Timers, Lists and Breaks

As much as I love to write, it can be difficult to make myself sit down and just do it. It’s the same with exercise: I love it, but only as soon as I start doing it. I’ve got to be steeped in the throes of passion for my writing to come out lovely. But, as they say, passion or the Muse doesn’t always strike. (I’ve found that my greatest Muse is fury, which makes for a chaotic and unstructured rant). So, barring the muse, I’ve got to set up parameters in order to get my work done. Here are a few of the organizational ones.


I time everything I do. For a little while, I liked the stopwatch approach, because it meant that I didn’t have to keep checking to see how close I was to finished, and I could go on and on working on something I was really into. But once, after spending a solid two hours putting together a query letter for a discussion I want to run (this is just the letter, not the lesson itself) I realized that I do much better under pressure, when I know there is a deadline to hit, so I don’t get all lacksadaisical and slack off.

I tend to make a list of tasks for the day, and I like to put the amount of time each will take beside the task. (Write blog post: 30 mins; etc.)

Lately, for writing, I’ve been giving myself an hour each day. Yesterday I got really caught up in my work, and when it went off, I reset it at another half hour, which I met gallantly. A timer can be a great way to keep yourself accountable


I write lists for everything from going to the grocery store to blog posts I want to write to which dentist I need to check with next to figure out what to do about my damn teeth. I don’t always meet every task; actually, I hardly ever do. But I’m pretty happy if I get at least half of my list complete. Daily and weekly lists tend to not work for hard deadlines; give yourself a “soft” deadline at every opportunity you can—if the essay about “My Crazy Family” is due on September 5th, give yourself the deadline of Sept. 1st so you have some time to set it aside and read through it more than once before having to send it off last minute. Businesses do it, so why shouldn’t individuals too?

(Be careful that lists don’t take up too much of your time—they’re helpful, but only when you’re actually getting stuff done. If you’re spending hours on putting together lists, it might be doing you more bad than good. Set a timer if you have this problem—I like limiting myself to 15 or 30 minutes in order to brainstorm what should be on my list and then organize the list.)


The other day I got burnt out; I wondered why I was having such a hard time getting things done. Then I realized that every second of my day had been spent on something related to my writing, including my reading list: Stiff by Mary Roach for techniques on how to write about difficult and scientific subjects; six different books in search of information interviewing sources for a discussion I’m proposing to teach at a library; The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen for advice while building my own writing business; and New Hampshire Magazine and Yankee Magazine to learn what kinds of stories they publish.

So I thought, Oh, maybe I ought to read something that I really want to read; something that won’t necessarily help my writing career. And I picked up Outlander, historic fiction and romance, an odyssey introduced to me by the mother of one of my best writing friends, and as I began reading, I nodded to myself. Yeah, this is just what I need.

How do you keep yourself on task with the goals you set? What are your goals?

This is a blog for the “Starving Artist,” but that doesn’t mean you have to be starving, and who gets to decide what art is? If it’s something you’re passionate about, it counts. Share here if you dare.

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