Timed Writing and Why You Need It

Writing under a time crunch is one of the best ways to kick procrastination in the pants.  All you need is a timing device.  A clock on the wall will work, but it’s even better if it’s a countdown timer.  Lots of cell phones have timers that will beep or buzz when your time’s up.

Tick tick tick tick–WAIT!  I’m not ready!  The urge to prepare is good, but you can’t let it rule you.  The desire to use an awesome idea as a writing springboard is wonderful, but you can’t let its absence prevent you from the essential practice of writing and polishing your craft.

The Essential Tools:

  1. a pen (plus a few extras in case it dies on you),
  2. plenty of paper (I prefer notebooks or journals),
  3. a device to set the time,
  4. yourself.

You don’t need a drafted outline, although it will help make the process less painful.  You don’t need to be overflowing with ideas, although writing on the days you feel this way is significantly easier than the days you feel dry and generally uncreative.

You do have a creative well and you do need to fill it and I will admit that there are very few and limited times you should stop writing and rest or relax, but they are much fewer and farther between that you and I are tempted to think.

I practice what I preach.   My writing schedule has me writing six days a week.  I get a day off to rest but then I’m back at it.  Why timed writing?

Because it gets me going where I want to go faster than when it’s not timed.  Why is this the case?  It could be due to several things: panic, focus, determination, perserverance…all of these contribute to more concentration on the task at hand and generally to more words per minute.

The primary rule in timed writing is that the pen never stops moving.  If you run out of things to say, repeat the last word you wrote until the next sentence flows.  I’m serious.

Do not, under any condition, pause, chew the end of your pen, refill your coffee, check your phone for text messages, send that one email you’ve been meaning to write, etc.  The world and you can wait for half an hour to finish this.

Many published and prolific authors recommend writing at least five days a week and logging 1000 words per day.  Notice they don’t say “1000 polished, professional and gorgeous” words per day.  Just 1000 words.  It’s okay if they’re not all good.  These words, bad and good, will teach you and train you.  As you continue to carve these words out of yourself, they will flow easier, your muscles will harden.

I write using my cell phone as a timer for 31 minutes, six days a week.  You can read my post here for an interesting way I learned to structure these 31 minutes into six elements of a scene.  The structure is optional, but I like it a lot, especially when scene-writing for novels.

In that half an hour, I can get 1000-1500 words onto a page, handwritten.  It then takes me another 30-45 minutes to type these up.  That’s a pretty productive hour and fifteen minutes, if you ask me.

Whether you’re writing five hundred words a day or you can commit to timed writing for just fifteen minutes a day, set the timer, grab your pen and go for it.

Is there a place for writing on a keyboard?  Absolutely.  I’ve done both.  The biggest downside I find with the computer keys is that when I make a typo, I lose my train of thought when I go back to fix the word.

This never happens with the pen.  There are plenty of people out there who swear that writing first with a pen is the only way to truly access the heart and creative powers of your human soul.

Do what works for you.  Just write and don’t stop while your timer is running, okay?  If you want to hear it from someone else, read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones for a great argument for timed writing.

If I get enough interest on this post, I’ll share my very first timed writing piece that I did during my initial visit to a local writer’s group.  The experience was humbling at first (I had to read what I wrote out loud to three strangers), but I pushed forward and learned an important lesson.

Here’s your homework: Go out and DO  the exercise and tell me what happened.  Don’t stop writing till the timer goes off.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Were you able to type 1000 – 1500 words in 31 minutes from the start, or did you grow faster with time?

    As a side note, I heard on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (NPR) that having a full bladder, not too full, can help you think more sharply. Your words “panic, focus, determination, perserverance” reminded me of the idea. We all respond well to a little pressure.

  2. I went back and checked the word count of the first time I went to the writer’s group with the 31 minutes of timed writing, and my word count was 1200. This was handwritten words that I then typed up. I had been doing the Morning Pages from the Artist’s Way for at least a year before that, so regular writing had become a habit. However, I didn’t time my MPs, so it was slightly different.

    I love that bit about writing on a full bladder. I’ve done that (though not intentionally to focus myself) and it does increase concentration. 🙂

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