Today's question was about our practice of being made to take breaks. We write in 90 minute blocks and ask everyone to take a 30 minute break in between. No whips to enforce this "rule" - some people take the full 30 minutes, others cut it short, some continue to write and take just 15 minutes of break.
Breaks are good in a number of ways.
- The discipline of taking breaks allows us to sustain a longer energy arc for writing. Rather then push for a few hours and get diminishing returns as our energy ebbs away, breaks allow us to renew and re-energize BEFORE we lose steam. The result - we are able to focus better for longer, which motivates us to write. Putting this into practice in real life, outside of boot camp, we will find that it's easier to write through the week, without getting discouraged.
- The discipline of taking breaks is practice for sustaining writing in the midst of the other rhythms of life. For many of us, writing is going to be an important part of life. What will happen is that we will be interrupted and must stop writing, or we find opportunities in between things to write. The discipline of taking breaks helps us build the ability to switch our mental focus into and out of our writing efficiently.
- Taking a break after about 90 minutes of writing allows us to mentally review and re-focus, so that we get some perspective on what we have just written. We can return to our writing with a clearer sense of how to move it along.
- Taking breaks between chunks of writing helps us ensure we have a writing product at the end of the day. Sometimes we get drawn into revision and editing, or doing more research etc. The breaks give us a chance to disrupt these distractions; we can reflect and notice what we've been doing, take stock, and decide to cease and desist, and to move on. In the next writing block, we might, then, be more productive.
REVISE ... EDIT ... OR WRITE
This was a theme during reflections time. Quite a few of us took time to edit and revise work rather than produce new writing. Is this a good thing?
Well, the answer, of course, is .... "it depends".
But on the whole, the idea is to aim for forward movement. Write first, revise and edit later, outside of the writing sessions. The aim in a writing session is to create, to generate writing. This takes discipline. It is more satisfying to improve what exists. But this can be an insidious distraction from writing. Is our constant desire to revise and edit a way of avoiding writing?
Here are some good practices for developing the discipline of writing first.
SET PRODUCT BASED GOALS. Set "product" oriented goals like a number of words or pages to aim for. Use the words "create", "generate", "produce" in setting goals. A goal like "Work on Chapter 2" allows you to revise what you've already written in chapter 2. Better to set goals like "Add 3 more pages to chapter 2", "Finish argument on paradigm shift, begin section 3 on theoretical framework".
DO NOT EDIT. By editing, we mean going over your writing to proofread and fix grammatical and style issues. Really, leave this kind of work for non-writing time. During writing time, build the discipline to write.
But what if our perfectionist tendencies are pushing us to edit? Someone I know appeases her perfectionist side by dedicating a specific time each week to editing. So every Friday, she knows she can look forward to the pleasure of sitting down with what she's written that week, and going over it to dot her "i"s and cross her "t"s. This also motivates her to produce something each week before Friday - just so she can have the pleasure of editing.
REVISE ONLY IF GOING BACK WILL MOVE YOU FORWARD. This takes discipline. If revising something just improves it, but you can write the next section whether or not you revise this section - DO NOT REVISE. Resist all your instincts to improve this section; leave it alone, move on to write the next section. If necessary, make a few notes on what to revise and ... move on!