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Writers, Set a Timer: Drawing Inspiration from Major League Baseball's New Rule Changes

Major League Baseball made a few rule changes this offseason. The most significant:

In an effort to create a quicker pace of play, a 30-second timer between batters will be implemented in 2023. Between pitches, a 15-second timer will be in place with the bases empty and a 20-second timer with runners on base.

I've got mixed feelings about this. For TV, I think it's great. Speeds things up. But if I'm at the ballpark, especially on a nice summer day at Wrigley Field, I don't want things to go faster. If anything, I want another hour outside!

But it did make me think, there is a lot of value in implementing a "writing clock." Especially in the first draft phase of a book. A writing clock (just another way of saying deadlines) moves your project forward and serves as a great antidote to perfectionism. Here are three ways you can do it:

Writing Sessions

So much of writing is building the habit. Building that writing muscle. To get started, pick a consistent time of day (early morning or late night are most common), the room/space you'll write in, and whether you'll write by hand, computer, or hey, more power to ya if you wanna go with a typewriter. During that time, no distractions. One look at the phone or email will zap you right out of writing mode.

How long? Some writers pick a number of minutes. Others pick a number of words. If you're just starting out or getting back into things, I'd recommend the time approach. Go with 30 minutes. Longer than 30 is daunting, and shorter than 30 you don't have enough time to get into a flow. The first 10-15 minutes, you're stretching, shaking off the cobwebs.

And if you do enter a flow state, and that 30-minute timer sneaks up on you, you can always add more time. Just be careful to get to work on time!

What if I get stuck? Two things to try. First, keep your favorite book near your writing space. When you're stuck, flip to a page and transcribe a paragraph into the Word/Google doc. Artists sketch famous paintings. Athletes study a golf swing, a throwing motion, a tennis serve. Writers should do the same. It's a great confidence boost too. Transcribe some John Steinbeck and say to yourself, "I just wrote one of the best paragraphs of all time!"

Second approach - stream of consciousness writing. This is a great thing to do at the beginning of your writing session. Spend a minute or two writing down whatever pops into your head. Write one word, see what pops up next. Keep going. The trick is no editing. Don't delete anything. Don't worry about spelling either. Just go. Something like this:

Dog. log. ants on a log. Peanut butter. Crunchy. Crunch bars. Bars Chicago. Chicago Cubs. Why am I writing so much about baseball this month?

Weekly and/or Monthly Timers

Long Overdue has a monthly newsletter. But there's really no pressure to get it done. Or get it done before the 30th of the month. If we missed a month (or two), our authors might reach out, maybe a few readers checking in, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

How it feels inside my head: oh, totally different. I'm determined to reach that monthly goal. I won't say my life depends on it, but I create that type of urgency to get myself to write -- sometimes late into the night.

The same *was true* with my weekly blog. I aimed for a new blog post every week. Then I switched to every other week so I could have more time to revise and edit. But it doesn't have to be a blog. I totally understand keeping your writing private until it's absolutely ready but still, try to create some type of weekly or bi-weekly goal, whether that's sharing with a friend, a writing group, an open mic, or maybe it's just adding one new piece of writing to a folder on your computer.

Create a false sense of urgency. I got to get this done! You'll be amazed at how quickly your brain starts pushing you to hit these arbitrary deadlines.

*One blog per week - I say "was true" because my writing numbers plummeted once I became a new dad. One of these days, I'm gonna publish a blog post called: "Writers: What to do When Your Baby's Under Two." You know, once I can find some time again 😉

First Draft Timer

I can think of at least 6 people we've talked to who had a first draft of their book completed, or almost completed, but they were stuck on what to do next. And that stuck phase can last for years.

This makes sense because, as a first-time author, all the next steps come crashing in at once and it feels like a tidal wave of uncertainty.

Do I need an editor? How do I find an editor? Is it ready for an editor? Is it even good enough for an editor? What about a publisher? Should I start reaching out to literary agents now? Who are the best publishers? Who publish first-time authors? How many books will I sell? How much money do authors make? Is my story even good enough?

Our approach at Long Overdue is to share one tangible next step. We call it "Feedback Circle." It's a chance for the author to have a few of their friends/family/blog subscribers read their manuscript and provide honest, helpful, direct feedback. A reader from our team hops in as well and we organize all the feedback in an anonymous and digestible way. We can also setup a Zoom call for everyone to discuss together.

It's exciting to see what happens next. Authors who were stuck will send their manuscript over, sometimes the next day, and start building their Feedback Circle. Or say, "Alright, two weeks. I'm gonna review it one more time, then let's do it." Knowing that there's a Feedback Circle, and then an Editing round, and then book design is freeing because now you have a clear path. The manuscript doesn't have to be perfect. Not at all. Just good enough to move on to the next stage.

Implementing timers, deadlines, and the writing equivalent of a pitch clock will help you build a routine, grow more confident as a writer, generate new ideas, move your projects forward, and -- hopefully -- increase your love for writing. Don't be surprised if these writing sessions become your favorite time of the day!

For more advice on writing, check out some of the articles below. And for a mix of writing, editing, and publishing advice + a look at what's new with our authors and books, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.

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