Army Airborne commands preceding a parachute jump:
“Outboard personnel, stand up.”
“Inboard personnel, stand up.”
“Check static lines.”
“Sound off for equipment check.”
Or, as they used to call cadence when I was in the army, “Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door.”
I can’t recall how the rest of the song went, but it kept us going on those long runs and marches. There’s a lot to be said for preparation and diligence when watching the clock. I can remember seeing an old boxer who was in the later rounds of a grueling match clinch and then quickly glance up at the ring clock, trying to see how much longer he had until the bell rang.
I use a similar technique for my writing. I have one of those little cooking timers that can be used to monitor time passage or be set in a countdown mode. I normally use it for the latter. I routinely set the timer for 30 minutes and begin writing as soon as I press the START button. During this time, I write, pure and simple. If the phone rings, I don’t answer it. If I hear the minute click that signals an incoming e-mail, I ignore it. If someone happens to ring the doorbell, I make no move to get out of my chair. The only exception I make is if an emergency occurs. I even time my trips to the bathroom and coffee breaks to conform to this regimen. If the timer rings, and I’m on a roll as far as writing, I merely hit the button and start another thirty minutes of solid writing time.
I’m sure this procedure is shared by many writers, and I certainly make no claim of coming up with it. For me, it seemed to be a natural process. When I worked the punching bags at the boxing gym, be they heavy or speed bags, my activity was divided into a series of three minute rounds, with a minute’s rest in between. I still use this technique when I go to the gym, mounting a timer on the wall (the handy little things have a magnetic back) and going for three minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and reset the three minute limit at the end of each round because it’s too difficult to do when you’re wearing those cumbersome bag gloves. I would also lose a few seconds of time resetting the clock each time, so I merely take that occasional glance toward my faithful timer on the wall, watching as the seconds tick by. At the end of three minutes, I rest for one, then go another three, ending at seven minutes. Two rounds completed. I go on as long as I can, knowing that when I finish six rounds the timer will be at twenty-three. That’s usually where I decide to stop, or go for lucky seven. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to keep punching for the entire time. The one saving grace, however, is that the bag doesn’t hit back.
So anyway, applying this to writing, I’d say give it a try. You can even use your smart phone to give you that thirty minute warning if you want, but I’d advise spending a couple of bucks for a timer. Smart phones offer too many temptations, like checking your e-mails or text messages. In the final analysis, it’s all about avoiding the temptation to procrastinate. Just like setting that informal goal of writing two pages a day (at the end of a year you’ll have a completed novel), make yourself write for two thirty minute sessions a day and you’ll have at least an hour’s worth of work done.
Using the timer to set limits on your Internet surfing and e-mail writing is also a good idea. Think about how much time you waste on those activities each day.
Okay, I set my timer as I started to write this piece, and it’s showing that I have 10:45 minutes left on the clock. So what’s that, about 33 words a minute? Not an exceptional rate, but not too shabby either, considering that I had to think about what I wanted to say and correct an occasional typo along the way. (This keyboard makes a lot of mistakes sometimes. I have to keep my eye on it. ;-)
So anyway, remember that you don’t have to be airborne to use those preparation commands:
Get ready… Get set… Activate that timer... Write!
And don’t forget your timer.