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Monday, 23 June 2014

Less is More

I love reading articles about other writers and how they work. But when some of them say that they go to their writing space at about nine o'clock in the morning and finish work at six, I always feel a mixture of awe and inadequacy. For me, two hours of 'proper' writing is enough. Any more than that and my head starts to feel fuzzy and my body wilts. It has always made me feel rather a lightweight. After all sitting at a laptop or writing in a notebook are never going to make it on to a list of most strenuous jobs in the world. However I am constantly looking for ways to increase my productivity without compromising my well-being. And, thanks to another writer, the lovely Kathy Garbera, I seem to have found it.

"Does writing make you tired?" was a question asked of me by another children's writer at The Hull Book Awards. No-one has ever asked me that before but this particular writer also found writing tiring. So I told her about Kathy Garbera's simple secret and she was going away to try it out. I really hope it works as well for her as it has for me and may do for you. Here it is!

Basically Kathy writes in fifteen minute stints. Then she does something else for fifteen minutes. Then she returns to her story. In this way she writes a considerable number of words each day. I have tried it and for me, it works wonderfully on several levels.

1. Life's Stuff - 'Come on,' I say to myself on those difficult jam-packed with 101 other things to do days. 'You can manage just fifteen minutes. That's no time at all. Then at least you'll feel you've achieved something writing-wise.'

2. Breath Holding -I am aware that, at certain times, I hold my breath when writing. By setting a timer, getting up and walking around every fifteen minutes, I bring more oxygen back into my body which I'm sure is a huge contributor to combating the tiredness.

3. Procrastination - If I am not looking forward to the passage I'm about to write, fifteen minutes is a small amount of time to endure - and usually after that quarter of an hour I am right back into the story.

4. Getting Stuck - If I get stuck when writing a scene and am not sure what is going to happen next, when the timer pings I can wander off, hang the washing out and think about my dilemma without any feeling of guilt. Usually just leaving the keyboard and doing something different will bring clarity to my mind.

When the timer pings, sometimes I carry on to the end of the sentence or sometimes I leave it half-way through. That way there's no trouble getting back into the flow when you return to the story fifteen minutes later.

I actually feel that, by using this method, my writing has improved. It feels fresher and so do I.

I've actually applied this fifteen minute rule to other areas of my life, sorting paperwork, tidying out a cupboard, doing the ironing. It's great for all sorts of jobs you have been putting off for ages.

A word of warning! I've tried to increase the time to twenty minutes and for some reason it doesn't work nearly as well. Whereas with meditation that extra five minutes can have hugely positive benefits, in this instance, the extra five minutes, for me, were definitely detrimental.

So by writing in fifteen minute stints I can actually achieve more but it feels as if I am doing less. What could be better than that. So a big thank-you to Kathy and if any of you have got jobs that need doing but keep putting them off, just set the timer for fifteen minutes. It's amazing what you can achieve.

Thank-you for reading and have a lovely week whatever you are doing.


  1. Interesting! I must give it a try. I found that two hours of productive work was my limit back in my revising for exams days. Friends would spend all day and half the night in the university library, but I just knew that didn't work for me. Two hours, and then I went off walking, out of Leeds and into wonderful villages, happy but feeling vaguely guilty that I should be working every moment. We all have to know ourselves, and not try to be what we can't be, I think.

  2. Wise words, Pippa. That's so true about knowing ourselves and also accepting our limitations. I know when I've pushed myself too hard. Then the following day I just can't get as much done so it all balances out in the end anyway! Walking is a lovely thing to do after revising or writing - it lets the subconscious do its work.