Thursday, March 21, 2013

When the clock is the writer's friend

Timed writing. 30 minutes max. So you can make room for it in almost any schedule, and make yourself do it when you don't want to.
    You stop when the time is up, like on Top Chef. Drop the pen, close the Word document. You're not finished? Great, that means when you return to the draft, you know exactly where to pick up. Oh yes, and since you are not on Top Chef with the clocks running in front of the cameras, you can always cheat and steal a few minutes more.

    We do this in my writing playshops. We do it every day during my writing retreat "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming." Sometimes we raise the bar. For example, you have 30 minutes, in your own space, to produce a page you can read to the group. Or: you have just 5 minutes, in the space of the whole group, to write a quick sketch that you can share.
    Yes, writers can make the clock their friend. If you have only 30 minutes or less, perfection is not on the agenda. There is simply no time to entertain the inner critic, or indulge the procrastinator. They'll come after you later, but not right now.
    In my writer's life, the clock can be a friend in larger ways. I love fierce delivery dates, like 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, or tomorrow, or the first of next month. Possibly because I used to be a journalist, accustomed to rushing copy together for almost instantaneous publication, I'm not impressed by deadlines that are too far into the future. On a certain level, I have learned that you can't really start a book (as opposed to an article) the night before a due date and expect to hand it in on time. But part of me still wants to approach any writing project, even of book length, that way. I would have thrived on the serial model of publication of both fiction and nonfiction that prevailed in the heyday of Balzac, Dickens and H.G. Wells.
   Blogging is a consolation, and a gentle workout for the writing muscles, but not the same thing.
   I don't put blog writing on a timer, just the big stuff. When I next turn the dial on my timekeeper - you can see he is a very fierce enforcer - it will be in the cause of bringing through some more pages of a new book.

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