Friday, June 4, 2010


Valerie Geary writes mainstream literary fiction and has published several short stories in various online journals. You can find links to those stories as well as regular book and writing related posts on her blog Something to Write About. ( She is currently so focused on her most recent novel-in-progress, a tale filled with dark secrets and strange magic, she almost forgot to write this guest post.  

Each morning, when I wake up, I ask myself: “Self, will you write today? Or will you waste hours surfing blogs under the pretense that you’re doing research?”

I’ve discovered my most productive writing days are the ones in which I actually write. Those are the days my chest swells and I feel like flying. Those are the days I can stand up and say: “I am writer; hear me roar.” I try as often as possible to have days like that. Sometimes I succeed, other times… not so much. But always I like to give myself a solid push in the right direction.

I first heard of Timed Writing at a writer’s conference a few years ago, but didn’t try it until just recently. Mostly, because I don’t own a stopwatch. After I found this online version (, though, I really didn’t have much of an excuse.

The concept of Timed Writing is pretty simple:

1. Decide on a length of time you want to spend writing: 20 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours.  
2. Open up whatever piece you’re working on.
3. Close all distractions… Solitaire. Email. Facebook. Twitter.
4. Start your time and start writing.

Simple as that. While the stop watch is running, don’t get up from your desk. Don’t check your email. Don’t sneak a peek at your Twitter updates. Sit. Think. Write. Think. Write some more. Focus on your story. Your fingers don’t necessarily have to be moving the entire time, but I can pretty much guarantee they will be… because they’ll have nothing else to do.

When the set time is over, feel free to get up, stretch your legs, use the bathroom, grab a snack, check your email, tweet your word count, whatever you want. Think of this in-between time as your mini-reward for getting in some quality writing. Then, if your family isn’t beating down your door and begging for dinner, if your dog isn’t tugging on your pant leg to go for a walk, set the timer and go again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

If you feel antsy about trying this method or worry you won't have enough self-control, start off with short sets, then add time slowly until you’re writing in longer and longer stretches.

Writing for more than 2 hours straight without any kind of break can actually be somewhat anti-productive, at least for me. So if I have a long day set aside just for writing, I also set the timer during my breaks (usually 10-15 minutes). Then I can dive right back into things without too much time wasted.

I have found writing with a stop watch to be most effective during the first draft stage. It pushes me to write fast, effectively cutting off the voice of the Dreaded Inner Editor. I use it less during revision, but will fall back on it if I’m finding it difficult to keep my butt in the chair and my eyes on the page.

Timed Writing is not a magic wand. It's simply another great tool for your Writer's Box! 

Have you ever tried Timed Writing? If so, did you find it effective? Why or why not?


Matthew Delman said...

I haven't tried timed writing, but I have set goals for myself via a certain number of words per hour. My personal best is a little over 1,000. I could write faster, but I want the words to be quality.

Also: Thanks for guesting!

L. T. Host said...

Thanks for the guest post, Valerie :)

I never thought of it this way; usually when I write, I write til I can't anymore because I get caught up in the story. But I'm like you in that I have trouble getting into that state to begin with-- at least, lately I do. I may have to try this to get some writing going on :)

I've used before, which is seriously interesting-- stop writing, and it deletes what you already wrote. I don't know that I'm really twisted enough to use it for work I want to keep, though.

Joshua McCune said...

Valerie, you have far more discipline than I. I can sit for a few hours at a time, but I always need to take mini-breaks every 30 - 45 minutes to unwind. If I go any longer, me head might explode.

And no matter what I do, I cannot get that IE to shut up.

Davin Malasarn said...

Great post! I do something similar to this when I find myself not being very productive. I don't time myself, but I do tell myself to avoid the first three temptations I get when I sit down to start writing. That means the first time I want to check my email, I don't. The first time I want to get up, I don't. The first time I want to reach for some food, I don't. Usually, it just takes that initial discipline to get me to focus on writing and have a productive session.

Aubrie said...

This sounds like a great method! I bet if I say 20 minutes and force myself to get to writing after the twenty minutes are over, I'll want to write some more! It's getting started that's the problem!

fairyhedgehog said...

I haven't timed myself but during Nano I didn't open my browser until I'd written my quota for the day.

I'm not sure I could manage it indefinitely, though!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Thanks for guest posting, Valerie!

I don't set myself a time limit as my time is pretty limited to start- only while the kiddo is watching Word World or after she goes to bed. I tend to stick to page goals or about 500 words.

But I'm with you on turning off all distractions. That's totally necessary.

Al said...

I simply couldn't write for two hours without a break. I'd fall in a heap.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I hate timed writing! I really get irritable then. The most I've written without a break was maybe three hours, but since that can't be good for you, I try not to do it often. xD

Nicole said...

YES!! I do this, 1hr on 1hr off and I'm far more productive - and the dogs get lotsa walks cause it helps me think. Also makes it feel more enjoyable, less work like :)

Delighted Scribbler said...

You want to really get medieval on your muse? For NaNoWriMo 2008 I found online help the was a real push-shove.

Check this out: