This post wasn’t going to write itself …

This post wasn’t going to write itself …
January 20, 2014 Beth Nyland

But I wasn’t writing it.

Every day, I help consulting clients and writing students “show up at the page.” One client, on the heels of publishing her first book, has used her writing momentum to become a prolific blogger and guest blogger. Another has mapped out a plan for an entire year of Monday blog posts.

Both are using writing to expand their reach and build demand for their expertise.

I want that! No more “cobbler’s children syndrome” for me and my business. This writer will write.

How to start the flow of words? Set a timer.

When guiding students through a creative or business writing exercise, I always set a timer:

3 minutes to brainstorm stronger subject lines

7 minutes to write about a challenging workplace moment

12 minutes to bang out a first draft

So, to write this post, I opened the timer app on my iPhone, scrolled to the 10-minute mark, pressed “start,” and began writing. After 20 days of procrastination, I invested 10 minutes in getting started.

Voila! I wrote and published this post. You’re reading it. The strategy works.

Timed writing works for me for three reasons.


1. FOCUS. When I’m avoiding a writing project, my brain rides umpteen other trains of thought—most of them loaded with excuses and heading away from the page. But as soon as the timer starts ticking, my mind secures its place on a one-way, express train toward my destination. All other scenery blurs into the periphery as I focus straight ahead, concentrating on my message.

2. HOPE. When in a difficult job, I’ve told myself I could tough it out for a year. When stretched and swollen in the third trimester of pregnancy, I knew I could persevere a few more weeks. When sweating and puffing at the gym, I can pep talk myself into 10 or 20 more minutes. The same psychology works in writing. Faced with even the most difficult message, I can tough it out at the keyboard for five minutes. And though that might not be enough to finish the job, it’s almost always enough to gain …

3. … MOMENTUM. When my 10-minute alarm announced “time’s up,” I had just begun writing the second headline above. I wasn’t finished, by any means; but I was past the point of “never going to get this done.” Just getting started gave me the confidence I needed to finish the work.

Whether you ascribe to the Pomodoro Technique or simply like playing mind games with yourself, setting a timer could be just what it takes to make headway on a project—big or small, writing or otherwise. Update your resumé or do a few crunches. Outline a presentation or schedule apointments. Write a book or organize a drawer.

The beginning of anything happens in a minute (or less).

Set a timer and see where a minute takes you.


Comments (6)

  1. Kristi Mills 10 years ago

    Love these tips! Half the battle is carving out the time to sit and focus. Starting with 10 minutes is a great suggestion. It takes the pressure off, and can jumpstart something great. And if not, what’s 10 minutes, really?? A cup of coffee? A trip to the mailbox? The length of two of your favorite songs back-to-back? One pass through Facebook… Definitely less daunting when you look at it through that lens! Thanks!

  2. Author
    bnyland 10 years ago

    Thanks, Kristi. You’ve given me another idea. I drink tea all day, and perhaps that’s the source of another mind game. What if I can only refresh the cup after calling one client, writing two paragraphs, or answering three email messages? That could work, too …

  3. Rene Joy Bangert 10 years ago

    Great strategy Beth! Breaking a seemingly insurmountable task into a chunk of ten minutes…builds confidence! I will use this idea to create writing samples. Thank you!


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