Writing lessons: Set a timer

My deep dive into exploring the art forms I was enamored with as a youth has been rewiring parts of my grownup brain. I’ve been more courageous with art, more vulnerable, and more willing to just try—regardless of any perceived outcomes. In the past few weeks, I’ve pulled out old work to breath new life into it—submitted poetry and a short play, and a few days ago, I sat down with Scrivener and wrote some fiction.

I. Wrote. Fiction. Finally! It was like I’d broke through some terrible dam. And to be fair, my writer’s block didn’t come tumbling down, rather I found myself chiseling away at it, pebble by pebble. What’s even more miraculous is that yesterday I sat down and wrote on the same story again—tacking on an additional thousand words. Today… I did it again.

I was like:

And it occurred to me that if I continue to just write one-measly-thousand words a day for the next three months, I’ll have a entire book. It will be horrible and gross and ugly, but it’ll be a real life manuscript, which is something I’ve been stumped up on for the past few…years? Piece of cake! I got this! I’m a winner and people like me!

I know.

Your takeaway, dear reader, is not the what, but the how. It’s a very simple technique I applied to this process that I felt quite ingenious for trying when it worked. You see, I set a timer for fifteen minutes, and I wrote. Revolutionary, right? This is the exact same hack every other writer will tell you to try, but I never tried it before because I didn’t think there could possibly be any actual psychological benefit to physically setting the timer. I’m a devout morning-pager, as it happens. And I can free-write my brain out till I hit my daily 750 word count. I’ve never been able to word-count for creative work though, and I didn’t think I’d have any success with the timer method either. Turns out, I was wrong. This really works.

Sometimes I get stopped up on technology and toys. At first I thought—I don’t have a cute kitchen tomato timer so how can I possibly try this. Then I realized that I set a timer for my son’s viola practice all the time. I just tell Siri I need a timer for fifteen minutes, and as if by magic, Siri makes it happen.

I made a deal with myself that if fifteen minutes were up, and I felt like stopping, I’d just stop. No biggie. Or if I felt like going, I’d just ask Siri for another fifteen—which is what ended up happening…four times. I sat and wrote undistracted by the internet, email, Twitter notifications, and texts for an entire hour. It was hugely liberating. Especially when I was able to reproduce it over the next few days. The next step, I think, is to build this potential hour into my already-crazy-packed schedule. For now, I am in love with the fact that I have been writing down the stories in my head.

To summarize, this is not new information—I am 100% sure I’ve read this same tip in countless other books and blogs on creative writing. But really, you should try it. At most, you’ll be out of fifteen minutes. At best, you’ll have a solid chunk of a chapter or two under your belt by day three. And how awesome will that feel?

PS—on that note, it occurs to me that I could use some fiction friends! This piece I’m poking at is YA, but if you’re a genre writer interested in a critique partner (or circle!), please get in touch!   ❤️

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