It’s all about time…

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.



11 responses to “It’s all about time…

  1. I need one of those! Great idea, Kate.


  2. It definitely works for me, though it took me a very long time to figure it out. I’m considering starting a collection – there are some great timers out there!


  3. Process is such a fascinating and individual thing. I could never do this! I’d just be getting in the flow of the work when the timer went off, and I’d never be able to walk away. Half the time I run over the limit on our sprints, because I turn off my phone stopwatch to “finish this sentence” and fifteen minutes – or twenty or thirty – later, I’m still writing. 🙂


    • I admit, I cheat sometimes and go over – or more often, don’t take a full half hour but just ten minutes or so as a break, but this is a way for me to write whether I want to or not, whether it’s working or not – and what it really means is that four or five days later, I can’t tell the difference between the days I struggled to write for those 30 minutes or whether they came so easily I cheated.


  4. It sounds interesting, and “if it works for you, then do it!” is my motto. i don’t think it would work for me, I’m to obsessive. One I’d go crazy wondering when the clock was going to ding. Two, I’d be racing the clock. Three, I would fudge and keep writing if I was on a roll.
    Wally 😉

    • Wally, what happens to me is that the ding almost always (perhaps 75% of the time) shocks me out of my daze that I’m in, which means I don’t even remember it’s on. The other 25% of the time, I struggle to keep writing, waiting for the damn thing to ring – but as I said to Lisa above, I can’t tell the difference in the writing between the two.


  5. raymondbolton

    I used to be a procrastinator—a real believer in Ellen DeGeneres’ saying: “Procrastination isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. So procrastinate now, don’t put it off.”

    Then I realized if I committed myself to just fifteen minutes–fifteen minutes of housework, fifteen minutes of gardening, fifteen minutes of writing–I would usually spend a lot more time than that, once I got started. A lemon timer and a commitment to thirty minutes seems a great way to make lemonade from an uncooperative manuscript!

    Go, Kate!

  6. I like it! And to me it doesn’t matter if you keep going after the half hour. I frequently use this technique when I have to do something I don’t want to do–“I’ll just work on it for 15 minutes” or whatever…..and then once you’re doing it, it takes as long as it takes…..

    • Catherine, thanks for dropping by – and you’re exactly right. Sometimes, especially if it feels like a daunting task, taking it 15 minutes or half an hour at a time makes it manageable.


    • raymondbolton

      Nice to have you, Cathy! Hope Boston is treating you well. I certainly, miss you in Santa Fe!

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