Apparently I’ve been on something of a hot pursuit of Lauren Graham these days. And by “these days,” I mean the last seven or eight years. She perpetually creates characters that I love, and I’m not ashamed to say that my list of imaginary friends and dinner guests definitely includes Lorelai Gilmore and Sarah Braverman.
But Lauren’s recently hit her stride as an author, and so, of course, I had to rush out to belong to that fan club. I first read her memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, and then, of course, I progressed to her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe. On one Netflix binge or another, followed by audible books in my ears, I’ve got Lauren Graham’s voice solidly fixed in my inner dialogue. It’s a beautiful thing.
As a writer, I’m a complete junkie for writing advice and lessons. So much so that I sometimes have to remind myself that a shelf full of books on writing doesn’t actually make up for the actual act of writing. Still, I’m drawn to writing advice like a moth to a flame. And when Lauren Graham offers writing advice? Well, let’s just say I didn’t know I could love her more.
In her memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren wrote about the phenomenon of an actress authoring a novel: nobody believed she could actually write a book on her own. Hollywood was generally skeptical, continually asking, “Right, but who helped you?” Still, she forged ahead, even conquering the infamous writing killer we writers all have in common: procrastination. Lauren wrote about her Kitchen Timer Method, a tip that helps battle writer’s block, and a method she picked up from veteran screenwriter Don Roos.
The Kitchen Timer Method, born from the Pomodoro technique of time management, has transformed the way she writes—and in turn, the way I write, too. It’s the answer we artists are looking for to bring structure where there is none, to be more productive in far less time.
Lauren says, “The principle is that every writer deserves a definite and do-able way of being and feeling successful every day. To do this, we learn to judge ourselves on behavior rather than content. We set up a goal for ourselves as writers that is easy, measurable, free of anxiety, and above all, fail-proof, because everyone can sit and an hour will always pass.” Sign me up.
Here’s how it works:
1. Buy a kitchen timer that goes to sixty minutes. Or use a timer app. Or tell Siri to start a timer for sixty minutes.
2. Decide on Monday how many hours of writing you will do on Tuesday. Some people make appointments in their calendar for these hours, as if they are business hours or dentist appointments. A good strong beginning is one hour a day, but when you are doubting yourself or under pressure or self attack, choose fewer hours rather than more.
3. During the hour, follow the rules. No phones, no texts, and no Internet. Silence ringers. No music with words unless it’s a language you don’t understand. Headphones with a white noise app can be helpful. Turn off your computer’s WiFi. Turn your phone face down. No reading, no pencil sharpening, no desk tidying, no organizing. This is your writing time.
4. Immediately upon beginning the hour, open two documents: your journal and the project you are working on. If you don’t have a project you are actively working on, just open your journal.
5. An hour consists of time spent keeping your writing appointment. That’s it. Here’s the beauty of it: you don’t have to write at all if you are happy to stare at the screen or the page. You don’t even have to write a single word on our current project. You may spend the entire hour writing in your journal, and anything you write in your journal is fine, even “I hate writing” typed 400 times. It is fine, good, and right if you spend the whole day writing in your journal. This is just as good a writing day as one spent entirely in your current project. When you wish and if you wish, pop over to the current project document and write for as long as you like. When you get tired or want a break, pop back to the journal. That’s the brilliance of it: you use your boredom to your advantage. When disgust or fatigue with the current project arises, take a break by returning to your journal. When that in turn bores you, then go back to the project at hand, and so on.
6. It is infinitely better to write fewer hours every day than many hours one day and none the next. If you have a crowded weekend, choose a half- or quarter-hour as your writing time. Put in that time, and go on with your day.
7. When the hour is up, stop. Even if you are in the middle of a sentence. If you have scheduled another hour, give yourself a break before beginning again. Read, eat, run errands. Then begin again.
8. If you fail to make your hours for the day, you have scheduled too many. If on Wednesday you planned to write two hours and didn’t make it, then you schedule a shorter appointment for the next day. Don’t schedule an additional hour to make up or catch up. Let the past go and move on. (I love that sentence with my whole heart.)
9. When you’ve fulfilled your commitment, credit yourself for doing so. You have satisfied your commitment to yourself, and the rest of the day is yours to do with as you wish. Congratulations.
Lauren practically guarantees—and I’ve found this to be true—that this process may seem to be all about form, but it makes way for some lovely content. The knowledge that you have satisfied your commitment, the freedom from anxiety and resistance, the stilling of that hectoring voice inside that used to yell at you that you weren’t writing enough—all of this opens up the avenues of creativity. Quantity becomes quality.
If you happen to read this: thanks for writing, acting, and making new things. You make the world a happier, funnier, more creative, witty, fast-talking place where I want to be. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a timer to set and a commitment to keep.
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Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.