Good Writing Advice: The 45 Minute Session

Yesterday I tried something different.

I wrote in blocks of 45 minutes at a time.

Let me back up a minute. I’m currently at work on a MG project. Ideas for this book had been steeping for months before I ever put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard); as a MG novel I intended to keep it under 60k; by the time I started writing I had an extensive outline to work from. Given all this and the fact that at peak form I have no problem writing 1,5000-2,000+ words a day, I expected this book to practically fall out of me.

Ha.

I’m not sure what it is, but with this book I seem to be capping at about 1,000 words a day. I’ve been feeling sluggish– like I needed to try something different. So the last week or so I’ve spent more time in a hardcover notebook, typing up what I’ve written at the end of the day. Effective? In some ways, yes.

But I’ll tell you what I like better.

Heather Sellers recently contributed a list to the 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far column in Writer’s Digest. In her seventh point she borrows Billy Joel’s term “in harness” to describe the butt-in-the-chair, door-closed, no distractions discipline with which a writer does her best writing. Take a moment to visualize what “in harness” might mean for you. No internet? No company? Music, TV, cell phone off or left in another room? Blinds down on a beautiful day? Think of it as making a space for you and your manuscript. An intimate, secluded table for two.

Now– how does one realistically commit oneself to such an intense focus without burning out or wrecking one’s eyes? Sellers answers: One writes in manageable sessions. Sessions of 45 minutes, to be exact (with 15 minute breaks in between if they are consecutive).

Of course, that’s what works for her. Others might find 30 minute or 2 hour sessions more productive. I’ve even heard of 25 minute pomodoros doing wonders. The magic here I think is in tricking your brain to believe “Hey, 45 minutes! That isn’t long at all! I can commit to my writing and absolutely nothing else for that long.” In my own experiment yesterday I found it much easier to shut myself in a room and disconnect from everything in 45 minute intervals. How’d it turn out? Well, in only four sessions (3 hours total) I managed over 1,000 words. Not lightning speed by any means, but certainly not shabby for the edits-as-she-goes type. It’s the same result for considerably less time than I feel it has taken me to achieve lately.

Do you write in short sessions? For how long? Let us know below! And I really recommend reading Heather Sellers’ entire writing advice list. They’re all great points that go way beyond the common show, don’t tell. Check ’em out!

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11 thoughts on “Good Writing Advice: The 45 Minute Session

  1. This is my proven method for success. I usually write in 45 min to 1 hour intervals with a 15 min break in between for checking twitter/wordpress or my favorite time suck, pinterest. 15 minutes is usually just enough time to give my brain a breather before I dive back in and by knowing that I’ll get to take another break in just 45 more minutes, it keeps me from lingering too long on articles or websites that I can easily come back to later. On a side note, I’ve been itching to start a MG novel recently as well! I don’t know what’s come over me, probably the fact that my part-time job is in the children’s section of the local library, but I can’t wait to hear more about your project and where you’ve been drawing inspiration. I’d like to educate myself on the category more before I commit to any particular story-line since, unfortunately, I’m not as familiar with MG authors. Any recommendations?

    • I’m going to keep up the practice a while and see how much of a difference it makes. So far I’m impressed!

      AH, YES, I would love to see some MG from you, Laekan! Any particular genre in mind? Rory (my pet name for my current project) is fantasy– a sort of Coraline/Wonderland/Narnia story with fairy tale elements and what I’m hoping is a unique brand of magic.

      As for MG book recs (I did the same– started reading more MG before I started writing one!) my absolute favorites so far are The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand and Coraline. Also enjoyed Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes (Jonathan Auxier) and Summer and Bird (Katherine Catmull). Have been meaning to read some Roald Dahl, too! I still don’t know the age group as well as I would like, though. Haven’t read enough MG yet to recommend an author who focuses on it.

  2. Even though I am a new writer, breaks have become essential to the process. For me, working longer than an hour at a time results in more word guck to edit out later.

    • Yes– process! I think that’s the key word. I forget sometimes that the brain needs downtime in order to connect the pieces and do its best, undistracted work at the keyboard. An hour seems to be a good limit.

  3. Pingback: Word Counts vs. Balance | Julie Israel

  4. I’ve found as I’ve been writing by hand on our honeymoon (like, hey, I’m married now!) that I write less than I used to, not just because I edit as I write, but I’m now used to cutting unnecessary words and not waffling/adding too much description. A sand timer would be a great idea – I’ve written in short bursts here and there in the last couple of weeks but missed my laptop so didn’t get properly stuck in. In our hotel they had a tea timer with three different sand timers for brewing the tea πŸ™‚

    • Woo! Congratulations, Laura πŸ™‚ And I love that there was a tea timer. Brilliant. I didn’t think about sand timers before…perhaps they would be more pleasant than the shrill of an alarm!

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