Monday, June 20, 2011

The 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge

ETA: Per my lovely friend Annika's stroke of brilliance, this now renamed "The 90 Minute Writing Challenge" as it is a hell of a lot more tweetable!

Today on Twitter, I called for people to join me in a 1.5 hour writing challenge. A few people joined in. Others asked me later, "What is this 1.5 hour challenge and will you do it again?"

So I decided I better type up a quick explanation.

The Article That Spawned The Idea

Last year when I was struggling hard to get into my first draft of that troublesome but lovely project that my regular blog readers know as The Bartender Book, a friend of mine told me about an article she'd read in the New York Times about how to deal with distraction and our brains being constantly bombarded by information, etc. I tried to find the article again but couldn't so I'm just going to summarize the three major points I took from it and applied to my writing process:

  • We are at our most focused at the beginning of the day before we are bombarded by email and oooh, look at that cool YouTube video and hey, my friend posted an interesting link on Facebook and holy crap, how is it noon already?
  • Though we want to be multi-taskers, it often leads to doing a crappy job on things or a task taking much longer than you intended.
  • And this is the big one: we focus best in hour-and-a-half intervals. Then we need a short break to refresh (though in my case, that break must be closely monitored and can't be doing something too distracting.)
The 1.5 Hour Writing Routine

I consider myself a full-time writer with an additional part-time job (I bartend three nights a week). This means whenever possible, I feel like I should be writing 5 days a week, though being productive for 8 hours a day is not always possible. So using what I gleaned from that article, I came up with my 1.5 hour writing routine. I use this at the beginning or during the hard parts of writing when I can't just get sucked into what I'm writing and binge. Or when the rest of my life is stressful and I'm letting that interfere with getting writing done.

When I get up in the morning the only internet stuff I will do is tweet about a blog post I may have written and scheduled for that day. (I do all blogging and non-writing internet activity in the evening AFTER writing whenever possible.) I exercise, shower, feed my cats and myself, make some tea and head to my computer. I turn off the wireless on my laptop and hide my phone someplace where I can't see it blinking every time I get an email. Then I focus on my writing for a solid hour and a half.

I don't have a word count goal. I learned the hard way that that doesn't work for me. (I wrote really fast and ended up getting 3/4 of the way through The Bartender Book before realizing I had to cut a major plot thread and rein in the story.) Sometimes my first hour-and-a-half is simply rereading what I wrote last and tweaking it. Sometimes I only write a paragraph. Sometimes I cut an rearrange. Sometimes I end up on a massive roll and write a ton. It depends on the project and where I'm at with it.

If I'm not on a tear, I stop after an hour and a half and make lunch. I take a half an hour break. Since the internet distracts me, I usually only check it quick on my phone to see if there are urgent things. Then I spend my half-an-hour doing whatever little household tasks that may need doing or just eating my lunch and reading a book or magazine.

Then I settle down for the next hour and a half of writing. Again, if I don't get lost in the story, I stop for a fifteen minute break. Then I do my last hour and a half of writing for the day. My routine since I'm a late riser generally looks like this:

10:45 to 12:15: Write
12:15 to 12:45 Lunch Break
12:45 to 2:15: Write
2:15 to 2:30: 15 minute Break
2:30 to 4:00 Write

And after four, I do my internet stuff, get ready for work etc. Sometimes it varies depending on when I get up or if things get hectic that day. Obviously this is easily adaptable for any routine and you can do a single 1.5 hour writing block before or after work if you have a full-time job or kids or whatever else.

It works for me better than word counts because it doesn't put that pressure of writing fast or not editing or whatever else on you. It follows what I believe is the cardinal rule of writing: GET YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR.

And Now The Challenge Part

I am no saint at this. I get distracted easily. Particularly if I'm at the beginning of a project or if there is a lot of stress in my life (which pretty much sums up the past two weeks). Another thing I learned while writing The Bartender Book is that I'm better at staying focused when other people are holding me accountable. One day YA authors Melissa Walker and Mari Mancusi and I were all tweeting about how distracted we were and we had been all week and man, we had to be good tomorrow. We decided to check in the next morning, state our goals and use each other to stay off the internet. We've been doing this for quite a while now and it really helps.

Today I was determined to be focused, but my first two writing periods were interrupted by phone calls I absolutely had to take. This happens. However I have a bad habit of using it as an excuse to call my whole day a wash. I decided to use Twitter/Facebook to make myself accountable.

I posted: "Been unfocused today? Me too. So I call a 1.5 hr writing challenge! Get offline, eliminate distractions & c what u can do. Check in @ 4 CST"

I didn't know if people would reply, but I wasn't waiting around to find out. I'd made myself accountable and said I was writing til 4 pm so that's what I was doing.

Like I said, a few people replied, a few people asked me questions after the fact, so now I've decided to start a 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge Revolution!

It's selfish really because it will keep me accountable, but anyone can play and I want as many people as possible to join in. I will be tweeting and posting on facebook when I'm doing one (usually around 10:30 or 11, 12:30 or 1 and 2:30 or 3 CST) and if you see it and have been procrastinating, use it as your cue to GET OFF THE INTERNET AND JOIN IN!

Of course, I don't write every day or at the times of day that some people write, so the revolution depends on others calling out for challenges too. If you have been procrastinating and need to focus and be held accountable to have your butt in the chair, then you should call out for a 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge and catch some other slackers or at least get some work in yourself.

Maybe we can even come up with a cute twitter hashtag or something like #1.5hrWC ? Of course for all the time I spend on twitter, I don't know if there can be periods in hashtags, but whatevs, we'll figure that out. As long as it gets people writing.

So are you up for the challenge?

PS. DAMN, Hashtags definitely don't work with periods in them. Someone else got a cute twitter tag idea?

PPS. We are going with Annika's first suggestion #90minWrite because I like it best, but if someone does think of something better, I'm still open. I just think Annika was being very genius-like as usual.


Annika said...


I changed it from WC because it made me think of the toilet. Obviously that is up to you - the real suggestion is the 90min part.

Annika said...

Wait, I think I like #write90min better.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Yes, yes, yes! You are brilliant. This is why we are friends (well, among other reasons). I actually prefer #90minWrite. Go with the first impulse.

Melissa said...

I'm going to suggest #90minrev, just because I really like the word 'revolution'.

I tried the challenge today and it definitely helped. I'm in the middle of some major edits and was stuck on the opening of this one chapter. I was on the verge of giving up for the day, when Stephanie issued the 1.5 hr challenge.

I spent the first 5 minutes in a panic, wondering how I was ever going to fix the chapter, but I guess my brain realized that it couldn't stay panicked for 90 minutes (laughs) and then the words started flowing. I didn't stop until I ran out of steam right around the 90 minute mark. So yeah, a big success, and as someone who has a full-time job and lots of other distractions, I'm going to try this in the future and see how it works!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Glad this worked so well for you, Melissa and I generally start the same way. Panicked for 5 minutes and then I go and generally naturally need a break after 90 even if it is a short one. I stuck with #90minWrite because I think it's important to have write in the tag, but I like the rev thing too because I do want it to be our little revolution :)

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