Writing Wednesday — staying on the page with a timer

It’s an odd thing, but one of the best techniques I know for keeping my bottom in the chair and my mind on the page is setting a timer. It’s as if my brain knows it doesn’t have to think about or do anything else for that short burst of time, that its only job is to write.

And by golly, it works.

These days, I set the timer on my iPhone for 30 minutes, and I am almost always surprised when it buzzes, because I’m so deep in the work. If you’re prone to distraction from your phone’s beeps and buzzes, turn it off or tuck it in a drawer and use a kitchen timer. I landed on 25 minutes almost by accident—20 seemed too short, 30 too long—and only later discovered that the time management expert who developed the Pomodoro Technique advocates 25 minute sessions. (Why pomodoro? It’s Italian for tomato and he uses, and sells, a tomato-shaped timer.) Now that I’ve done this for a while, 30 minutes is just right.

Give yourself no more than 5 minutes for a break. Do a few deliberate stretches, pee, refill your coffee or water, sit back down, set the timer, and forget it. Don’t go online until your day’s writing session is over. Any longer break, or one that engages your attention in any significant way, will break the connection between your conscious and subconscious minds and disrupt the flow.

Flow, baby. That’s the ticket.

9 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday — staying on the page with a timer

  1. Having a set time is wonderful. I don’t know that I always need a timer (don’t use one when I rise and write in the morning), but timed sessions or sprints are very helpful in retaining focus. Therefore, I use a combination. Rise, get coffee, and write while waiting for the birds to start singing. At 9am weekdays, a 1-hour virtual write-in with 2 timed 25-minute sessions hosted by someone else. Sunday mornings I host a 2-hour virtual sprint with 2 45-minute sessions (we found 30 too short) and a repeat of that Monday nights. The timed sessions, especially with others, have turned out to be delightful and productive.

  2. I’ve been timing for a while, as much for my health (sitting long stretches is not good for yea ole body) as for my creativity. I do 45-minute to 1 hour stints. I find 30 minutes too short.

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