The Work of Writing

1 Nov

Ellen Sussman’s got a great article in the current Poets & Writers magazine about getting more out of your writing time. My favorite tip  is to think of the work in one-hour units. Of each unit, writing happens for 45 minutes : that’s butt-in-chair-write-write-write (no research, no reading, just writing). And then get up out of the chair for 15 minutes. Repeat. What do you do for 15 minutes? Anything that does not involve language – go for a walk around the block, wash the dishes, feed your pet guinea pig Flavia, etc. This is still writing time, but you’re not physically writing. You’re letting the ideas percolate. Whatever you were itching to look up during that writing time, you can look up after you’ve put in three hours or 1,000 words or whatever concrete goal you’ve set for yourself.

My seventh grade physical science teacher, a great Viking of a woman with long blond hair and seemingly enormous limbs (I was very small for my age), recommended similar things when we were cramming the periodic table and other factoids into our turbulent adolescent heads. Read for 40 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Repeat. I took this with me through college, taking 10 minute cartwheel breaks while writing term papers about ancient burial mounds. It seemed to work. What I like about the 45/15 break down, though,  is that it fits more cleanly into hours, and it starts to feel more like a work day.

3 Responses to “The Work of Writing”

  1. Elissa Washuta November 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    I like this idea a lot. I think I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo–this could really help!

    • Anca Szilagyi November 2, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      Yeah! I think this is especially useful for first drafts or rewrites. Once the editing gets really nitpicky, it might be handy to look things up as you go. But it’s so great for *producing* new work. Let me know how it goes, Elissa!

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