07 October, 2012

The Egg Timer Method

Some writers recommend setting an egg timer to an hour (or half an hour) and making yourself write for this amount of time.  Chuck Palahniuk is a famous example:

The idea is just to force your creative "juices" (brain juice, I guess... or heart, if you're the spiritual type--either way you're gross, and perhaps morbid) flowing.  As Chuck puts it, "If you still hate writing, you're free in an hour.  But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you'll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you'll keep going."

(Quick note for reference purposes:  People have been doing it ever since egg timers existed so far as I know, but Chuck Palahniuk may have been the first to write an essay on the topic.)

It's truly great, and it works for most people.  However, I'd like to take the method one step deeper with some analysis:  why does it work?

Here we get to the meat of those creative juices.  Yum!  Here we delve inside cavities that reach--I'll stop there.  Let's keep it metaphysical without metaphor, shall we?  Why do you love writing after an hour?  Because starting is the hardest part.

Some people respond to a hard line.  Others respond to gentle persuasion.  For the benefit of both parties, I'll write a section aimed at each.

Gentle Persuasion Preferrers:

Writing is your passion.  If you've devoted this time, and more importantly this emotion into writing by now, carry forwards.  Sometimes writing seems hard, but let's reflect on why that is.  I'd bet if you're on this blog you care about the art.  (If you're just curious about me, I'm flattered :))  (Doesn't that always make the smiley face look like he has a double chin?)  Sometimes the things we care about the most are those we invest the most energy into.  Loving takes time, patience and commitment, and all of that is hard work.  When we think about sitting in the chair, especially if we aren't sure what to write, we're often expending more energy than when we are whilst working. Reflect on your love.  Writing is an expression of that emotion.  Starting is hard.

Hard Line Likers:

What would Samuel L. Jackson say?  "**** ******* egg timers!  Get yo' **** *** off the ****ing couch and sit the **** down in front yo' god **** computer and get to mother ****ing work *****!!!!!!"  he'd say, trying to be as polite as he knows how.

The poor socially disabled man....  But he has a point.  What the smeg are you trying to do with your life?  If you want to be a writer, listen to Samuel L. Jackson.  Is you're butt telling you to stay in front of the television?  Kick your butt in the *** and get your *** to the keyboard.

Back to Normal:

Let's stick to my old metaphor about islands and oceans (see "Follow the What!?").  Sometimes, no matter how much you love writing, you're going to think, "Smeg!  Wouldn't it be great just to set down the oars and coast for awhile?"  But you're spending emotional energy while you coast, for the simple reason that you're not getting anywhere.  That's frustrating.  That's exhausting.  Soon, I'll devote a whole post to Ray Bradbury's essay called "The Joy of Writing" in which he talks (writes) about "zen and gusto". 

It's very important for the professional artist to let himself (ladies can be artists, too, but I don't like slashes) enjoy his work.  Again, the reason the egg timer method works is far more important than the method itself.  Sometimes we invest so much hope, love, need (name an emotion) into a thing that the very thought seems exhausting, but the fact is, we make that investment out of love.  Let youself be in love with your work, turn those emotions into release, and get yo' *** in the chair.

Writers write.  My attitude as a teacher is to use any method that helps, but only the reasoning behind a method will help in the long term.  The egg timer is a great method.  Just don't lose sight of why it works.  What you're trying to do ultimately is shift lethargy into gusto.

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