Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Writing as Fast as I Can: On Time Management and Working More Efficiently

For the better part of the past decade, my wife and I have both worked out of our home.  This is a great setup if you can get it, especially in Los Angeles, where the perpetually logjammed freeways have been known to erode the sanity of many a daily commuter.  During business hours, we essentially treat one another like cubicle mates, pausing to chat every so often over coffee, but basically respecting one another’s need to prioritize work—something made easier owed to the positioning of our desks at opposite ends of the apartment.

After her company was recently acquired, however, the wife started working out of a central office again.  It’s a reasonably short subway ride away, so at least it isn’t a “killer commute,” though it has been an adjustment—for both of us.  Speaking strictly for myself, I discovered in short order that many of the domestic duties we’d shared—be it walking the dog, making the bed, running laundry, buying groceries—were now falling, to a necessarily greater extent, on me.  This isn’t a complaint, mind you—I still had the better end of the deal in that I continued to work from home, with all the freedom and flexibility that entails.  But there’s no doubt I found myself in the throes of a time-management crisis, as days and sometimes weeks would pass without any appreciable progress—or any progress at all—on my manuscript.  I was overwhelmed by all the shit that had to get tended to just to keep the household running.

Quick digression (and I promise it’s relevant):  Anyone who’s followed this blog for any amount of time knows I’m a guy’s guy.  I’ve written odes to 24, Rambo, Heat, the Dark Knight trilogy, Rush (the Canadian prog-rock band that, by its own admission, doesn’t inspire overwhelming female devotion), mob movies, and the cinema of horror maestros Wes Craven and John Carpenter, the latter of whom trades in tough guys like Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken and James Woods’ Jack Crow.  For that matter, my forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island, is populated almost entirely with alpha males, inspired in part by the crime fiction of Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Richard Price.  Hell, at my last checkup, my doctor informed me I have the testosterone of an eighteen-year-old.  Like I said:  guy’s guy—now medically validated.

James Woods as monster hunter Jack Crow in John Carpenter’s “Vampires”

I’m secure enough, then, to confess I have a softer side, too.  I’ve waxed analytical about Katniss Everdeen and Jane the Virgin and the addictive melodramas of Shonda Rhimes, as well as professed my undying love for Dirty Dancing on more than one occasion (like here and here).  I’m hooked on Fixer Upper and the interior-design wizardry of Joanna Gaines.  And my favorite show of all time—seventeen years and running—is Gilmore Girls, and it doesn’t get more girly than Gilmore—“Girls” is right there in the title!  Last year, the long-awaited return of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo didn’t hold a candle, in my view, to the overdue encore of Lorelai and Rory; I would willingly and happily trade every future Star Wars movie for more Gilmore.

So it was for that reason I picked up a copy of Lauren Graham’s new memoir Talking as Fast as I Can a few months ago.  I’d hoped to get insight into the development and production of the Gilmore revival A Year in the Lifeand the book doesn’t disappoint in that regard—but the last thing I expected was a practical, step-by-step solution to my time-management problems… though that’s exactly what I found.

Gilmore girls Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel in “A Year in the Life”

Graham, who has become over the last few years an accomplished novelist and screenwriter in her own right, describes how she herself was wrestling with the issue of time management during periods of acting employment, on Parenthood and then A Year in the Life, as well as unemployment, where the lack of a rigidly structured day made finding time to write even more challenging.  As fate would have it, during the production of A Year in the Life, she reconnected with her old boss Don Roos, screenwriter of Single White Female and Marley & Me, as well as creator of Graham’s pre–Gilmore Girls series M.Y.O.B., who shared with her his revolutionary yet simple method for being a productive and efficient writer—in ten easy steps!

Roos calls his customized program “Kitchen Timer,” and I can testify that since I’ve put it into practice, I’ve been able to reclaim (highly productive) writing time for myself on daily basis and take care of the household errands, without having to resort to an all-or-nothing approach to my personal and professional obligations.  Since Roos is known to share this document with the writers he mentors, I trust he’d have no problem with my reproducing it here.  For my writer friends out there, I suggest you read it.  Digest it… and reread it.  Then try it for a week on a trial basis, even if you don’t think you need it.  It’s so simple and commonsense, but it is exactly the kind of transformative advice I needed… and I’m nearly twenty years into my career!  Let me know what you think.

 

KITCHEN TIMER

The principle of Kitchen Timer is that every writer deserves a definite and doable way of being and feeling successful every day.

To do this, we learn to judge ourselves on behavior rather than content.  We set up a goal for ourselves as writers that is easy, measurable, free of anxiety, and, above all, fail-proof, because everyone can sit, and an hour will always pass.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

1.       Buy a kitchen timer, one that goes to 60 minutes.  Or use a timer app.  Or tell Siri to start a timer for 60 minutes.

2.       We decide on Monday how many hours of writing we will do Tuesday.  When in doubt or under pressure or self-attack, we choose fewer hours rather than more.  A good, strong beginning is one hour a day, but a half hour is also good, or twenty minutes.  Some of us make appointments in our calendar for these hours, as if they are lunch meetings or business calls.

3.       The Kitchen Timer hour:

·         No phones.  No texts.  We silence ringers; we turn our phones facedown.  It is our life; we are entitled to one hour without interruption, particularly from loved ones.  We ask for their support.  “I was on an hour” is something they learn to understand.  But they won’t respect it unless we do first.

·         No music with words, unless it’s a language we don’t understand.  Headphones with a white noise app can be helpful.

·         No Internet, absolutely.  We turn off our computer’s Wi-Fi.

·         No reading.

·         No pencil-sharpening, desk tidying, organizing.

4.       Immediately upon beginning the hour, we open two documents:  our journal, and the project we are working on.  If we don’t have a project we’re actively working on, we just open our journal.

5.       An hour consists of TIME SPENT KEEPING OUR WRITING APPOINTMENT.  That’s it.  We don’t have to write at all, if we are happy to stare at the screen or the page.  Nor do we have to write a single word on our current project; we may spend the entire hour writing in our journal.  Anything we write in our journal is fine; ideas for future projects, complaints about loved ones, what we ate for dinner, even “I hate writing” typed four hundred times.

When we wish or if we wish, we pop over to the current project document and write for as long as we like.  When we get tired or want a break, we pop back to the journal.

The point is, when disgust or fatigue with the current project arises, we don’t take a break by getting up from our desk.  We take a break by returning to the comforting arms of our journal, until that in turn bores us.  Then we are ready to write on our project again, and so on.  We use our boredom in this way.

IT IS ALWAYS OKAY TO WRITE EXCLUSIVELY IN OUR JOURNAL.  In practice it may rarely happen that we spend the full hour in our journal, but it’s fine, good, and right if it does.  It is just as good a writing day as one spent entirely in our current project.

6.       It is infinitely better to write fewer hours every day than many hours one day and none the next.  If we have a crowded weekend, we choose a half or quarter hour as our time, put in that time, and go on with our day.  We are always trying to minimize our resistance, and beginning an hour on Monday after two days off is a challenge.

7.       When the hour is up, we stop, even if we’re in the middle of a sentence.  If we have scheduled another hour, we give ourselves a break before beginning again—to read, eat, go on errands.  We are not trying to create a cocoon we must stay in between hours (the old “I’m sorry, I can’t see anyone or leave my house—I’m on a deadline” method).  Rather, inside the hour is the inviolate time.

8.       If we fail to make our hours for the day, we have scheduled too many.  Four hours a day is an enormous amount of time spent in this manner, for example.  If on Wednesday we planned to write two hours and didn’t make it, we schedule a shorter appointment for the next day.  We don’t add an hour to “make up” or “catch up.”  We let the past go and move on.

9.       When we have fulfilled our commitment, we make sure we credit ourselves for doing so.  We have satisfied our obligation to ourselves, and the rest of the day is ours to do with as we wish.

10.   A word about content:  This may seem to be all about form, but the knowledge that we have satisfied our commitment to ourselves, the freedom from anxiety and resistance, the stilling of that hectoring voice inside us that used to yell at us that we weren’t writing enough—all this opens us up creatively.

Good luck!

Don Roos

28 Comments

  1. I think what I enjoyed most about this one, Sean, was your letting us glimpse inside your day-to-day life a bit.

    I myself have never been able to use an actual timer. It winds up distracting me more than keeping me focused. Fortunately, I’m pretty focused. But I will have to give the “two open documents — the current project and a journal” some more thought. It’s fairly open-ended, and I wonder what would come out on that other journal (or if it would always remain blank; as I say, once I’m writing, I’m writing). Of course, I don’t yet have a family, no pets, no must-do chores, etc. So I’m an anomaly.

    • Always such a pleasure to get your feedback, Erik!

      I do keep a journal handy — a madman’s notebook at my desk with everything from daily to-do lists, titles of books I’d like to read, noteworthy quotes I’ve read or heard, new vocabulary words, story and blog post ideas — but haven’t really had to resort to going to it since I’ve been practicing “Kitchen Timer.” The way in which the Roos method really keeps me focused is it’s made me aware how often I lose concentration, and my involuntary reaction when that happens is to check e-mail, Twitter, the blog, etc. I wasn’t aware of how often I was doing that, and now I am. And God only knows how long I’d get sucked into the Internet vortex during those “quick” digressions! Now whenever the impulse to check social media arises, I catch myself — the phone’s turned facedown and Wi-Fi’s disabled, anyway — and simply redouble my concentration for the remainder of the allotted time. So, “Kitchen Timer” has given me the tools I needed to keep myself disciplined, because I can only imagine how much time I was losing to “little breaks” like checking e-mail and making coffee and what have you. That’s the secret: For that hourlong session, we are only fulfilling our commitment to write, whether that is our current project or even a grocery list! Since implementing “Kitchen Timer,” I can say with certainty exactly how many productive hours I had in a given day — to the minute — and feel good about myself for fulfilling the goals I’d set. That’s what Roos means when he says “we learn to judge ourselves on behavior rather than content.” Because if we adopt productive practices, that more often than not is reflected in the quality of the material we produce.

      That said, “productive practices” means something different to every scribe: Some of us write in coffee shops for as long as it takes to nurse an Americano, others for twenty minutes at a stretch on the subway ride to work, others in the contained womb of an office during regularly scheduled hours. There’s no right or wrong method, so long as whatever we’re doing allows us to A) get our work done and B) feel good about ourselves for having done so. Because as writers we have a tendency to be hard on ourselves — for falling short of our expectations re: the quality and quantity of our daily workload. “Kitchen Timer” alleviates that burden and, as Roos says, “opens us up creatively.” And that’s why I couldn’t wait to share it here!

      Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting, pal! Best to you for a good weekend…

      • I think one take-away for me from all of this is the idea of shutting off wi-fi while writing. Because, even if it’s just a glance when I see the pop-up announcing a new message somewhere, it’s a distraction. And I’m all about focus, cultivating silence and finding ways to build patience into a society that’s become ever less patient.

        • You know something, Erik? I was just yesterday reading an interview with horror novelist Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) in the latest issue of Cemetery Dance, and he was talking about how he at one point had to get off Twitter for a while after he realized it was becoming an addictive habit that was requiring constant output from him without really putting anything back in in return. Here’s an excerpt:

          “For the most part I do think that it’s healthy for writers to not be so reactive. Good short stories, good essays and good books develop over time, with time to reflect. They are not knee-jerk responses to things, but they are deeply felt and deeply thought, and that takes time. I’ve always been someone who needs time to know how he feels about things. If you’re off spending too much time on social media, ultimately it becomes a kind of psychological and emotional pinball, where you’re constantly hitting the paddles to send the ball back. You’re constantly reacting and responding.”

          Now, admittedly, that’s not perfectly germane to what we’ve been discussing here, but it goes to what you mentioned above, and to what I’ve been exploring a lot on the blog over the past year or so, like when I quoted Roger Daltrey in my “Solitary Consignment” post: “It’s when you’re doing nothing… that we get our great thoughts, and our great artistic ideas. You know, you get epiphanies. You’re never gonna get it when you’re being fed stuff all the time.”

          In the last year or so, I have really come to cherish the quiet, contemplative practice of reading versus the endless deluge of visual and sonic stimulation from our various telecommunications devices. I think more time spent in our own heads would make for a more patient, less binge-disposed society, and that’s a practice that in our all-consuming Digital Age, like it or not, requires conscious application. So anything that can help us achieve that — help us “turn down the noise” — is at least worth a small measure of consideration, and for me “Kitchen Timer” has been a very effective countermeasure to the pervasive media bombardment to which we are all now subject. It’s helped me find balance in an environment where such a Zen-like state is becoming increasingly challenging to attain — a condition crucial to us all, but particularly to writers whose responsibility it is to find “signals in the noise.”

          • Isaac Asimov had a story about a writer who was frustrated w/ all the annoying delays in his life, waiting for taxis, etc. He was convinced that w/out these delays he’d have more time to write.

            Azazel the imp altered reality for home so he’d never have to wait for anything. No more standing in lines, etc.

            SPOILER
            The writer could no longer come up w/ ideas. He’d used all those little frustrating moments to think, and was lost w/out them..

          • I love it! Sounds like a literary Twilight Zone story!

            Like I said to Erik above (quoting the Who’s Roger Daltrey): “It’s when you’re doing nothing… that we get our great thoughts, and our great artistic ideas. You know, you get epiphanies. You’re never gonna get it when you’re being fed stuff all the time.” We need time to be alone with our thoughts, to observe everyday life and sometimes let the creative process work subconsciously: Often the solutions to story problems present themselves when I’m on the treadmill, or in the shower, or walking the dog. That’s part of the reason I don’t listen to podcasts when I’m walking the dog, or play videogames on my iPhone when I’m riding the subway: I cherish those stolen occasions to listen to what’s going on inside my own head — to be present in the moment, rather than “plugged in” to some electronic amusement that only serves to keep me “checked out” of the reality happening around me.

            When I was a kid, we used to take long, two-hour drives from our home in the Bronx to a cabin in the Poconos eighty miles away. Since we had a car stolen at least once a year (this was the eighties, after all, and we lived in a neighborhood with the highest car-theft rate in the city at that time), we only had junkers without premium amenities like, ya know, heat or air conditioning. Dad was impervious to cold, so he didn’t give a shit (rumor has it he’d been hypnotized in Korea as a last-ditch measure of protection against the elements), and he listened to political talk radio for the entire duration of the ride (I documented his affinity for The Bob Grant Show in this post last May). Suffice it to say, our only “entertainment” option, such as it was, was gazing out the window and imposing our own imaginations on whatever it was we saw out there. I used to picture myself as Michael Knight (from Knight Rider) on the open road, or as one of the pilots of Voltron, or as Christopher Reeve’s Superman soaring high above the trees. The point is, I got very comfortable living inside my own head, and learning to entertain myself with nothing more than my own imagination, and I’ve no doubt my career as a writer of fiction is owed at least in part to that. I was telling myself stories, because there was nothing else around to keep me amused, and here I find myself, thirty years later, longing for more opportunities like that — for nowhere to be and nothing to do. We don’t do enough of that — meaning nothing — these days. We could all stand to leave our phones home now and then and just take in our surroundings — who knows how they might inspire us?

            P.S. On that subject, here’s a fascinating fifteen-minute video on our culture’s addiction to social media — to continuous, on-demand entertainment — and how it has handicapped an entire generation. Definitely worth watching.

  2. > No Internet, absolutely. We turn off our computer’s Wi-Fi.

    I couldn’t do that part, simply because I use the internet to spot-research, check word definitions and synonyms, double-check the rules for the contest this particular story is being written for…

    Aside from that, this looks pretty cool. I’ll have to try it.

    • I will admit, Dell, that as I’ve gotten more disciplined by practicing “Kitchen Timer” — as I’ve learned to recognize and immediately quash that impulse to check the Internet as soon as boredom or fatigue sets in — there’s been less of a need to literally turn off the Wi-Fi, since I am capable now of “mentally unplugging.” Given that, I will on occasion use an online dictionary or perhaps Wikipedia for a quick bit of on-the-fly research during one of my hours, just so long as I don’t fall down a reading hole: I have to know specifically what I’m looking for, find it immediately, then resume writing. But the trick is to use the Internet in that hour as a tool for a particular function, and not as a distraction — not as entertainment. Not during the hour, anyway, which is sacrosanct. So even if my Wi-Fi is engaged, I am logged off from any social-media sites like Twitter, the blog, my e-mail account, etc., and I stay logged off for the duration of the hour.

      You bring up an issue, however, I was discussing just last week with my writers group: What about research? What about the need to use the Internet for that purpose? At present, I am writing the second draft of my manuscript, which is, for the most part, really just about sculpting the material — i.e., correcting inconsistencies, cleaning up syntax, polishing dialogue, fine-tuning emotional beats, nuancing thematics, etc. That’s the sort of stuff you do in a rewrite, and it doesn’t, for the most part, require research, save the occasional peek in a reference book like a thesaurus or The Chicago Manual of Style.

      Outlines and first drafts, however, often require a ton of research. Escape from Rikers Island, for instance, is set in the world of New York City gangs, and I conducted endless hours of research for it, which included watching documentaries on gang culture, interviewing police officers and corrections officers, and reading up on the sprawling, 400-acre detention center in the East River known as Rikers Island. A lot of that research was done preliminarily, during the outline stage, but much of it I only realized I needed once I’d begun drafting. For instance, I’d have a scene set in a cellblock, only to realize I didn’t really know, beyond what I’d seen in movies (and never use what you’ve seen in other movies or read in other novels) how a cellblock operates: what the layout is like, how many guards it might have and where they are positioned, what the barred doors look like and whether they are automated or are opened via old-fashioned keys, etc. So I’d often have to stop writing to research that stuff, and sometimes I’d find what I was looking for right away, and other times it might take me a few days to get all the info I needed. This happened in chapter after chapter, I found, since I am a slave to verisimilitude and wanted to make the world of the fiction as believable as possible, so the readers might allow me the one fantastical element of the story: the zombies. I felt that if the world itself seemed credible in every respect, you’d permit me that single “buy-in.” So part of what took me so long to write the first draft was that I would get detoured by research.

      By the point at which I started using “Kitchen Timer,” however, all that was behind me; I was essentially in the phase where all I was doing was wordsmithing. But what about on the next project (which is a supernatural historical romance and will require research into its eighteenth-century setting)? How do I reconcile the “no reading” dictum with the need to do impromptu research?

      I’m not entirely sure yet what the answer is, except to say perhaps I’ll designate hours for writing, and separate hours for research. In other words, I’ll have my hourlong sessions devoted to just writing, and if I run into a patch that requires further research, I’ll simply put in “placeholder” material. Then I’ll allot another hour exclusively for researching and reading up on whatever it is that particular part of the story requires — and only that part — without getting distracted by the impulse to check Twitter or make coffee, you know?

      I’m not sure yet; I’ll have to customize these principles as I continue to practice them as see how they work best for me. But, as I said to Erik above, all writers have their own approach, and as I noted back in my very first post, our unique methods are often a custom-made amalgam of techniques we have learned and adopted over the years.

      Please let me know, Dell, if you wind up incorporating “Kitchen Timer” into your own practices, and how it works out for you! Thanks for commenting!

  3. A fun post, Sean. Nice to learn more about you, but also to feel the enthusiasm about your discovery of the kitchen timer. I’ve been using my microwave oven timer for years! I use it primarily to allot time for housework – 45 minutes a day and I stop as soon as the buzzer goes. I also use it to remember to eat and drink water. If I didn’t have my timer, the authorities would find my skeleton in the recliner with a laptop on my thigh bones, covered in cobwebs. Ha ha. It does have this strange way of clearing blocks of time and dedicating them to concentrated focus. Permission to start and permission to stop. I’m so glad it’s working for you 😀

    • I like “permission to start and … stop,” as well as your mental picture of future-you if not for timers! LOL

      • Totally agree, Erik: “Permission to start and permission to stop” resonated with me, as well. The best advice (no pun intended), like the best stories, can almost invariably be boiled down to a single cogent sentence, like “complaining is sharing negative information, thoughts or emotions with someone who cannot do anything about the situation.” (To my readers: Be sure to check out Erik’s terrific post on complaining here!)

    • Haha! I wish I’d known that! We could’ve called this technique “Diana Peach’s Microwave Timer” instead of “Don Roos’ Kitchen Timer”!

      You know, Diana, I am in a very fortunate position in that I am able to write full-time, from my home, on my own terms and my own schedule. And as much as I bitch about living in L.A. (and, on that subject, our good friend Erik Tyler already has a follow-up post on complaining, I see!), the fact remains that I am very, very lucky to have a life (and a wife!) that allows me to pursue my interests — my dreams — on a full-time basis, something I would not have had, I can say with certainty, if we’d stayed in New York.

      But as disciplined as I consider myself (I spent years writing screenplays under producer-imposed deadlines, after all, turning around entire drafts in under two weeks if necessary), it can also be disconcertingly easy to fall into bad habits when you have all the time in the world and no one but yourself to be accountable to, which has certainly been the case since I began this new phase of my career as a novelist. And what “Kitchen Timer” has given me is a very manageable structure to my day in which inviolate writing time is allotted hourlong segments, and then any time outside of that is mine to do with as I please. Because, prior to this practice, I was taking a very unhealthy, questionably effective “all-or-nothing” approach to my day’s activities: “Man, I’ve got so much personal shit to do today, this is just gonna have to be a no-writing day, and then I’ll make up for it all-day tomorrow.” That wasn’t good for me or my writing. But I didn’t know what the hell to do about it — I was stuck in a bad pattern I couldn’t break — until I read Graham’s book. Which proves two things: You never know from where a good idea might come, and you can teach an old dog — as I’ve been a professional writer for nearly two decades — new tricks!

      Thanks, as always, Diana, for being so supportive. Let me take this opportunity to let my readers know that Catling’s Bane, the first book in Diana’s brand-new four-part fantasy series The Rose Shield, will be released next month!

      The Rose Shield the Goddess

      • Ah! Thanks so much for the plug! An exciting time that is in your future too, Sean. Especially now that you have a kitchen timer. 😀 Happy Writing!

        • Indeed. I’m enjoying watching my story take shape, and you are at a very exciting stage of the writing process: the eve of the release of a new series! So excited for you — can’t wait to pick up a copy of Catling’s Bane next month!

          • Thanks again, Sean.
            For some reason I don’t get comment notifications from your site. Hmmm. It’s odd. That’s why sometimes it takes a while to come back. I have to actually remember too with my creaky old brain. 🙂

          • That could very well be a settings issue on my end. I’ll ask Erik and/or Stacey if they experience the same…

  4. I am bingeing my way through Gilmore Girls right now (mid-season 6 at the moment), and loving every episode. I talk fast and smarty-pantsy like Lorelai, and am raising a boy-version of a Rory–my little guy is a hard-working, respectful, respectable kid. I was pleased to learn that my new TV BFF is bright and engaging in real life as well. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my electronics are more of a distraction than I would like to admit. If it’s possible to acquire attention deficit disorder as an adult, I would suggest I am on the verge. Reading that you have a plan for time management is something of a relief–strength in numbers or something like it. Thanks for sharing this and for providing hope for my reconnecting with connectedness.

    • Lorelai was the one-of-a-kind alchemical consequence of marrying a very rich, complicated character (created by Amy Sherman-Palladino) with the perfect actor (Graham). It’s a cliché to say so, but Lorelai really was every girl’s idea of a best friend and every guy’s notion of an idealized girlfriend. I myself relate to Lorelai in so many ways: I share her love of watching old TV shows on VHS with the original commercials, and her overt appreciation of the magic of snowfall. And I relate to Luke, too: Aside from our startlingly similar wardrobes, he loved Lorelai from the very first moment he saw her (as evidenced by the note he keeps in his wallet from their introductory encounter); I had the exact same love-at-first-sight response to my own wife (with whom I am celebrating nine years of marriage today!).

      Word of warning, though, Wendy: Though seasons one through six are perfection, the show craps out, alas, in season seven, on account of a change in showrunners: Amy and Dan Palladino, who’d created and shepherded the show for six years, left — abruptly and unceremoniously — in the final season over a contract dispute. In Talking as Fast as I Can, Graham sums the experience up as such: “Our new show runners were talented writers who knew the show well. But just like when David Lee Roth was replaced as the lead singer of Van Halen, no matter how hard we tried singing the same songs, they just didn’t sound quite the same.”

      That’s putting it diplomatically. Season 7 is a bummer, and ends on a whimper, not a bang — just to prepare you — but I am pleased to report that the Palladinos returned for A Year in the Life, and the new miniseries more than makes up for the creative deficiencies of the final season without them at the helm. If this winds up being the last of Gilmore we ever get — and I hope and suspect it won’t be — it is a fitting conclusion (with a beautiful coda) to my favorite series. Please be sure to let me know what you think of the series in its entirety as soon as you have the chance to finish it!

      Since I plugged Erik’s new post and Diana’s forthcoming book, let me just take a quick opportunity to alert my readers to your pet cause (a very worthy one): the 2017 Milwaukee Area MDA Muscle Walk on Sunday, April 30. For anyone looking to donate, the Greater Than Gravity team has of this writing raised $1,387 of its $2,500 goal. This is a great cause, very near and dear to Wendy’s heart, and I would encourage everyone to help spread the word about it on social media.

  5. Sean, great post and great tips on time management. But I’ve got to comment on the testosterone thing first. Your wife is either one lucky lady or exhausted all the time. Just saying.

    I love the idea of a timer and turning off distractions. We can all handle an hour of anything. Okay, not anything. But an hour of no internet, phone calls, and scrubbing toilets is doable. I squeeze a lot of things into the hours my kids are at school so I try to focus on things I can’t or don’t want to do when they’re home like exercising and writing. I can throw a load of laundry in while someone is telling me about their day and I tend to run errands around driving them places. Saves time and keeps me at the computer when their at school.

    I also listen to instrumental music when writing. Right now i’m listening to the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. (I don’t know how to add links to my comments otherwise I’d share how to find them. Sorry, folks.) Though on my last book, the women’s fiction out for submission, I created a playlist of love songs that made me think of my hero and heroine. I’ve never done that before with a novel and that was the seventh one in.

    When my kids were younger and home a lot more I employed The Red Hat method. I told them when I had the red hat on they weren’t allowed to speak to me unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always warn them before the hat went on and I’d allow them to ask as many questions as they had until that point. Questions were and still are a big deal for my son. Because they were elementary school ages they could understand seeing a red hat and what it meant. If I had just said, “Mommy is working.” That wouldn’t have been any different than mommy being on the phone or mommy sleeping.

    And with that, my writing is done until 3pm when I have an hour in a coffee shop all to myself.

    Happy Writing!!!

    • My wife just asked me the other day, “With all those responses you got to that post, how is it no one managed to mention that stupid testosterone comment?” Haha!

      As a mother, I’ll bet you are an expert multitasker. I’m not a parent myself, but having grown up in the hustle and bustle of NYC, and having worked for the first few years after college at a SoHo advertising agency (with its relentless workload and breakneck pace), I’m a pretty good multitasker myself. But since I quit screenwriting in 2014 to pursue a career as a novelist, I’ve come to experience both the joys and the pitfalls of working without deadlines. “Kitchen Timer” has allowed me to take back hourlong segments of time each day and regard them as sacrosanct; I spend that hour writing, and that’s all I do: There’s no coffee or bathroom or tweeting allowed — no multitasking. It’s given me a structural framework again that has restored both my productivity and creativity. It was a solution to a problem that had only arisen because of a confluence of circumstances: the change of career for me, and the absence of my wife from the apartment during the workday.

      Part of the trouble with being a stay-at-home writer is that everyone assumes you can just drop what you’re doing at a moment’s notice to run an errand, or stop and chat, or come out for coffee — like you have all the time in the world. No one makes such an assumption when you report to an office from nine to five, but when you’re working from home, boundaries aren’t respected in quite the same way. And anything we can do to signal to others that writing time is inviolate time (i.e, set and enforce those boundaries), be it the Red Hat method (an easy visual for kids to understand) or “Kitchen Timer” (something a spouse can respect once explained to them), is good for you and good for them. Because I know that when I’m disrupted during writing time, it’s akin to being suddenly woken from a dream state: I am momentarily disoriented and unmistakably irritated. Like falling asleep, it can take a while to “get in the zone,” and then a while still to come out of it; it’s not something I can just start and stop like iTunes.

      On the subject of iTunes, I published a post last July about how I write all my stories to movie soundtracks. Escape from Rikers Island was written, for the most part, to the scores of John Carpenter (Escape from New York, Escape from L.A., Lost Themes, etc.). My next book will be a Gothic supernatural romance, and I outlined it to Wojciech Kilar’s Dracula and Elliot Goldenthal’s Interview with the Vampire (among other soundtracks). I wrote a werewolf comedy a few years ago to Danny Elfman’s The Frighteners and Joseph LoDuca’s Army of Darkness. I just try to find scores that evoke the theme and tone of the story, compile them into a project-specific playlist, and let it run in the background as a sort of “temp track.” (By the way, I included a hyperlink to the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s official website in your comment!)

      Real quick (since we’re already talking music): Let me make my readers aware that you are now blogging, in addition to your own site, for NJs Best DJs; readers are encouraged to check out Stacey’s posts and comment if applicable!

      Thanks, Stacey, for leaving such a thoughtful response to this post! Happy and productive writing to you!

      • Thank you for handling my ineptness with the link to the Philharmonic. I realized my stupidity after I posted, which is why the editing process is so important and we shouldn’t just hit “Post” when our fingers leave the keyboard for the first time, that I could’ve included the link alongside (Wishing I could add italics there) the words for readers to link to. Sigh, I strive for perfection and often fall short.

        Am I the only one who mentioned the testosterone comment? (Sorry, I didn’t read all your comments) Come on folks, if you’re a writing don’t miss the details. Ha ha.

        And thank you for mentioning my other blogging gig. You are very sweet.

        I can’t agree with you more about how people do not understand that just because you work from home doesn’t mean you’re available. It’s up to us to enforce our boundaries because if we don’t no one else will. And if any of your readers aren’t published writers, but hope to be: Act As If.

        • Italics and hyperlinks in the comments section of a blog post are the habits of the supremely anal retentive; be glad you don’t feel a need to include such formalities in your replies!

          And I second your closing statement: If you take writing seriously, if you study your craft and are committed to improving (and we never stop improving), and if you set aside regular time exclusively for writing — even if it is only an hour (or less) a day — then you are a writer. Artists are the type of people, generally speaking, that long for the approval of others; we seek external validation. Hell, that’s what tonight’s Oscar ceremony is all about: peer recognition. We have egos and there is nothing wrong with that; respect is a perfectly natural craving. But, in the end, validation is really only a gift we can give ourselves. It like Roos says under point #10 of his mission statement: We make a commitment to ourselves — to study the discipline, to practice it, and to achieve measurable goals — and when we satisfy that commitment, we take pride in ourselves for doing so.

          I worked for many years as a Hollywood screenwriter — the most miserable type of writing career imaginable — and was always looking, as is the nature of the job, to please or impress others: my managers, my agents, my producers, etc. You’d bust your back to turn in material that would satisfy the demanding (and often contradictory) requirements of the producers (the ones trying to get the movie made), the director (the one who exercises the strongest measure of creative control over the film), the studio (the one putting up the money for the whole enterprise), etc., and I can’t tell you how many times I got to the point where the feedback was, against all odds, universally enthusiastic. And you’d think, “Great! I did it! I’ve arrived at the summit!” only to then watch the whole project inexplicably and unceremoniously collapse; months (and sometimes years) of your life were gone with nothing to show for them. And all that time I’d spent trying to please people — trying to placate their egos — left me creatively and emotionally unfulfilled.

          And then I saw that interview with John Carpenter where he said “I’m here for a short period of time on this earth, and, by God, I want to do it the way I want to do it. And it may not be what you like and what you want, but fuck you.” So I’ve spent the last two years pouring my heart and soul into this novel, with no one to answer to but myself, with no encouragement from collaborators or money to keep the lights on as I type, and I’ve never been more creatively satisfied and professionally content. Am I a screenwriter? I have no produced movies to show for all the screenplays I wrote over the course of my career. Am I a novelist? An Amazon search of my name turns up nothing. Am I even a writer? I’m sure there are people back home who wonder that very thing, but what they think is irrelevant (and, for that matter, none of my business); I know the commitment I’ve made to my craft, and I know the caliber of work I’m capable of producing, and until (and even after) that first book is published, that’s going to have to be the ultimate standard of professional affirmation. One’s own commitment to being a professional is as important a metric of validation — perhaps more important — than the formal recognition of peers or readers or anyone. And methods like “Kitchen Timer” that we can apply and practice to help us cultivate good habits and meet our goals take a very vaguely defined vocation — writing — and give it concrete criteria for self-evaluation.

  6. It was nice to see a bit more about you personally – something many of us forget to share when we blog. I am a huge fan of efficiency, I’ve tried various forms of this, but this was a lovely reminder and actually I might just buy a timer and try it – I am TERRRRRRRRIBLE at concentrating on one task at a time something I really need to improve on. Right. That settles it, I will give this a little tweak and have a go 😀

    • Thanks for saying so, Sacha! Last time I got personal in a post was October; the past few months, on the other hand, have been strictly scholarly. This one sort of split the difference! I don’t particularly have a formula as to when I go anecdotal versus when I go analytical — I just let my mood in a given month guide me. Readers do seem to respond, though, to the more personal stuff, like the pieces I posted celebrating my twentieth anniversary and my fortieth birthday. I think it’s important for writers to learn to be candid — to be consciously unguarded — in their writing, which is something I’ve gotten more comfortable doing the more I’ve blogged. I’ve never been one to offer writing advice on this site, because there are plenty of other people doing that better than I ever could! I just try to be as intellectually engaging and emotionally honest as I can within the parameters of my particular interests and perspectives, and hope people respond to that. Some posts resonate more than others; for instance, I was completely surprised that last month’s essay on canon/continuity in “shared fictional universes,” an esoteric (and decidedly geeky) subject if ever there was one, inspired so much discussion. And then there are the posts I’m prouder of more so than others; though it didn’t get a lot of play, I consider my piece on John Carpenter one of my better efforts. Perhaps one day I’ll take my favorite posts and rewrite them to suit a collected edition — a book of essays on craft and culture.

      On the subject of “Kitchen Timer”: Practicing this method has made me acutely aware of how often I lose concentration, at which point the impulse to check Twitter or make coffee rushes in to fill the attentional void. “KT” gave me a disciplinary framework to resist those urges, and now I am able to identify them as they happen and quash them on the spot. I still rely on “KT” — I use the tools and techniques I’ve learned — but I have become more attuned to my proclivity to lose focus, and that has allowed me to gain control over that bad habit, thereby increasing my productivity exponentially. So be sure to let me know if you wind up adopting “Kitchen Timer,” if only temporarily, and how it works out for you!

  7. Solid system.
    In some ways I think I’ve already been doing this. I tend to map out a time range for a given writing day, with a low and a high. Often my lows are between 1 & 2 hours, while the highs so far haven’t gone above 3, though sometimes I do manage to squeeze in four hours.

    I also jot down some possible writing activities I could work on, like blog posts, book reviews, rough drafts, or revision.

    Then I block out hour long segments to work on them. In some cases I may work on the same task all day, but the 1 hour system creates a natural pause to step back, stretch my legs, and spend a few minutes letting my mind clear.

    For a while I tried tracking a word count, but then I struggled with how to count revision or research, so I settled on tracking time, with the understanding that I had to be honest with myself.

    The journal is another interesting idea. Usually I have “the project” and “the project scratch pad”, which is a sortof safe space for me to write garbage and ramble on, but still with the intent of writing something for “the project”. It’s funny but I can’t actually write my rough writing in the same word document as the approved content. It’s almost as if the “scratch pad” is like my measuring cup, or a small bowl, something to carefully measure and verify that what I’ve written is “right”, before adding it to the main document.

    I have found it helpful to have multiple projects, and to alternate between them.

    • Thanks for dropping in an leaving a comment, Adam!

      Four (concentrated) hours is a lot of writing time in a single day. (Any more than four or five hours, in my experience, is counterproductive, anyway, because you only have so much quality brainpower — so much focus — to harness in the course of a given day.) Since implementing Kitchen Timer, I’ve been surprised as to how much I can get done in only one or two hours when those are exclusively devoted to writing, and not interrupted by phone calls or text messages or even the involuntary impulse to turn my eyes away from the screen.

      I agree with you: The “segmented” system of one-hour blocks not only forces you to concentrate on what you’re doing, but it also compels you to step away from your work for a while, which is also beneficial — sort of like resting between sets at the gym. It’s not about being lazy, it’s about recharging.

      For years I worked as a screenwriter, where progress is measured in pages: “I got three pages done today,” or “I had a productive day at five pages,” etc. Novelists are more concerned with word count. But I found that to be a daunting and somewhat unhelpful metric, which is why judging our progress by time spent over words written — or “behavior rather than content,” as Roos puts it — is far more conducive to managing one’s workload efficiently, and feeling good about oneself for having done so.

      As for the journal: I have a notebook I keep on my desk which includes blog outlines, story ideas, and even daily to-do lists, but I’ve found, since practicing Kitchen Timer, that I haven’t yet had to resort to toggling to it during one of my hourlong sessions. I’m currently writing the second draft of my WIP, so it’s not like I ever get struck with writer’s block (in that sense, revising what’s already been written is far easier than producing what hasn’t been), and whenever I feel my focus drifting — whenever the impulse to check Twitter or make coffee strikes — I am now able to identify that subconscious inclination before I’ve acted on it. Kitchen Timer has given me a disciplinary framework in that way. That said, I’m sure when I’m writing the next project — from scratch — there will be plenty of instances where “disgust or fatigue arises,” and the journal may very well come in handy.

      When I was a screenwriter, I often worked on multiple projects simultaneously, which is definitely a good way to sustain interest in all of them — to not burn out on any of them. Since starting my novel, however, I’ve been consumed with that mammoth endeavor to the exclusion of everything else (save this blog), though I hope to perhaps return to a practice of multitasking as soon as this is behind me. God knows, I’ve got the next several books outlined and waiting to “go to pages,” it’s just a question now of how fast I can type!

      So glad you decided to join the conversation, Adam, and I’ll look forward to learning more about your own process and projects on your blog.

      Sean

  8. Your interesting, but useless bit of trivia for the day. A character in the book I’m working on, Felix Crow, is a merging of the names James Steakley used in Vampire$ and Armor. Jack Crow was, of course, the main guy in Vampire$, while Felix was the gunman. Felix was the main character in Armor. I loved the names and really enjoyed the books, so I decided at some point I had to give a little shout out to the now deceased John Steakley, hence Felix Crow in Greetings From Sunny Aluna.

    • Haha! Is that right? I’ve never read Armor, but I did read Vampire$ some years ago, and I remember Felix, because his relationship with Crow was such an integral component of the novel, yet wasn’t included at all in the movie (I suppose you could argue Montoya became Felix’s cinematic substitute, but I don’t recall if a version of Montoya appeared in the book because it’s been nearly twenty years since I read it).

      In a way, Vampire$ stands as an excellent example of something I was saying to Stacey in the comments section of the subsequent post, “Foundations of Storytelling, Part 1: The Logline”: that when Hollywood buys a novel, as was the case with Jaws and Die Hard, what they’re often really after is the logline — the conceptual premise. In the instance of Vampire$, somebody saw potential in the central idea — a team of Vatican-sponsored vampire hunters in the Southwestern United States — but envisioned a different story than the one Steakley had developed. After the setup — cleaning out the nest and then getting surprise-attacked by the master vampire at the motel — the movie sort of goes off in its own direction.

      I like John Carpenter‘s Vampires quite a bit; it’s not one of his best, but I certainly think it was his last solid film. It could’ve used a stronger red herring: Jack spends the entire movie thinking Cardinal Alba is the one who betrayed him to Valek, only to discover he was right all along! Wouldn’t it have been more powerful if Jack had regarded Alba as a beloved father figure — that the Cardinal was the one man in this fucked-up world that cynical Crow actually loved and trusted — only to have later been rocked to his core by the revelation of Alba’s treachery? It seems like that would’ve given Carpenter an opportunity for a more emotionally resonant through-line, and only would have deepened the movie’s thematic exploration of the loving bonds that form between men (particularly tough guys).

      I also think Valek is defeated way too easily at the climax. Though I love the entire third act, in the abandoned jail, the movie had spent so much time establishing Valek as an unkillable, absolutely invincible vampire — the master of masters — that it was a little convenient when he takes cover in a dilapidated barn full of slats in the ceiling to allow blades of sunlight to penetrate. Hell, Crow didn’t even need to risk his neck by following Valek in; he could’ve just chained the side of the barn to his truck and pulled the whole structure down, thereby burning Valek to cinders when light of the sun flooded in. I think a mano a mano between the world’s most powerful vampire and the meanest, toughest slayer should’ve been a little more clever. But c’est la vie.

      And here’s a “fun fact” for you, Eric: The head of jail security in my forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island, is named Robert Hauk as a nod to Lee Van Cleef’s character in Escape from New York. Seems we share many of the same formative artistic influences! I’m very much looking forward to reading Greetings from Sunny Aluna; be sure to let me know when it’s published…

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