The Pomodoro Technique – Making Time

There is never enough time, is there?

Time is a commodity we all crave; whether it’s:

  • Time in bed
  • Leisure time
  • Family time
  • Time of life
  • Time to write

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These are just some of the things that the modern, fast, pace of life robs us of. So how do we find the time to finish, or even start, that novel that everyone has inside them? All the best selling writers have differing ideas. David Hewson (Author of over 20 books) has a clear and defined writing schedule and he stuck rigidly to it. He never writes at the weekend. Stephen King, one of the most prolific of modern writers, has set times for reading and for writing. Both of these writers and many others too began writing novels whilst working full time and juggling their time between, work, family and writing. Even Anthony Trollope, who wrote over 40 novels in Victorian Britain, and held down a demanding job in the Post Office.

So where do these great novelists find the time? They use their available, stolen, time productively. Trollope wrote for three hours every morning before heading off to work. It’s rumoured that he paid a servant to wake him at five each day so that he could write.

Allocating time to write is important but once you have the time; what then? We’ve all stared at a notepad or computer screen hoping that inspiration will come. Been distracted by an email or news item which we must read. When that happens and the inspiration doesn’t come we feel a little cheated knowing that time is lost forever.

In the late 1980’s Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato, to focus his mind on the work in hand. The word Pomodoro comes from the Italian word for tomato.

There are six steps in the original technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

The idea is to make the focus on the time available. When the alarm rings (After 25 mins) take a break. Reset the timer to cover a break and when it rings again, your break is over. Reset the timer and off to work again. No other distractions should interfere with your productivity.

Maybe it’s worth a try in our fight against procrastination.

Novel 1st Draft Completed

Today, I am so pleased with myself. I have finally completed the first draft of a novel. It’s taken a while, well years in fact. On and off but more off than on. 97,000 words and a start, middle and an end. Yes, the end was the hardest part.

It was a totally unplanned piece which started out as a germ of an idea, propagated by a news event. Excited in the beginning, I wrote day and night the ideas flowing and characters taking on a life of their own. Midway it began to slow a bit and so I put it down for days, weeks even whilst I busied myself with other things. Anything but not that. One day I read what I had written thus far and a few ideas let me go back and add some new scenes which, I felt, would hook the reader into the story more. By the time I had 60,000 words plus I was beginning to run out of steam. Emails, social media and news pages became more important than writing my way out of the middle towards the end.

That was my problem, I didn’t know how to end it. I have read so many novels which are suddenly ended and felt cheated because I, the reader, had been manipulated. That was not going to happen to my masterpiece. Never. So I needed to get to the end in logical steps and, hopefully, leave the reader surprised but happy. How could I get from here to there without cutting corners? So I tried a new tactic, I wrote the end or what I thought the end should be. All I needed then was a believable way to get from the middle to that end.

Then one morning, early (I get up early usually) it came to me whilst I was in the shower and it all became so much easier. So that’s it, the first draft done. So now I have set a note on my calendar to begin the editing process. 1st October it is then.

I don’t know what will happen to it. It may well be so bad that it remains stored in Dropbox forever, never to see the light of day. Or I might send it to some agents or publishers or I might try my hand at self-publishing.

All that doesn’t really matter, what matters to me at the moment is that I’ve completed it. I know there is still lots of work to be done but I have the frame, the structure to add to or take things out. It feels good today.

Novel Planning

I’ve never really been a story planner and that was one of the reasons why I failed to get past 17,000 words or so in my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. There are several trains of thought on this.

Planning your novel ahead of time increases its likelihood of being dead on arrival.

Says The NY Book Editors.

But now I’m not so sure that this is sound advice for me. I completely understand that what works for some doesn’t for others. Pantster writing, (writing by the seat of your pants, or the process of letting your characters dictate what happens next) has worked for me for many years when writing short stories, but less so when the work gets over about 5,000 words and over 50,000 words forget it. A change is needed.

So lately, I’ve been looking at different planning aids that can help me with this. Obviously, every story requires a beginning, middle and an end for it to work, so a simple triangle can show this. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the triangle as the left side rising as the Introduction, the top point as the Crisis and falling left slope as the Resolution where the conflict of the story is resolved. This can be seen in any scene of any play or novel. It’s commonly known as Aristotle’s Unified Plot Structure.

Is this an oversimplification of what we use?  What about all those other parts that make it complete?

I recently came across Freytag’s Pyramid which is built on Aristotle’s triangle but adds two more levels to become five stages. Introduction where we meet the characters, setting, time and establishes the atmosphere of the story and something of the conflicts. The story arc moves onto Rising Action where the reader begins to sense the escalating tension. Usually, this is where obstacles are introduced and secondary characters are introduced into the mix. Then, the story reaches its Climax where we find if a change is for the better or worse, depending on the type of storyline. After this, the story begins to fall away and enters the Falling Action stage where the characters either win or lose and the suspense is further ramped up by unexpected events all building towards the Conclusion or the end of the story. Sometimes the reader learns what has happened to the characters after the end, sometimes we are left to guess.

If I do enter NaNoWriMo again this November I’m going to try Freytag’s Pyramid and see if that works for me.