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Hannah Z. Morley: The Timer Tip

Spectrum reader Hannah Z. Morley shares advice on starting writing projects.


Blank pages are scary. Deadlines are scarier.


For many, starting a writing project is harder than finishing one. Whenever I lack ideas, I procrastinate. Hardcore. But in my efforts to be a writer I’ve found a few cheat codes to trick myself into doing what I both love and fear: producing first drafts.


First drafts are theoretically supposed to be bad, but my mind won’t accept anything less than perfect. I imagine some embodying of my mind as it sips tea, peers over its glasses, and says, “Well darling, If it’s not perfect then why do it? Who’s going to read this drivel?”


For me, expectations are muzzles, and blank pages disfigure dreams. Too many possibilities leave me frozen. Dorothy only had one road to follow, the rest of us are stuck with twenty.


So, in my desperation to stick with my Writing major and side-step my indecisiveness, I found a way to race against fear.


The Timer Method requires a phone or laptop, whatever you use to write, and a pair of headphones. And while filling your ears with music, I find that classical works the best for me, set a timer for ten minutes.


In that time, I tell myself that I’m going to write as much as I can, and motivate myself with the end reward: a few words and a tiny break. As I go, I don't think about the words I’m typing, I just click-clack until the buzzer goes off, rest my fingers, and then rinse and repeat.


In my experience, it only takes thirty minutes, or three goes, to find some flow. It‘s a game, a challenge. Hiding the timer on another tab, I’m adrift in a land between minutes. There I work, and feel a writer’s high. How much time is left? How many ideas can I come up with before then? And more importantly, what can I come up with in the next round?


When I race against time, I kick expectations out the door. There’s no time for them, they’ll only distract me. The purpose of the timer is not to produce the best work possible but to produce work.


The best way to get out of a rut isn’t to wait for rescue, but to dig yourself out. The Timer Method provides me a safe and detached way to tunnel upwards. I fling words once obscured by fears of failure onto my Google Doc.


The real work in writing comes from rewriting, and The Timer Method chases out the words that inspire future drafts.

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