This is It. This is All You Get.

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Two weeks ago, I decided to try a writing experiment. If you ever think, “Man, I never have time to write,” this is probably something worth trying.

For the past several years, I’d been working on my novel only on the weekends rather than throughout the week. I consciously decided this because when you’re a freelance writer and editor, it’s hard to put appropriate mental distance between the writing you do for clients and the writing you do for yourself, hence the weekend-only idea made logical sense. Of course, quite often my writing time on the weekends wouldn’t pan out due to us all having plans throughout the day, and by the end of the day, writing motivation is already gone.

After talking with one of my author clients, Kira A. McFadden, a few weeks ago, she mentioned something about trying to take an hour each day to work on personal stuff. Now, this was sound advice, of course. However, I’d tried that before, but it never worked out because “other people’s work” always ended up sliding into the hour I had set aside for personal stuff, and I’m a writer, so procrastination and bad time management are things I excel in. And to compound things, even on the weekends, I’d noticed that I’d been struggling to manage even 1,000 words (my self-imposed single-writing-session quota) in an afternoon. Now, I’m not a lightning-fast writer by any stretch of the imagination—I used to average 500 words of prose in an hour—but somehow it was getting to where I was taking three or four hours just to bang out 1,000 words. And this was not from lack of interest in the story. Far from it.

Back in the old days, I used to preach constantly about Chuck Palahniuk’s writing motivation method—I still do, in fact—which is especially useful when you’re just not feeling it on any given day. With Chuck’s method, you sit in a chair and set yourself a kitchen timer for one hour. You can do whatever you want in that hour, but you have to sit in the chair and at least TRY to write during that hour—no Facebook, no solitaire or whatever, just your word processor. Once the timer dings, you’re free to blow the writing off for the day and go do whatever, regardless of how much you got done. But during that hour, you’re at the desk in front of the word processor, and the sneaky trick is that usually when the timer dings, you’re so into what you’re working on that you keep right on going. I used to use this approach long ago, but in past years, motivation to write was never the problem (unless it was super late at night, and then motivation just goes out the window). I could easily sit at my desk for a few hours and not feel like I was really getting anywhere, so Chuck’s method wasn’t what I needed. And when I had time on the weekends to write, I made little progress; and when I wanted to write during the week, I didn’t really have the time to commit to writing. Or at least I thought I didn’t.

So I came up with the idea for an experiment that was sort of the reverse of Chuck’s motivation trick: two weeks ago, after dinner I set a timer for one hour and told myself, “This hour is all the time you’re going to get to write today, so you darn well better make it count. When it goes off, you’re done. Hands in the air, step away from the computer. Finito.”

That timer, that “this is it, this is all you get” mentality—that’s what I needed to put me back into high gear. After two solid weeks of this experiment, I’m back to 500 words an hour, and sometimes over. And I don’t find myself sitting at my desk and think, “Man, I wish I could be doing X instead.” I sit there and think, “Once that timer goes off, THAT’S IT. That’s all the writing I can get done for today.” And it’s worked out wonderfully so far. A few times I’ve cheated and spent a few extra minutes after the timer to finish up the sentence/paragraph/though that I was working on, but that’s about it.

So in short, if you want to write but don’t think you have the time, just do the following:

  1. Give yourself about 5 minutes to review what you wrote yesterday and/or think about what today’s writing hour needs to entail.
  2. Set a timer for an hour.
  3. Sit at your word processor.
  4. Tell yourself, “This is all the writing time I’m going to get today, so I better make it count.”
  5. Write until the timer goes off (or until you reach a logical stopping point).
  6. Do the same thing the next day.
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