Beat writer's block — with a kitchen timer?

Beat writer's block — with a kitchen timer?

For me, it’s not really “writer’s block.” It’s more like a reluctance to apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair. Sound familiar? In his awesome book, The War of Art, Stephen Pressman nails it on (practically) the first page.tied-up

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

Whether you’re a writer, painter, or spreadsheet jockey, if Resistance is getting the better of you, Pressman’s short book is a must-read.

Here’s one way to overcome resistance that usually works for me. I wish I could credit whoever I got this from, but that’s been lost in the mists of memory. (If you know, please tell in the comments.)

OK, ready? Here goes.

Make a deal with yourself. Promise yourself that you will seriously tackle it — whatever you’re resisting — for just ten minutes. How hard can that be? I mean, you can endure anything for ten lousy minutes, right? (Except waterboarding, perhaps).

OK, grab your digital kitchen timer — a must-have tool for the productivity-minded. Set it for ten minutes. Now get going. Dig in and really give it your best shot. It’s only ten minutes, right?

When the timer goes off, if you’re still not into it, OK. Give up. Move on to something else. You did your part. You fulfilled your end of the bargain. You “win” (or lose, depending on how you look at it). Of course, if you’re like me, after ten minutes you’re back into it and (finally!) rolling again. You just needed a way to “trick” yourself into getting started. Congrats!

Try it and let me know how it works for you. And if you have a better way to get yourself started, by all means share it n the comments.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need a hit of Rolling Stones: “Start me up, start me up baby and I’ll never stop…”

Photo by rkreetch
  1. Robert MonteuxRobert Monteux04-24-2009

    Good one Tom! I love this strategy and do a similar thing with my clients for things like procrastination and motivation to exercise. I have them take it to the ridiculous, setting a goal of 5 or even 2 minutes. Do it everyday and the momentum builds to the point where it just becomes a habit. Make it so easy that you just can’t fail to fulfill your commitment.

    • Tom McKayTom McKay04-24-2009

      Thanks, Robert. Why don’t you write something about forming good habits your way. (I’m already quite proficient at developing bad ones. 🙂 I’d love to read it. PS: See you Tuesday.

  2. Michael BenidtMichael Benidt04-24-2009

    Had to laugh because Sheryl and I have been hauling out the kitchen timer to do just about everything lately – from cleaning the house to working on new speeches. We need PowerPoint slides done – we’ve got 25 minutes. The kitchen floor, vacuuming and the downstairs bathroom – 35 minutes. The house is always more important than any Microsoft program.

    By the way, when it comes to getting going with your writing – we think one of the best things ever recorded on any topic is Anne Lamott’s Word by Word. If you do a search in Amazon for Word by Word Lamott, you’ll find the 3 hour audio. For anyone who cares about good writing, it is stunningly good.

    • Tom McKayTom McKay04-24-2009

      Thanks, Michael. I, too, am a HUGE fan of Anne L’s. I’ve read “Bird by Bird” several times for my own benefit and used it in a few writing classes I’ve taught. She is terrific. I do love audiobooks but only when I’m on long drives. I find I can absorb more by reading or even just skimming a book or other written material. Most people can speak maybe 200 words per minute, but I can read/skim (rim? skead?) at 2-3X that speed — while skipping the parts I already know or am not interested in. I’m too impatient to wait! 🙂

      Yes, a digital timers are great tools for all sorts of things, especially if you’re as distractable/ADDish as I am. Like you, I often use mine to set limits on how much time I want to spend on a certain task, online or in r/l. (Also excellent for not forgetting about the frozen pizza in the oven.)

  3. JohnJohn04-30-2009

    Very interesting concept, made me laugh as well. So I guess it’s not THAT hard to get started. =)

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