Made Your Winter Break Plans to “Shut Up and Write”?

20 Dec

Shut Up and Write! Meetup is a venue for writers to work in the company of other writers on a regular basis. Writing, whether approached as a profession or as an avocation, is an isolating activity. We provide this forum, writing resources and meeting times as a method of developing a community of creative people. We welcome people who are serious about ‘writing down the bones’ and are looking for the companionship of other writers.

I’ve been doing “Shut Up and Write” days in tandem with a friend in the UK – when she’s working on a dissertation, I’m working on a classroom research project.  When she’s moving into revising in the afternoon, I’m starting the morning with generative writing.

What Do You Need to Write?  

This is Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s question in a summer Inside Higher Ed blog:

What do I need to maximize my writing this [break]? Academic writers have lots of different needs. For example, some people need to physically share space with others while writing, some need a stern authority figure to answer to, some need solitude and the kind of support that is silent, some need a quantitative accounting of their progress, some need to be in groups with similar others, some need to be regularly inspired, some need ongoing substantive feedback by those in their specialty field, some need regular cheerleading, some need therapy, and some need an occasional exorcism (from the demons of bad academic socialization). It’s even OK if you need all of these things at different times! The important thing is to identify what you need without judgment, shame, or self-flagellation.

Knowing what you truly need to maximize your productivity is what will allow you to construct a writing support system that is effective for YOU.

I need to write before I’m ready to explain core ideas to other people, to exteriorize – which Robert Boice notes as including acting “to put private notes and formative manuscripts [out] for public comment” among my a group of colleagues also in the midst of writing.  I need strategies so that I am more often in the third group described in Robert Boice’s study of fauclty writers, reported in “Procrastination, Busyness and Bingeing” (Behaviour Research and Therapy 27.6 [1989]: 605-11):

Participants were divided into three groups: (a) The first group (“controls”) did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in 1 year they wrote an average of 17 pages; (b) the second group wrote daily and kept a daily record; they averaged 64 pages; (c) the third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group’s average was 157 pages.

I need “The Faculty Writing Place: A Room of Our Own” described by Peter Elbow and Mary Deane Sorcinelli – regular days of writing in a room with others.  But that’s not going to happen.  So, here’s an idea.

You Say Tomato, I Say Pomodoro

The Pomodoro Technique is one Shut Up and Write strategy that’s suitable for a winter break day or weekend or series of days  when I know that what I need are on-going, semi-structured, not exactly predictable periods of writing that I can sustain as chunks of activity nestled between planned for breaks.

Like Pasta Pomodoro – which mixes fresh tomatoes with pasta, olive oil and basil for a quick and light meal that leaves you nourished and ready for a next course and maybe even for the pudding course – this Pomodoro requires few basics: a writing task, place to write, writing tools, and a timer for an intial two hour chunk of time.

Here’s the pattern

1a. set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes

1b.  work on the task until the timer rings; record that stopping place with an X

1c. take a short break (5 minutes).

Repeat these components three more times, so that a full pomodoro includes rounds 1abc, 2abc, then 3abc, and finally 4abc.  A two hour chunk of writing.  Followed by a longer break:

At the end of four pomodoros, you’ll take a a 15–20 minute break- time to walk away, to take a walk, to do one part of an exercise routine, to taste the cup of tea or coffee, to let your mind wander to the next Tomato Round.

A lovely thing about these four tiny pomodoro excursions in one session is that as as writer you get to watch ideas grow and you get to feel motivation build.  As Inger Mewburn notes,  one full Pomodoro is a heck of a way to get to 1,000 words in a day – and maybe even during a break week for the cumulative writing that crafts a 4,000 word article in draft.

And for those who, like me, value a visual alongside things that involve a flow of events, the Pomodoro Technique Flowchart.

Need Some Apps with that Tomato?

Worried about distractions during the sustained writing because, after all, you’re at a computer with browsers that you “need” to track down an exact quote in order move on with your writing.  Or you need to keep the browser open to run a timer for the 25 minute sessions.  There’s an app for that -

Pomodoro Timers

Blocking Select Sites While Writing

  • Nanny for Google Chrome
  • LeechBlock for Firefox
  • SelfControl as OSX application

I use the Mac version of Focus Booster for timing and am just setting up Self Control so that during the predetermined time I’ve set out for writing, I block all but Google Docs across the web tools I use for communication with my collaborators.  This way I write the docs rather than talk about writing the docs.

* Additional “Writing Workout” Resources – http://www.slideshare.net/alexa032/handout-for-pechakucha – gathered while working with post graduate researchers at the University of Salford.

2 Responses to “Made Your Winter Break Plans to “Shut Up and Write”?”

  1. Kaitlin 20 December 2011 at 1:11 am #

    THat’s an interesting concept – I like it. Usually though, I just barrel straight through. It’s just a matter of finding a mindset and keeping it – if I do it daily it’s easy to get into. I would have trouble with 25 minute sessions because I’d be constantly jolted from my mindscape.

  2. Ilene Dawn Alexander (@IleneDawn) 20 December 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Exactly, Kaitlin. I like the Pomodoro when I’m generating; then, when I’m at the assembling and revising part of writing, I turn off the timer. I do put on an iTunes playlist for those days – and tend to not open any browsers.

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