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.