360XQ Day 25: Tomatoes, coffee, and lies
Writing is hard. There are times when me writing a play looks very similar to me pacing around, talking to myself, breathing kind of funny, and picking up/setting down the coffee cup that I know full well has been empty for twenty minutes.
A play is a daunting thing, as I imagine is the case with novels or sculptures or sea voyages. I’ve previously mentioned Anne Lamott, and her book Bird by Bird. It’s a fun and encouraging read, and the main thing I take away is: break things down into pieces.
Just as Tim Ferriss mentions in his writings, you can get a great tan by going outside 15 minutes a day. If you go outside for 3 hours a day, you get sunburns and impede your progress. More is not better. Consistency is key.
The Pomodoro technique
Lots and lots of articles are out there to explain the Pomodoro Technique. There are all sorts of timers and apps and systems to help you use it and track it. The most basic explanation is this:
- Work with complete focus for 25 minutes.
- Take a 5 minute break.
There are variations on this, and after a certain number of cycles you take a longer break, etc etc etc. The main thing for me, again is: break it down.
Writing is hard.
If I sit down with my pen or keyboard and think, “Welp, time to write a 90-page play with a solid story arc and fully developed characters,” I might as well have a beer and go back to bed.
If I sit down and think, “I have only 25 minutes before I have to put down my pen. I’m going to write the first half of this scene, even if I hate every word,” then the fire is lit and I go full speed.
A few things are going on here.
- During the 25 minutes, I allow no distractions whatsoever. No email, no text messages, no making coffee, nothing. I keep complete focus and get into the flow.
- I have a ticking bomb next to me. When the timer goes off, I must force myself to stop and rest, so I’d better finish what I’m doing before that happens.
- It’s only a short burst. Keeping tight focus and being productive for 25 minutes always seems like a task I can accomplish.
Why everyone is a liar and a fraud
People tell me about how they work 12 hour days, 80 hour weeks, they stay at the office late, it never stops. And that’s real. I’ve been guilty of this, as well. Here’s the thing: absolutely no one is productive for eight hours a day, let alone 12. No one. I don’t care who you are, or how much espresso you drink.
Being productive for 25 minutes always seems like a task I can accomplish.
My guess is that most people who are at their office for, say, nine hours a day are only truly productive for, say, three of them. The rest of the time they’re in meetings zoning out, they’re checking email, they’re getting interrupted by their co-workers, they’re using the bathroom, they’re eating granola, they’re booking plane tickets and making DMV appointments.
I’ve become more acutely aware of this during my years as a freelancer. I can only bill clients for the hours in which I’m actually making progress on their projects. I can’t bill them for the 4pm office happy hour or the 15 minutes I’m standing at the coffee machine talking about weekend plans. Of course, those things don’t exist in my home office, but you get the point: if I were on salary, I would still get paid while doing those things.
Writing never stops
So I may only be “writing” for a few hours a day, which I break down into 25 minute segments. However, I get massive amounts of work done in those segments, because they are intensely concentrated, with no room or time for meandering.
By stepping away and relaxing my mind, hard walls soften and the ideas permeate.
I do meander, though. When I’m taking a shower, or going for a morning run, or dreaming at night, my mind keeps wrestling with my characters. I continue to solve plot problems. I stumble into new dark images. This works only if I devote time each day to sitting down and putting words on the page, so that I am consistently engaged with the project. Then, by stepping away and relaxing my mind, hard walls soften and the ideas permeate. The progress continues.
In that way, I never ever ever stop writing.
I think you just have to give yourself permission to embrace the ebb and flow. To see breaks and rests as things that increase your productivity, not hinder it. Even that 4pm happy hour? That is, ultimately, part of the job.