Over the years I’ve tried many ways of becoming more efficient. When I was a stay at home mum with three young children I would wait until the kids were all at school, or play group and snatch those hours to get on with my writing. Later, as a full time teacher, I put aside time in the evening, or the school holidays.
What I really wanted, however, was to be a full time writer. To be able to get up in the morning sit down at my computer and work uninterrupted until supper time. This was surely ultimate bliss.
A half-term dedicated to just that taught me that this was not the best way for me. The kids were away, so was Mike. The house was mine. My only responsibility the cats and the Water Spaniels. I wouldn’t see friends, or go out, I would write.
The first two days were fine. I got a lot done. I felt pleased with myself. By day three however I was definitely lagging. I couldn’t settle to work, I needed stimulus. A brisk walk helped, a little, but not enough to keep me going. Day four I hardly wrote at all, even housework was preferable, and by day five I was desperate for company and conversation. (This was the days before Social Media when interaction with people meant seeing them face to face.) I gave up. I called a friend.
What I learned was that given all the hours I could wish for I simply could not concentrate and keep focused on the writing.
Many writers have butterfly minds. It’s part of being creative. There are so many ideas out there, so many things to see, to hear, to experience that channelling creativity is hard. But if you don’t sit down and write then nothing gets written. Maybe challenging myself to write a 1000 words a day would work.
It didn’t. As always I started off well. The 1000 words, unedited spewed onto the page day after day. The trouble was that most of it was rubbish and had to be re-written. Did re-writing count as part of the 1000 words? If it did then I simply couldn’t keep up with my schedule as editing is a very different process and takes far more time than a first draft.
I switched tactics to a set period a day. I would write/work/edit for at least one hour. Fine. Except life got in the way of that and when it did I felt guilty that I hadn’t managed even so short a time.
Reading books on how to write a best seller in a week, or maybe a little longer, I came across the idea of grabbing whatever time you could, five, ten, fifteen minutes anything. This was definitely not for me. By the time I’d got myself in the zone, caught up with where I was in the novel/short story the five minutes would be over.
Back to sitting at the desk, an activity that is apparently so bad that some experts reckon it takes years off your life, as well as impacting on heart health, causing back problems and generally being a bad thing.
What one should do is sit for a while then get up and move around. Tried it. It didn’t work. Either I was too engrossed in what I was doing, or I was too busy watching the clock to see if it was time to stop.
At which point I came up with my secret weapon. I bought a timer.
20 minutes of concentrated work. No more no less. The moment the buzzer sounds I stop. Even mid-sentence. Knowing that is all the time I have, I concentrate fully. There’s no need to clock watch because the timer will tell me when to finish.
Working like this I’ve certainly written more and an unexpected consequence has been that when I am stopped by the timer I can’t wait to get back to what I’ve been doing. Somehow that arbitrary cut off point makes me want to do more rather than less.
I do wonder, now that I’ve got into the habit, whether the time will come when I simply won’t be able to work without a steady ticking in the background, but even if it does it won’t matter because I will just take my faithful timer with me, so that the next book will be written, edited and published in record time.
At which point the buzzer sounded.