Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The University of the Kitchen Timer

I went to the SCBWI Westside Schmooze where we all shared stories of procrastination and secrets to avoiding writer's blocks.

There were some great ideas on things to keep us writing (like jot.com (I have this down wrong if someone has the correct name, it sounds like a great idea), and www.critiquecircle.com). My contribution was the kitchen timer (which I use to just get my butt in the chair and start writing). What I forgot to mention was the 50 Minute Rule.

I often find my mind wandering after about an hour (ok, usually under). Coincidentally, this is also the length of the average class in America. If, after about an hour, you don't leave the writing entirely (say, for a completely different project), it can be a great time to stretch for a minute, to make a cup of tea, or give your mind and eyes a rest for just five minutes. Sometimes I push myself for hours, and it's not very rewarding. I'm punishing myself like some kind of marathoner and it doesn't really help my writing. I forget who said it in the meeting, but they mentioned that Roald Dahl's secret was stopping each day while he was still having fun. That, I'm definitely adopting.

I have a lot of time to write so I often feel the pressure to write, or do write-centric things, for up to 7 hours. Lemme tell ya, it's exhausting. I read Stephen King's book on writing, and thought I could do the master one better (I'm that good, right?). Even though he recommends against writing too much, and especially working on more than one project at once, I gave it a try. And I burned myself out. And the Schmooze just reinforced what I already knew. Don't work too hard.

Breaking your day up revitalizes and reinforces your own strengths. The mistake I was making was activities that were too similar. Like writing on the novel for a couple of hours, and then switching to a short story. Or writing, and then doing some agent research. All of those things are on the computer, involving writing, and don't really use different parts of the brain.

One of the most interesting things brought up at the Schmooze was the Activity Epiphany. That's when you're driving, or in the shower, or on a hike and voila, you have this incredible epiphany, breakthrough, or idea. It's often revelatory, effortless, like magic. So I try to emulate that by doing some light filing, or exercising, or doing what I call puttering. I recently moved and I have pictures to put up, curtains to hem, doors to fix. All kinds of small, physical tasks that break me out of the highly mental/emotional process of writing. And it works. I get both kinds of work done, come out the other side feeling accomplished and kind of invigorated.

I call it Graeme U. because it feels like I'm back in school. And when I look back on old notebooks of school, I can't believe all the work I did. And all of it was just 50 minutes at a time, five days a week. The Activity Epiphany seems to be especially strong with a change of environment when I'm nowhere near a computer or something to write with. I bike up to Griffith Park here in Los Angeles. It takes about two hours round trip from my house and I always have great ideas while pedaling my heart out. Usually it's just two or three distinct things, so I remember them and jot them down as soon as I return. I refer to the whole package as Bikewriting.

So thanks to Greg and Sara for the Schmoozes past, and Lee and Rita for Schmoozes future. This is Graeme Stone for epiphanies present.