Sunday, March 02, 2008

On writing: learning to sprint and other enticements

I turned my internet connection off today, and, sure enough, I got more writing done. By "turned off" I mean unplugged, which means that to override my "no internet" ban and give in to temptation I would have to root around underneath my desk and plug it back in, a real disincentive. By the time 5:00 rolls around, I'm eager to get at my email, which I would have been checking all day except for the ban. You know what? There was nothing interesting or important there, nothing at all. It's a good lesson in just how indispensable email can be.

(Incidentally, e-mail or email? NYTimes seems to favor the hyphen, but most people don't use it. I feel a little like a 1920s person writing "to-day" when I use it but, like Miss Manners, I want to be perfectly correct.)

The other technique I tried is something I thought of as "sprints." With the idea that I can stand anything for 20 minutes, I set the timer for 20 minutes and write down my progress at the end. It may be a lot of words or only a few, but it looks like progress. An alternative system is to stop at the end of each hour and count the words.

Now, counting words isn't the measure of whether a piece is good or lousy, or even whether you'll have to scrap what you've written because it's so bad or goes in the wrong direction. But what it does is allow me to say this to the voices in my head: "I'm sitting here in the chair. I'm not reading election news on or And I am writing words. The only way to get from here to done is to write words, and I am doing that."

Deepak Chopra or some of the other fancy spiritual folks could probably make something high-sounding out of this (can you tell I have never read him?) but plain and practical is good enough for now.


Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Oooh, I love the "writing sprints" idea. I tried it today and wrote 900 words in 2 20-minute sessions! Thanks!

undine said...

You are fast! I can only get a couple of hundred words, if that, but that's more than I was writing without the sprints. Glad they worked!