Here’s the thing. My job requires me to sometimes sit in my chair at my desk and focus 100 percent of my attention on a task that requires most of my linguistic skills. It’s sort of like a body builder pumping heavy weights—high resistance, low reps. In other words, I can word super hard but only in short bursts.
Now ironing I can do for hours. It’s a job that only takes a tiny bit of my intellectual energy, and while I’m ironing I can let my mind wander. It would be the equivalent of someone working on tone—low resistance, high reps. In other words I’m working not that hard but for a long time. Basically, writing is my sprint while ironing is my walking the dog.
Now because of the way my job works, there are days when I need to do a lot of writing in one day. And the only way I can keep returning to the intensity of the task is by taking lots of short breaks. I’ll focus a lot for, say ten or twenty minutes and then take a break. Another ten or twenty minutes of pumping hard and I have to have a breather.
I once saw a discussion on a writer’s forum about how to stay focused, and one guy had posted about how he uses the BIC FOK method—butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.
But if I try to write for too long without taking breaks, I end up a twitching, sobbing mess curled up in a corner cramming down chips in between gulps of wine while I bang away at my laptop—it’s an option, one that got me through a very tight, very gigantic deadline the same week I was having my period, but at the end of it all, I’d gained ten solid pounds. Made the deadline, though, and got an 80,000-word manuscript submitted on time, so I’ve got that going for me.
Which is nice.
The healthier alternative to turning into a twitchy, psycho food-whore is to pace myself with breaks. And when it’s time for me to take a break, my options are many and varied—one of the perks of working at home but also one of the pitfalls. At the end of a chapter, I can put on a load of laundry, wash the breakfast dishes or wander out to check the mail.
But experience has taught me that there’s nothing more detrimental to my writing process than coming to A Good Stopping Point. Give me a substantial enough place to pause, and I might decide to ‘pop’ out to the grocery store. Please believe me when I tell you that I’m just creative enough to turn what should have been a twenty-minute outing into a three-hour quest for coffee pods that are compatible with my espresso machine or just the right thermal top or aqua flip flops. Clearly, the worst thing I can do is get up from my desk.
And this is where social media comes in to save my day.
When I need to give my brain a little mental massage, instead of walking away from my computer, I can click over to Facebook and check out my friends’ cats or see the latest “Weird Things Couples Do” video on BuzzFeed. I can find an episode of “Convos with My Two Year Old” on YouTube or see a few more ways I’m failing as a homemaker on Pinterest.
Thankfully, none of it is compelling enough to take me away for very long, and since I’m still in my chair, it’s the work of but a moment to click back over to the manuscript I’m editing or the turn of phrase that just won’t seem to come together. And sometimes, the perspective is just enough to give my weary brain the boost it needed.
If you hadn’t guessed, I was just taking a quick break to cruise around Facebook—again—when this concept occurred to me, and it’s high time I get back to proofreading the last chapter of this manuscript. See you again in twenty minutes!