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Winter Fun

Timer Strategies for the Creative and the Self-Employed

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

With four busy kids and a growing list of clients, plus a husband and a few animals thrown into the mix, I’ve been finding it difficult to get any of my own writing done. I tried to channel Henry Miller (“I only write when I feel like it; and I feel like it at 9 a.m. every morning”), but no sooner would I sit down to work on revising my book than the phone would ring and it would be a client or the school nurse. Those calls are too important to ignore, but I felt like I was constantly letting myself down.

I went online to look for ideas from other writers and came across this tidbit about Gabriel García Márquez’s writing schedule on Goins, Writer:

When he was writing Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez would awaken at 6 a.m., read for two hours and then write for five hours. Marquez spent the afternoon at the beach with his wife and friends, and after sundown, he walked the city streets, talking to strangers and meeting with friends. The next morning he’d weave bits of those conversations and experiences into his writing.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be an amazing schedule?

But some of us have laundry to do and dogs to take to the vet and we need something a little more practical.

So I did some exploring and thinking and narrowed my search down to two methods.

Method A

Method A involves writing for three hours every day, but it doesn’t have to all be at once. You set a timer for 180 minutes and whenever you write, you hit the “on” button. And when you stop, you hit “pause.” I like this method because it allows for throwing clothes in the dryer or responding to a work e-mail but you’re constantly building toward those three solid hours. It might take until midnight, but you can get there!

Method B

The second method is based on a system developed by copywriter Eugene Schwartz. You can read the entire article here, but the upshot is that Schwartz set a timer for 33.33 minutes three times a day. Once the timer was set, he had to follow these rules:

  1. He could drink coffee
  2. He could stare out the window, or at the wall
  3. He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33.33 minutes
  4. He could write the ad
  5. He could not leave the chair for any reason
  6. He could not do anything else

Both strategies account for 3 hours of writing, but there’s a bit more flexibility in the first one. (Sometimes I’m lucky to get 10 uninterrupted minutes.)

Which method would work better for you? Or do you have a different way to get yourself focused and productive?

P.S. I love this interview with Gabriel García Márquez in the Paris Review, especially his dismissal of the idea that successful writers must suffer and be unhealthy.

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  1. To save your world you asked this man to die; Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?

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