Tag Archives: Goal Setting

If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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Filed under Methodology, Writing

Every Writer Needs a Little Focus Once in a While

You’ve waited all day. You’ve thought of every way to kill off your protagonist’s love interest. Car wreck—too convenient. Serial killer—too cliché. Freak can-opener accident—no one will see that one coming. It’s all worked out in your mind, waiting to be downloaded to your manuscript.

Now the kids are in bed, the spouse is off reading somewhere; it’s just you, the keyboard, and a word processing window partially filling an icon dotted screen. Time to get to work.

But wait—there’s the Quicken icon and you still haven’t balanced last month’s statement.

Done. Time to write.

But wait—there’s the IE icon and you’ve only checked Facebook 18 times today and still haven’t seen anything about your Aunt’s cupcake baking retreat.

Done. Time to Write.

But wait—it’s now 1:30AM and you have a presentation at 8:30AM. Writing will have to wait.

A quick game of solitaire to clear your mind and then it’s off to bed.

Sound familiar? It shouldn’t.

How would you like to sit down to a screen full of this:

All black screen with white text.

Or if you need some inspiration:

Theme with custom image.

This is what FocusWriter can provide. It’s basic. It fills your screen. It blocks out distractions. Best of all, it’s free, the gnu license is a wonderful thing. (But if you like it, you may want to contribute to the tip jar).

It’s a basic word processor that has all the features you would expect, foreground, background, text colors; font formatting; text indenting and offsetting; smart quote formatting; dictionary; you get the idea. It can save files in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or OpenDocument Text (.odt). Both are common file types almost any word processor can use. Most publishers accepting electronic submissions will take rft too.

A couple of nice features. FocusWriter fills your entire screen with nothing but document space. The menu bar disappears unless you navigate your mouse to the top of your screen. This frees you to type, type, and type some more. The other cool feature is a built-in timer. This permits you to schedule your breaks.

There is a bit of assumed knowledge when it comes to installation. There are multiple Linux packages, chances are one will work on your flavor of the OS. There is a Universal MAC install or one just for Intel platforms. I do not have access to a MAC. Maybe a MAC User can leave a comment on how easy or difficult it was to install.

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported. The download file is a standard ZIP file. There is no install routine, you simple expand/uncompress/unzip your download file to a directory of your choice. Once unzipped, open Explorer, navigate to that directory and double-click on FocusWriter.exe.

Now your screen is filled with a word processor and you’re ready to write. If not, then you need to take the ruler out of the desk drawer with your right hand and slap it down hard on the backside of your left hand. Repeat until you are focused on your writing. After all you have a work in progress to complete. Now get to it.

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Filed under Application, Writing

Resolutions – Low Tech Style

Since Christmas I’ve been seeing posts about how to make and keep New Years Resolutions. There are plenty of software apps available allowing you to input your resolutions and other annual goals. My suggestion, ignore all of them.

When I decided to become a writer, it was with the intent to make a living at it. So I set out to learn the industry, how the business works and what makes one author a success while another remains unpublished. First and foremost a writer has to write. You either do or you don’t, it’s that simple. Why do you need to set a goal for something you’re supposed to be doing anyway? You may say, “I need to write 1,000 words a day to met a deadline.” But should that be considered a general writing goal or is it part of a work breakdown structure to meet a project deadline. There is a difference.

I’ve heard people talk about writing X number of words or pages a day, but when they are pressed to discuss their current work in progress, they confess to not have a project, they are just writing.

Are you just just writing to see yourself put words on paper? I hope not. If you’re not working to complete a project or story then are you working through exercises to improve a weakness you have in the craft? All writing should have purpose or your just passing time.

My New Years Resolution is to make no resolutions. Why wait to a certain date to start something. If you are making a resolution because you want to do something new, why are you not doing it right now? If you have to wait what’s holding you back? Ask yourself if it is something you really want to do or maybe deep down you realize the timing isn’t right. Be brutally honest with yourself.

If you are wanting to start a new project or alter your behavior I have a free low tech solution you can use right now. No waiting until 01 January 2012. Get you favorite pen and some note cards. If you don’t have note cards, cut a larger sheet of paper into smaller sections. Now write down what is is you want to accomplish at the top in big letters. Be concise. — Writing by hand as opposed to typing it into an app, will connect you to goal. Your brain will pay attention and not treat it like a text message you’re pounding out to someone to be sent and forgotten. — Below your end goal write down the next action needed to accomplish it. Be specific. Use action words. This is no time for lofty wording or wishful thinking.

Here’s an example:

Write a book detailing actions of the 2nd Armored Division during WWII.

Create chapter outline

Each and everyday you look at that card until the task is done. Then write down the next tasker you need to complete. Looking at that card everyday focuses you on what you want to achieve and it tells you specifically what you need to do next.

Put these cards on top of you alarm clock, tape them to the bathroom mirror, paper clip them to you day planner. Put them somewhere that will force you to read it. Create copies and keep them in your purse or wallet. Low tech means you can review these anywhere you want. You don’t need an iPad, or cell phone, or laptop. You don’t have to worry about the battery going dead or losing Internet connectivity.

A word of advice, don’t get carried away with the cards. You should only work on two or three at a time. Anything more and you’ll start feeling overwhelmed. The purpose is to be able glance at the cards and instantly know what you are trying to accomplish and what you need to do next.

Remember, as soon as you finish one card you can start another, no more waiting for the New Year and no more excuses.

Now get to work.

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Filed under Writing