A little procrastination never hurt anyone – sometimes your brain needs a chance to idle before ticking over into a creative space – but when you spend more time putting writing off than you do actually getting words down, it might be time to make a change.
If you’ve got dozens of ideas, a project forever on the horizon or simply a fear of the blank page, then these handy writing techniques might be just what you’re looking for to get your writing started.
The Pomodoro Technique
Invented by developer, entrepreneur and author Francesco Cirillo in the 90s, the Pomodoro Technique is great for writers who suffer from the fear of a blank page and an empty few hours to fill it. Rather than looking at the enormity of your task and growing daunted, this method asks you to work in short, intense sprints.
First, find a way to time yourself (the technique is named after the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo used) and then pick your first task. Set your timer and work hard for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Repeat the process for as long as needed or as long as you can and every fourth round, be sure to take a longer break – half an hour is ideal.
One of the most important things to remember is that for Pomodoro to be really effective, the time you spend working shouldn’t be broken. If you’re interrupted at all, it’s best to end the session and reset your timer from the beginning.
Some people work better under pressure, even if the pressure is of their own making! If you’re one of those writers, you could try creating an accountability spreadsheet that makes it easy for you to track your time.
Get used to tracking your time
Split your day into half-hour chunks in one column and make a note of what task you were up to during that time in the next. After a few days, take a look at your results to see how many hours you actually spent on writing – you may be surprised to see how much more driven you are to use your time well.
If you’re brave, you could commit to showing your sheet to a writing buddy or family member to give you an even bigger motivational boost.
The SMART method
You’ve got an accountability sheet set up and you’ve written, coloured and highlighted dozens of to-do lists and somehow, you’re still not quite getting things done. Take a leaf out of Charles Duhigg’s book and have a go at applying the SMART method to your writing plan.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has written a book about the science of productivity and he suggests that rather than being overwhelmed by the grand plans on your to-do lists, try breaking them down into SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timeline) steps.
For example, if you need to write a scene set in a coffee shop, you could break it down like this:
Specific: Create a scene in a local coffee shop with two main characters.
Measurable: Take twenty minutes to choose location and remind self of character backstory.
Achievable: Check you have character notes/find way to research location, online or in person.
Realistic: A first draft might take hours; set aside time to write after research.
Timeline: Choose a defined amount of time to complete a draft of the scene.
Splitting your writing tasks into the kind of tasks you can easily see yourself completing is great for giving you the get-up-and-go you need to dive right in.