Just recently I got a new timer – I know that doesn’t sound too exciting, but it is. And I’ll tell you why.
I write in half hour bursts. I set my timer (which has been until recently an old-fashioned, boring kitchen timer) for half an hour and I write. Sometimes I write by hand, sometimes on the computer, but that’s all I do for that half hour. I don’t check my email, I don’t listen to music, I don’t get up to make tea. Although I do get up for the bathroom if I have to – it’s just too messy otherwise. Other than that, I write.
And then when the timer rings – and I place the timer so I can’t see how much time is left of my half hour – I stop. Often right in the middle of a sentence. I set the timer for another half hour and I do something else. I read or I have my shower or breakfast or I do the dishes. I do the laundry or work on a critique for a friend or fold my laundry. When the timer rings, I re-set it, and I start writing again.
Depending on how many pages I need to write, I repeat this throughout the day. On a normal day, I’m probably finished after two or sometimes three half hour bursts of writing (which turns out to be somewhere around three to four thousand words) – which is a very productive day. Occasionally, if I have a deadline, I might end up doing seven or eight. But not too often – it’s too hard.
Why does this work for me?
I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that many years ago when I first started to write, I was working full-time so I had to find time to write. I’d go to work half an hour early and sit in a coffee shop and write for that half hour. I’d write for another half hour at lunchtime and another half hour after work before I went home. Occasionally, I’d have time to write in the evening or on the weekend – but those three half hours five days a week meant I could easily write 70 or 80 pages a week most weeks. So I learned to write in half hour bursts. The other reason is that I think, psychologically, having the timer gives me an incredible amount of freedom. I know I don’t have to spend all day writing, I don’t have to worry about anything except a single half hour, 30 minutes, that’s it. And it’s easy to do anything for half an hour.
So my new timer? It’s a lemon, a beautiful lemon-colored, lemon-shaped, lemon. I turn the top half to line up the 30 minute mark with the arrow mark and away I go. It ticks away and it makes me feel comfortable. And productive. And free.
I love my lemon.