Writing: I’m Using the Pomodoro Technique

Writing: I’m Using the Pomodoro Technique

I haven’t talked a lot about my novel-writing lately here, largely because I’ve spent so much of my time this fall either being sad or writing about being sad instead (I’ve been fun!), but what I haven’t told you is this: I’m back to writing, regular fiction writing, and–outside a small hiccup due to my obsessive monitoring of the results of a certain election–I’m working toward a goal to finish the manuscript of the book I’m writing by the end of this calendar year.

I know. That’s a lot of words. But I’m a third of the way into this book and can see the rest of the way out. It’s exciting.

My issue now is scheduling. It’s easy for the pressures of regular life–the remote learning days for school and the ongoing settling of my mom’s estate, etc.–to edge in around a writer’s focus and subvert it, and I’ve always struggled with letting the concrete tasks of the day nudge the imaginative ones out of the way. But I’ve got work to do. I’ve got a few goals I want to hit, and soon. I happened upon an episode of a podcast called She Did it Her Way: with Amanda Boleyn where Boleyn, a consultant, talks about making the switch from paper planning to digital (it’s episode #422, if you’re interested). Boleyn details how she was always a paper scheduler before switching to an online platform, and goes into depth about how she basically schedules every single one of her tasks specifically over the course of a week or two. It reminded me a lot of a system called the Pomodoro Technique, which is a method developed by a man named Francesco Cirillo. Using this technique, you work on a specific task for 25 minutes, take a break, then start all over again. I’ve used it before for writing to success, but dropped it at one point because I let regular life sneak in and bump it out of the way, as regular life likes to do. And as much as I’d like to say that I’m a creative, man, and we don’t need no stinkin’ schedules, we do. We really, really do.

Here’s my plan:

Since I need to write 2,000 words a day to ensure I’ve hit my goal of 100,000 words by the end of 2020, I’ve scheduled my weekday mornings to include 6 writing sprints of 25 minutes each. My “task” during each sprint is to complete 350 words, and after each I take a five-minute break to grab more coffee, check social media, or run to the bathroom (considering I just bought this monstrosity to ensure I’m drinking enough water each day, you know where I’ll be). You know what’s funny, though? The first day I did this I got over 2,000 words down in two hours. On Saturday morning, I sat down to get a quick 25-minute sprint in before I started some chores, and dropped 750 new words into my manuscript. That’s almost three pages, written on the fly before I even dusted the living room. For a writer with a goal, it’s a victory. (That picture down there? That’s the face of a person who wrote seven pages like they were nothing and is back in it.)

You already know that once you get rolling, good stuff like this tends to leak out of the boxes we put it in: I’ve started noticing that if I set a twenty-five minute time limit on other, non-writing necessary tasks–responding to email, contacting contractors for my mother’s house, tidying a room, for instance–I get so much more accomplished. Twenty-five minutes is such a short period of time, but it can be a massive chunk of space to get good work completed. The trick is to be specific: know what you want to accomplish in those twenty-five minutes. It makes so much of a difference.

As I get back into writing, I’m happy to share odds and ends that help me along the way. If you try this–and it works for you!–let me know.

There goes my timer! I’ll see you soon.


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