over to Facebook, or checking the hockey stats.
Shut down absolutely everything on your computer except for your text editor. And music, if you use it.
Don’t stop to check facts or move away from the manuscript. Use xxxx’s to mark the MS so you can go back and fill in the details later, when you’re not trying to get words down. Even if you forget a character’s name or hair colour, DO NOT CLICK AWAY from the script. Put a marker in your sentence and move on.
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Reaching this Extreme
Hitting the Mattresses is not fun. It’s a marathon sprint with no let up. While you’re stressing yourself with extreme writing sessions, don’t add to the cortisol pool by blaming yourself for the mess.
Yes., you got yourself into it, but don’t let your self-talking subconscious beat you to a pulp while you’re trying to recover.
After all, you are trying to fix things.
I’m constantly having to hit the mattresses, and I’m supposed to be somewhat productive. 🙂 But I usually only have a day or two of the severe scheduling to catch up because I don’t let myself get too far behind, exactly for this reason. Hitting the mattresses is tough, mentally and physically.
The sheer effort involved in catching up will help you stick with your schedule in the future, so there’s no point in making it harder by letting your self-talk get nasty.
There are a lot of different ways of squeezing out even more time to recover from a dragging production schedule, but I think you get the general idea. It’s an all-out, everything-aside period of extreme writing designed to let you catch up.