*shut the f*ck up and let me write

Image from Bruce Almighty.

Boy, not much frustrated me more than seeing loads of writer blogs telling me to just nut up and do it. Just find that hour in the morning, that yadda yadda in [whatever time of the day] and be like Nike: Just Do It. I usually thought to myself, “Self–” That’s what I call my Self. “–Self, that sounds like a dude who has a wife.” You know, someone who did all the stuff in the background so that guy could have that hour or so of magic time just to write.

So what about us wives/others who have a full-time traveling husband/spouse, an elderly dog and three kids, one of them special needs, who just didn’t have that magical hour in the morning? Turns out: they were freaking right. God, I hate that.

Well… with one exception. And it’s important.

The idea of a quiet hour before everyone wakes is laughable in my house. As soon as I’m up, they all start coming to consciousness like we’re Borg and I can’t find a way to loop the Sleep Program on the network.  Because I can’t get off the network. For the past several years it’s been Constant Vigilance at my house, constantly worried that another shoe was going to drop, and every damn shoe was an 18-hole Doc Marten boot laced with spikes and malice.

And yet I just did some math (I’m kidding, I had a program do it for me) and over the past two and a half years, I’ve written three-quarters of a million words.

I-

[carries the one…]

750,000 words and change. (And this counts my writing at Hey, Don’t Judge Me) With all the hell my home life has been with sickness and hospitals and therapies and yadda yadda yadda. How on earth did that happen?  Well, I can tell you this: I sure as hell didn’t have that magic hour in the morning.

What I did have was twenty-five minutes at various points in the day. And I had several of them, it seems. Now, YMMV, but I found that the Pomodoro method with a John Cleese chaser is pretty much how I can get most things done. It works like this:

Set a physical timer (I use my iPhone) for whatever time you can manage. Fifteen minutes? Twenty? Thirty? For that amount of time you do nothing but focus on your task. No Mah-jong, Angry Birds, no email or Tumblr, nothing but butt to chair, hands near keyboard, eyes forward. (Or pad of paper, whatever.)

You might just stare at that screen for that period of time. But here’s where John Cleese comes in: Monty Python kept banker’s hours. They showed up in the morning at the same time, worked on nothing but sketches until lunch, came back after lunch and worked until five, then left and did other things. Monday through Friday, every week. They trained their minds to work methodically, to be focused when they had the time to be focused.

Surely that can’t work, though, right?  [points to my word count] Now, the last thing I’ll ever do is say that this is the only way you can accomplish things. That’s ridiculous and myopic. But this is how it’s working for me. I work in twenty-five minute increments, either thinking through my problem, actually writing, or re-reading what I’ve already written. That last one is how I deal with writer’s block. Anytime I get stuck, I go back and read, and something always comes to mind. It’s awesome.

So your timer goes off, now what? Now you take five minutes to do anything but write or read. Answer email. Get a drink. Let the damn dog out for the millionth time. Rob a bank. (Wow, you’re efficient!) Then, if you have another twenty-five minutes, use it. When your timer goes off for that next round, take ten minutes. Train your family/roommates/the voices in your head to know that whatever emergency they have can wait for your break.

(And I’m sorry, but not sharing the remote, being hungry or bored is not an emergency. Blood, broken bones, or cops at the door. Those are the only acceptable emergencies! I actually took a Do Not Disturb sign from a hotel and hung it on my door. I wrote in Sharpie: I’ll be done in a minute.)

It’s not flawless, but it’s working. So if you’re like me and you’re frustrated by guys saying “Just get it done, what’s holding you back?” and you want to shove screaming children and doctor visits and school visits and grumpy bosses and grocery shopping and bike repair and sick dogs and sick parents and dirty floors and laundry piles and and and at them… Instead, try finding that fifteen, twenty, thirty-minute chunk where you can sit in the closet with a pad and paper or in your car in the carpool lane at the school.

And just write.

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