Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Power of a Timer: A writer’s secret weapon

“You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. 

What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” -Bill Watterson
Give me a week to get a project done, and it will take me a week to do. Though most of the work will be done on that last day....

Parkinson’s law is the idea that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Or, to put it another way, “the amount of time which one has to preform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.”

So, if you give yourself a set amount of time to work on a project, you will use all of that time to get it done, even if you really could have done it in much less time. It’s like the idea of quick cleaning before you have company over. That 20 minutes of cleaning is the most productive cleaning that you have done all week.

And there are two very good reasons for this: procrastination and distraction. They are the enemies of the writer. Well, really, they are the enemies to all good and productive work everywhere.

How can you beat them? Just use a timer.

Best timer to use
The best timer is a standard kitchen egg timer. I don’t recommend timers that you find on your smartphone or online. It’s too easy to check email or voicemail. (Unless you have way more self-control than I do...) The saying that a watched pot never boils could be used with writers, too. A writer watching his phone never writers. With technology today, it is very hard to disengage. While using the timer on your phone might be convenient, every time you look at it, start it or stop it, there are opportunities to check status updates or send a quick text. The best way to deal with a phone while you write is to turn it off. The second best way is to turn off the sound and place it across the room.

barbourians via flickr

Push through a terrible task
Some days, writing is hard. You look at your manuscript and the plot is wonky, the ideas are not flowing, nothing is working. The best way to fix your problems is to write your way through them. Even a miserable task is tolerable if you know you won’t be stuck doing it forever. Set the timer for 30 minutes and focus on fixing dialogue or brainstorming ideas for your plot problems. The nice thing is that, often, you will have found your groove and can keep going even after the timer goes off.

Keep the focus
Choose how long you will write and set the timer. When you give yourself 60 minutes to write, it’s easier to get down to work than when you just tell yourself that you’ll spend some time writing. You can use the timer to limit what you get carried away with, so you don’t spend all day. Do you love world building, researching for the perfect name or obscure fact or reworking sentences that you already wrote? Set the timer and when your time is up, move on.

Stop watching the clock
If you only have a set amount of time that you can work, a timer will allow you to stay focused and not have to keep an eye on the clock. Repeatedly checking the time to make sure you finish when you are suppose to can throw off your writing groove.

Word sprints
psd via flickr
Whether you are challenging others or just yourself, word sprints is a great way to keep the competitive edge in writing. Set your timer for 30-60 minutes, then just write. When your time is up, see how many words you wrote. When doing this with a group, it’s motivating to compete to see who wrote the most. When you are writing alone, challenge yourself to see if you can beat your own record for the number of words written in that amount of time.

Take a break
There are times when you become so absorbed with your writing that you lose track of time. The timer is great so you are reminded to get up from your chair: Stretch, use the restroom, refill your coffee, say hi to the family, get some fresh air. A break every hour or two will keep you from burning out. And, it gives you a chance to remind your family that you are still alive.

But not too long of a break
Sometimes email, Facebook or Pinterest just CALLS to you. You have to check in. But you probably spend too much time there. More than you intended. More than you even realize. A 10 minute break to browse Pinterest can easily turn into 2 hours of pinning recipes and cute shoes. Use the timer to end your breaks, before you get too carried away. Now, it’s TIME to get to work! Write on!

Do you use a timer? How do you use it and how long do you set your timer for?

--Becky A

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