Sunday, May 25, 2014

Winning the Marathon: 90 Minutes at a Time

This is a marathon, not a race.  A simple enough phrase, and one that has become my personal mantra over the past few months.  For most of us, there are a lot of things in life that compete for our time and attention (i.e. take away from writing): work; family life; friends; food; drink; and other daily necessities (read hygiene related). Few writers are able to give up their day job to pay the bills while they continue to write.  No writer should give up on any of the remaining items on the above list (especially hygiene, please).  In April, I blogged about dealing with writer's block and distractions and the need to be selfish when it comes to writing.  I still stand behind that statement, though with the following observations.

Spending, or trying to spend, the entire day writing will often prove fruitless and wasteful.  First, people generally begin to lose focus after the first 45 minutes.  By the time you get to the 90 minute mark, most people will have lost complete focus.  Don't believe me?  Think about the last time you were at "the job" this past week.  Did you notice how you started thinking about lunch around 10:30 a.m. (and already start trying to make your lunch plans)?  Did you end up taking a break to get coffee, water or chat with another coworker around the 9-9:30 a.m. mark?  Each off those are examples of signs that we've lost focus after having been working on a task for for to long.  The point is, people need to take breaks.  Its the same for writers.  

Whether you are writing the first draft of your manuscript, polishing a subsequent draft, or finalizing your formatting for publication, it's important to pace yourself.  None of the above are moments when you would want to lose your focus.  When I started working in increments of 90 minutes or less, my productivity went up and I was making a great more progress in terms of writing.  I also felt far more satisfied when I stepped back from the laptop after those 90 minutes were over.  If anything, I was excited about getting back to writing and picking up where I had left off.  There were other, equally important benefits to writing this way.

I started using the above technique while on a vacation with my family to St. Augustine, Florida.  We'd go on tours and site seeing during the day, and come back to the house we rented for meals or when it just got too hot.  While the wife and kids were cooling off or otherwise occupied, I'd take 60 to 90 minutes to write.  Afterwards, we were back out and enjoying the city.  As I'm a bit of a night owl, after everyone went to bed for the evening, I'd put in another 90 minutes.  After our week long vacation was over, I had substantially completed the first draft for "Of Murder and Monsters."  I continued writing in this manner and went through two more drafts of the book before having the finalized version that was just recently sent off for copy editing.  Prior to taking the 90 minutes or less approach, the "Of Murder and Monsters" manuscript had been languishing for two years.  After I switched gears on my approach to writing, the first draft of the manuscript was completely finished in six months.  Following the same method, the final version of the book was ready for copy editing about five months later (including time allotted to allow for feedback from my beta readers).  

The other significant advantage to this approach is that while it allows me to selfishly carve out some writing time, I can do so without sacrificing my marriage, job, or time with the kids.  You have to be selfish if you're going to finish your book; however, that does not mean that you have to lose all of the important people in your life in the process.  They'll support you, but you have to support them too and that means actually taking some time away from the writing (for a bit).  Otherwise, who will be there standing beside you should your work become the next bestseller?  

This may not be a "one size fits all solution," there rarely is one answer to any particular problem.  Some writers will find that they do better burning the midnight hour and others get more out of shorter blocks of time.  Feel free to share your experience, in the comments section, in terms of what has worked best for you.

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