So find yourself a timer...and FACE YOUR FEARS!
Once upon a time there was a first grader who dragged her feet when she was supposed to be getting ready for school. So many things to catch her attention. So many things she’d rather being doing. Her mother would gently but firmly keep after her, reminding her again and again of the things she needed to do in order to leave for school on time. But that didn’t set especially well with the little girl.
Finally her mother, equally weary of the endless prompting, drew pictures of clocks that illustrated what her daughter should be doing by what time. The verbal parental reminders halted. Not many days into the new “system,” however, the little girl let her mother know that she didn’t like clocks telling her what to do. And from there on out, the dawdling dwindled.
That little girl was me. I STILL don’t like clocks telling me what to do!
I tell you this story so that you’ll understand that my grudging devotion to The Timer isn’t because I have some kind of regimented, super organized, ultra-disciplined mentality and lifestyle. No way. I have the soul of an artist. My creative juices are fueled when I can let my mind wander. I love long walks and whiling away hours in the garden. I hate to be rushed. But like the rest of you, I have a life, commitments, obligations—the many details of which must be attended to whether I like it or not. As a writer, I have to MAKE time to write.
And that’s where my friend The Timer comes in . . .
Alarm Clock – Okay, I admit this is the “timer” we probably all hate most. Even I, a devout morning person, am not enamored with this particular device. But since I’m pretty much worthless creatively after a long day at work, it’s a necessary evil if I intend to get in a few hours of writing before I head off to Ye Olde Day Job. (Rule #1: Thou shalt not touch thy snooze button.)
Vibrating Wristwatch Timer – Now this is something those of you who are morning people will love if you hate the blare of an alarm or if your spouse gripes when it goes off at 4:00 a.m. Five quick vibrations to your wrist and you’re up and going—as your significant other blissfully snoozes on in peace.
Classic Kitchen Timer – This is my old standby. You can find some version of it at just about any discount or kitchen supply store. It’s a FABULOUS tool for keeping me going. You can use it to:
- Limit your “surfing” time – Admit it, it’s way too easy to get lost for hours on the internet!
- Limit email sessions – More writing time squandered!
- Limit journaling time – Years ago I attended a writing conference which featured bestselling mystery writer Sue Grafton. She advised “warming up” each day with a pre-writing exercise where you pour out your writing angst (“Today I’m attacking chapter eleven. But the problem I’m having with it is ...” ). It’s similar to creativity coach Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” (The Artist’s Way), but abbreviated. I keep my writing journal handy in a Word doc, and I’ve found 5 minutes is usually sufficient. Maybe 10. Then I get to work.
- Schedule regular breaks – When “in the zone” writing for hours, I forget to stand and stretch, flex my fingers, refill my water bottle, or rest my eyes by looking out a window at something in the distance.
- Facilitate a brainstorming session – Brainstorming is a critical item in a writer’s toolbox – but daydreaming time is always at a premium, so I sometimes find it helpful to structure it a bit. I use my timer to play bestselling author Shirley Jump’s “Rule of Six.” Shirley teaches that the first five or so ideas we come up with for anything very likely won’t be all that great. It’s only after we push to six or more that we begin to dig down into our subconscious.
I use this method combined with my trusty timer -- how many GMC’s can I come up with for my heroine in 15 minutes? How many names for my new hero in 5? How many titles in 10? How many different ways to end a chapter—or start the next one—in 20? Brainstorming with a timer forces me to write quickly, breaks the log jam in my brain, and gets my creative juices flowing again.
- Establish a time to write each day – I can get so caught up in tyranny-of-the-urgent things that my writing time slips through my fingers. It’s easy for this to happen, particularly if we’re subconsciously procrastinating. So set a timer that reminds you “this is it.” It’s important to make your writing a priority and to write each day (or weekend if that works best for you) at the same time. It’s not always possible to do (especially for those with children!), but I personally find a daily routine necessary to be productive. When I sit down at my desk at “X” time, my brain knows it’s time to shut out the rest of the world and transport itself to my story.
- Motivate yourself to write – I can’t afford to wait until I’m in the mood to write. There are times, however, when you just don’t FEEL like writing, right? But as we all know, WRITER’S WRITE. I’ve learned half the battle is getting myself to sit down in that chair, open the story document, and start to type. On days when I’m struggling with that basic concept, I’ll set my timer and tell myself: “Self, you only have to write for 15 minutes.” Hmm. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? That’s often all it takes to get me in there and keep me in there for far longer than the allotted minutes.
- Pull yourself back to the real world – When my fingers are flying across that keyboard and the banter between heroine and hero is dancing in my head, I totally lose track of time. Not a good thing on a workday unless I want to show up at the office around noon in my robe and slippers! By programming the timer, that allows me to get into the zone without the distraction of constantly looking up at the clock to check the time.
- Motivate yourself to take care of OTHER business - Sometimes I’m so tired at the end of the day, I don’t want to clean the bathroom, vacuum the house, balance the checkbook or declutter my office. It’s easy to put things off with “I’ll do it in the morning.” But morning is my writing time and it’s important that I honor that. But with the timer I can turn housework into a game of sorts – racing to see how much I can get done in a 15-minute challenge. Just breaking the mental log-jam is sometimes all it takes to finish up those chores in record time, even at the end of a long day.
- Reward – This works great for making chores palatable. Intersperse your housework with a timed 15-minute read-a-book break every hour or two.
- Energize – Exercise is another activity that too easily slips between the cracks of a busy day. Set your timer to remember to take that brisk walk. Set it for a round on the treadmill or lifting weights or stretching. You can’t spare more than 10 minutes today? 10 is better than zero and will very likely give you a needed energy boost.
- Refresh – Did you know that studies show people who take a short nap daily are far less likely to have stress-related illnesses and cardiac problems? Set your timer for 15-20 minutes of Zzzzz’s, then head back to your story.
- Restore – We all need a quiet time with our Maker. A time to shut out the world. Take a deep breath. Get things back in perspective. Amazingly, I find that when I think there’s no way I can take a “time out” because there’s already too much to do, if I MAKE time – 5 minutes…10…15 – I seem to get more done in the remaining time than I otherwise would have. And thank goodness for Sunday afternoons when I can toss the timer!
As a soon-to-be-published writer, I’ve added a suitcase full of new things I must now work into my week—no longer only self-imposed deadlines, but that of the publisher as well. I’ve found The Timer Method to be invaluable in keeping me motivated and on-track.
As Seekerville's Tina Russo Radcliffe is fond of reminding us: “What have you done TODAY to make your dream come true?”
YOU'VE DONE NOTHING?
Get a timer.
Their Unexpected Love. Sunshine Carston is looking for more than beautiful scenery when she moves with her daughter to Hunter Ridge, Arizona. She’s looking for answers. According to family legend, her ancestors were cheated out of their land by the Hunter family. But when she meets Grady Hunter, Sunshine’s mission is endangered—how can she investigate the Hunters when she’s falling in love with one? When Grady’s mother becomes ill, Grady steps in to help her run against Sunshine for town council. But what will Grady say when he finds out about Sunshine’s investigation? To rise above the past and forge a future together, they’ll need a love stronger than any feud...
Now available for pre-order!
Now available for pre-order!
This post first appeared in Seekerville on April 22, 2009. Comments are closed today to allow us all more reading and writing time.