Block Scheduling, Pomodoro, and Word Counts, Oh my!

What do these things have to do with each other? As a someone who struggles with focus and attention issues, the first two things have resulted in consistent word counts. I know some folks are not as worried about word counts, fearing it stifles them, or leads to writer’s block and if that’s you, just look away. But if you are one of those people who need firm guidelines with wiggle room in place this is the post for you.

What is block scheduling? Blocking out a period of time to do whatever it is you need to do. It might an hour or two hours, or fifteen minutes. The important part of block scheduling is to make it consistent, this doesn’t mean every day, it could be every Saturday or Sunday, but when you block off the time, the time is ONLY to be spent writing. No social media, no marketing, no other distractions.

The second technique is Pomodoro, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer. In Pomodoro, you set the timer for a period of time, usually 25 minutes and then for that time period you focus on just that project, in this case writing. The goal being to write as much as you can during the time period. No editing, no going back, just pushing forward to get words on paper. Why? Because you can’t edit a blank page and getting a load of word salad down that you can fix later is better than a blank page. Build the house, you can go back later and hang the curtains and decorate. You can use your phone timer but the temptation to check into social media or email can be strong. Use a cheap kitchen timer, or get a fancy one if you want. I use the timer on my watch, ‘cause I’m old school that way.

Word Counts, or as like to call them, the secret to getting projects done, are the number of words you need to get on paper to finish your project on time. I use Scrivener and it has a delightful feature that lets you put in your deadline for the first draft and days you will be writing and it will figure out how many words you need to write each session to meet your goal. I like many things about the program but this feature alone makes me love it. Before I used Scrivener, I did this on paper, and it worked, but I love that Scrivener lets me know when I meet my goal. Notice I said “First draft”, editing is a different animal, and I will address that in another post. This is about getting raw material down, so you have something to edit.

How do they work together?

  1. Block out your time to write. Treat it like an appointment. Honor your commitment to write.
  2. Use a timer. Set it for 25 minutes or more, no more than one hour.
  3. Start writing. Don’t look back, don’t do anything else, just write.
  4. When the time is up, get up, stretch, get a beverage or snack. Take 5-10 minutes. And then set the timer and get back to work. DO NOT CHECK EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA. Keep your head in the game. Repeat until word count is achieved or your blocked time is up. If you are not meeting your word goals you may need to adjust them. Find a word count that YOU can meet consistently and will let you meet your deadline.

Keys to success: Remember you don’t have to block schedule all at once. Maybe you only have thirty minutes in the morning, and thirty minutes in the afternoon to write. My point is when it is time to write, write. Don’t do anything else.

  1. You can set the timer for less than twenty-five minutes, do what works for you.
  2. When you set your word count goals and deadlines make sure you are realistic. If you are someone who averages 250 words a day on a good day, don’t think you will suddenly be generating 1000 words a day or more. Use a calendar or planner or if you have Scrivener set up your project target dates. I use Scrivener and am also a big fan of spreadsheets (thank you Jeffe Kennedy) and use my planner every day, but you do you.

This works for me, it might not work for you. If you have been struggling to get a book/shorts story/screen play/ written give this a chance. Don’t quit.




Slow But Steady: Any Progress is Progress

I love this turtle because he helps me to remember that no matter how slow you are moving, if you keep moving you will get there. Through kids being sick, through family illness, through birth, death, and all of life’s messy bits, and most of all through your own inability to focus, if you keep moving you will reach your destination. Remember this when you are frustrated with your creative output: keep going.

I had a short fiction piece accepted this week for publication in an upcoming anthology. My kids think it is pretty awesome that I’m going to have a story in “a chapter book”, and so do I.   I’m not going to go into how long it has been since I had a piece published, or how many rejections proceeded this acceptance, or how many times I have submitted manuscripts, because none of it matters. The point of this post is this: all those days that I squeezed in fifteen minutes of writing made a difference. Not giving up is what matters. If you quit writing, it is impossible to get anything published.

I will confess to struggling mightily in the warm months to stick to my writing schedule. The lure of outside kicks my ADHD into high gear. After a winter of being inside all I want to do is play. My kids are home in the summer time, and that cuts into my writing time as well. I have some ways of dealing with kids at home and last year I posted some tips for sticking to your writing schedule when your kids are out of school, and you can read them here .

Even if you take some writing breaks over the summer, make it productive, read that To Be Read Pile, collect photographs, experiences, and memories to feed your writing later.

Most of all don’t give up, if you keep writing you will finish. Just keep moving. If you can only write one sentence, write a sentence. Like snowflakes it will add up. It may take years for you to accomplish what others accomplish in a month, it is okay, just keep writing.

Stick with it. Keep going, don’t quit, enjoy the journey as much as the destination.