Why you should set a writing time LIMIT

Word count: 754 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Do you ever think you should spend summer writing your book? Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t!

My back is both my fiercest enemy and my dearest friend. It’s an enemy because I often wake up with an aching thoracic spine – and by the end of the day, my lumbar region is always throbbing. I’ve had X-rays and MRIs and I’ve tried every possible exercise or therapy – including chiropractic, yoga, Pilates, Bowen, acupuncture, IMS and osteopathy. I still have pain.

While I haven’t completely given up on the idea of a cure and I’m still seeing a very good physiotherapist, I have learned to live with the pain. This means that I start every day with 15 minutes of exercises and I take a break every 30 minutes to do about three minutes of stretching. (Yes, I always work with a timer clicking in the background.) Oh, and I also walk for about an hour every day.

How, you might ask, does this possibly make my aching back my friend? Simple. I’ve learned the value of limiting my writing time.

If you don’t suffer from back pain, you probably don’t have to contort your life to compensate for physical weakness. But you may be exposing yourself to physical weakness later – and at the very least you’re risking a host of other problems. Here’s a list to consider:

  1. You run the risk of burning yourself out. I know, I know….you’ve been blocked with your writing project for weeks and then all of a sudden you get a terrific idea that inspires you. Why shouldn’t you write for four hours straight if you’re still raring to go and continuing to feel enthusiastic?  My “friendly” back won’t let me do that. And you shouldn’t let yourself do it either – because you may produce 3,000 words on that red-hot day, but I guarantee you’ll feel dry and worn out the next day or the day after that. In fact, it may be weeks before you can get writing again!
  2. The tortoise always outruns the hare. Aesop’s fable reveals the value of slow and dogged persistence. While some creatures have more aptitude for running (and, perhaps, for writing) it is the person who commits the time to working, daily, who is most likely to finish the race. Even then, be cautious about pacing yourself. Always take off at least two consecutive days a week (although they don’t have to be Saturday and Sunday) and start your daily writing time with a very modest goal. Even 15 minutes per day can be enough to start.
  3. If you don’t let yourself spend too much time at your desk you’ll improve your efficiency and productivity. Have you ever caught yourself sitting and staring at a blank screen like a zombie? This is because you don’t know what to write next – which likely means you haven’t done enough planning or mindmapping. But if you have a time limit, you won’t allow yourself to get stuck in this sticky wicket. Think about how breathtakingly efficient we all become when preparing to leave on holiday: We work quickly; we do only the most essential stuff. If we approach writing with the same time-limited mindset, we can become infinitely more productive writers, as well.
  4. It will appeal to your inner two-year old. We all hate being told we can’t do something. If you dislike writing (or even if you just feel ambivalent about it) having a time limit will suddenly make writing ever so much more attractive to you.
  5. Life is short. Don’t you have something else you’d rather do than writing all the time? Decide how much time you’re willing to commit and refuse to let yourself go over that limit.

I’m writing this column now, in summer, because some of you may have harboured the idea of using your “down” time to get started on a book or other large writing project. Don’t do that! Instead, look at your schedule – your regular yearly one – and figure out how you can schedule in a small amount of writing time every day.

If you’re planning a holiday, relax, have fun and – if you want to improve your writing – concentrate instead on reading, a great summertime pleasure and a fantastic way to improve your own writing, providing you read material that is well written.

Limits not only stop us from doing some thing, they also liberate us. Let’s toast to the liberation of summer.

If you would like help developing a reasonable plan for your writing for the fall, consider signing up for some one-on-one coaching with me.

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