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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Writing Hacks: The 48 Minute Rule

One of the biggest problems I've been having lately is my internal (or infernal) editor sitting on my back looking over my shoulder like a highly literate monkey. This monkey is hungry for words but it is very selective about which words. That's often the problem with writers, something inside them gives them immense guilt if they do not produce anything but the same force seems to be employed in rejecting what few words they do manage to crank out.  I've been plagued with this and I've hardly written anything this year because of it. So instead of lamenting this fact in private, I've opted to share it with all of you along with a few solutions for combatting the evil editor monkey. This is the first in a series of newsletters dealing with the topic of motivation and productivity in writing. If you have any ideas you'd like to share on this topic, please feel free to drop me an email, I'd love to hear your solutions.

The 48 minute rule

Often times the problem with getting things done is the simple tendency towards distraction. As creative people, we simply cannot be trusted to remain on task. It is no easy thing to sit still and do the same thing for a set period of time each day. Let's say you've managed to snatch from the jaws of your busy life 2 hours in which you plan to work on writing. I'm sure you've had this happen, the 2 hours seem so vast and full of potential but before you know it you've wasted an hour and a half simply distracting yourself. Either you're folding socks or reading the news or God forbid you turn on the TV and your time is gone.

Those 2 hours loom too huge in your mind, I personally cannot imagine myself typing for 2 hours straight, as much as I'd love to be that productive I simply cannot work with that large of a chunk of time. On the other hand, when I've worked on NaNoWriMo I've been very productive in much less time because it's all the time I have and I can easily work all the way through a shorter period of time.
The answer, therefore, is to break the time down into smaller chunks, and the magic amount of time is 48 minutes. Get a countdown timer or egg timer, either software or hardware. I recommend ChimooTimer for Mac or EggTimer for Windows. Or just use the timer on Write or Die.

Break each hour into 48 minutes of productivity and 12 minutes of break time. You'll find that it's much easier to write this way rather than trying to force yourself to write constantly for several hours, or even one whole hour.

Your brain likes structure and digestible amounts of time. This is why it's easy for people to get sucked into watching hours and hours of television, because it's broken down into small chunks. The 12 minutes of break time also helps you put off anything else that might interrupt your writing because you can say to yourself "I'll do that on my break in x minutes" instead of "I might as well do that now, it's not like I'm going to get anything done." So all of the sudden your writing gains a greater importance in your mind. You can put off checking your mail and twittering till you're done with your current bout of writing.

Think of it as breaking your work time into mental chapters. When you read a book there are logical stopping points where you can put the book down and do something else. If you plan these logical stopping points within your writing time, you'll find yourself being more productive by far.
Next week I'll give you another tip on motivation and productivity, and it most definitely will be next week because I'm going to write and schedule the darn thing right now because I'm on a roll. Thanks everyone for joining and I look forward to being more frequent with my newsletters.
Godspeed and good writing.

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Anonymous Ishtar said...

I just found your blog through Blue Girl and I am in love already! I am recognizing just about every word you write. I gave your Write or Die a try and I really appreciated it. I also think that a lot of writers are very creative about it, and your blog opens up a forum to vent one's thoughts. The ones that the other people around you (those that often go, but why don't you just write it down?) don't understand, since they've never had to deal with writer's block, much less the internal editor that I recognized so very well.

Looking forward to your next post!
Greetings from West Africa!

March 3, 2009 at 5:30 AM  
Anonymous laurin said...

I live and die by my timer for exactly the reasons you outline. I have a digital one that counts up or counts down. I find when I get the urge to stop writing, I'll check the timer. It's easy to think, hmm, I've only got 6 minutes to go. I can keep going that much longer. And then I find I usually keep writing a little longer because I'll get on a roll.

BTW, I have a much stronger word for my internal editor!

March 8, 2009 at 9:38 AM  
Anonymous alm10965 said...

Interessting, i'll try out the 48' - 12' - Rule

August 8, 2009 at 12:51 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

I bow to your superior concentration skills. 48 minutes! Unthinkable!

From my less focused state I've recently had some success chaining together sessions of ten minutes.

I might actually chalk up as much as 40 minutes in an hour, but the fact that I only force my focus for ten minutes at a time has resulted in real improvements -- both in concentration and output.

I wrote this up in a post called The Ten Minute Writer

October 2, 2009 at 3:10 AM  
Blogger Len said...

This is great! I've been studying different productivity techniques for the past year & found others that are similar.

1) The Eugene Schwartz Method
Set a timer for 33 minutes, 33 seconds and start writing. Take a short break and do it again (unless you are writing too fast and forget about the timer).

2) Paul Lemberg Chunking Method
Research shows 20 to 45 minutes of constant work is optimal for peak creativity and energy flow.

Take at least a 10 minute break between chunks. Record what you’ve accomplished; note your energy and creative level.

Become a slave to the timer. Start at 45 minutes and adjust down as needed.

See his 4 part video on time management:

November 17, 2009 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Brittany said...

I used to drink as much water as possible while I was writing, and my bladder conveniently and consistently provided steady breaks. It seems like a healthy enough method, and there is something about a bathroom that can jump start your creativity. It sounds pretty strange, but it worked for me.

March 22, 2010 at 8:55 PM  
OpenID icarusancalion said...

Talk about helpful. Not only am I going to use this, I plan to pass it along to my students.

June 30, 2010 at 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Christine said...

I just found this post now. It's exactly what I need. Thanks for your 48-minute rule-- I think it will be great!

July 7, 2010 at 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Julian Harned said...


July 22, 2010 at 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Pdf SE said...

I understand you very well. As for me, I have lots of ideas to write about but I think that I won't be able to choose the appropriate and the best words to express what I want. Well, but it is not the reason not to write at all. I've understood that I use the same words each time that is why I start reading a lot to enrich my writing vocabulary on purpose. Besides, I practiced very often and I'm sure that now I have much better results.

August 28, 2010 at 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes, when I have trouble writing I imagine that I am preganant with a story that I need to deliver. My waters have broken and now I am forcing myself to give birth to a story.

August 30, 2010 at 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first started trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, I was recovering from knee replacement surgery. I could only sit at the computer for 20 minutes at a time. I took long breaks. I was working full time and I managed to do the 50,000 words in less than 30 days. I tried it again a couple of months later and did it in 20 minute chunks, again. If I try to type longer, I slow down and I actually end up typing less in 30 minutes than I would in 20. I can come home from work and put in an hour or two of 20 minute chunks.

October 20, 2010 at 5:17 AM  

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