Time yourself – a quickie

(In which I try to conquer procrastination and lazyness. Ambitious, isn’t it?)

First of all, mind out of the gutter. Not that kind of quickie, you dodgy person. This is just going to be a quick post about quick stuff.

Second: Yes, time yourself. No, don’t time yourself doing any old activity. In fact, I can think of a number of activities which are vastly improved if you manage to forget time completely. I’m talking about writing (or any work which can be divided into chunks and, well, timed).

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll have the occasional problem with procrastinating. (If not, you’re either inhumanly structured, or lying. Most likely the latter.) Working at home there’s no one to see if you’re actually working, which can be a blessing and a curse. Suddenly the dishes need washing, and I’ll just check Facebook before I start, and shouldn’t I colour-coordinate my sock drawer? Wouldn’t my mind be clearer and thus more prepared for writing if my flat was all organised, feng shui-style?

The thing is, I love writing. I love when everything is just flowing, the words keep coming I forget time, and it doesn’t seem like work at all. I just have problems starting. It sometimes seems like there’s a huge step up to the plateau of flow, and my legs are too short. I need a good kick up the bum. If only there was an escalator.

Actually, there is. 15 minute magic. I’ve found it helps a lot to trick myself, saying ‘I’ll only work for 15 minutes’. 15 minutes is nothing. It doesn’t seem like a big commitment. I set my timer for 15 minutes and see how much I can get done in that short space of time. (If it helps, you can imagine you only have 15 minutes to save the world, and everyone is depending on you writing down something. Picture yourself as Jack Bauer, Doctor Who, or Flash Gordon if you will. Whatever floats your boat. It certainly lends a hint of excitement to the proceedings.)

Can’t get anything done in 15 minutes, you say? Go on, I dare you. Try it. You might find that you’re quicker than you think (or that 15 minutes is longer than you think. Maybe times moves differently when you’ve got an egg timer on. Who knows?). Also, when my time is up, I usually find that I’ve tricked myself into becoming sucked into the work, and I’ll be in the middle of something and don’t want to stop. So the 15 minutes can turn into hours if you’re lucky.

Sometimes you only have a few minutes, and it can be great to cram some work into those pockets of time that you wouldn’t have used for anything useful anyway. Grab your pen and notebook (or your preferred instruments) while waiting for the laundry or when you’ve got a dinner in the oven. You’ll be forced to stop when that dinner is ready, of course, but hopefully it will leave you in a good place, hungry for more (your chunk of work, not your dinner). So the next time you’re sitting down with your work, you’ve been interrupted in the middle of something, and you’re eager to continue.

The frantic, timed writing is great when you’ve got a first draft to get out, but getting yourself started by timing small chunks works for other stuff as well. It worked great for me today with some rewrites of a manuscript that my editor is waiting patiently for. I started my 15 minutes with reading through a scene which needs to be amped up a bit, tension-wise, and when the time was up, I had discovered new angles to the scene and started jotting down quick suggestions for improvement. By this time, my interest in the scene (which I thought I had re-written and re-read so many times I couldn’t possibly see it a new way) was re-ignited, and there was no stopping me. This provided a great starting point for more than an hours work, and some new love for a scene that I thought sucked. 


I would never have discovered the wonders of timing if it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and though there’s nothing national about this crazy venture, it’s certainly novel, and if you write, or have ever wanted to, you should check it out.


Well, that’s just one of my strategies for kicking myself up the bum! Do you have any good ones?


Bedtime reading: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. I’ve just started it, and so far, it’s ok, but a bit of an anticlimax after reading the marvellous, hypnotic and harrowing Book of Night Women  by Marlon James, which deals with similar themes. But I’m giving it a fair chance – I’ve read some really glowing reviews of this book.