For once, a successful New Year’s Resolution

A year ago I sat down to write my New Year’s Resolution – as the blogosphere is my witness – to spend a minimum of 25 minutes every day working on my book, a biography of Walter Stevenson Davidson. According to the Pomodoro Technique,  25 minutes equals 1 pomodoro. As I explained a year ago, the aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, then to take a 5 minute break. Do it again, then after 4 bursts of work take a longer break. Repeat as necessary.

366 days later, I am delighted to say that the technique has worked for me. I don’t always stop after 25 minutes – in fact I often become so engrossed in my writing that I don’t stop for an hour or more – but give or take a bit, I have largely stuck to the plan. There have been some hiccups – illness, family crises or a scheduled holiday – but I am now on track to complete my book during 2015.

Better yet, I’ve discovered that self-discipline does – eventually – become a habit. Every morning now, usually at about 5 or 5:30, I make a pot of tea, feed the dog, sit down at the computer, set the timer – and write. It helps, of course, that I don’t have family obligations in the early morning and I’m naturally an early riser, but the 25-minute principle would be the same at any time of day. The secret, I think, lies in breaking the task down into manageable gobbets.

Which is where my other discovery of 2014 comes in. I’ve fallen in love!

Walter Davidson manuscript

Scrivener is a computer program designed for writers of fiction and non-fiction, essays or screenplays. It makes it easy to handle large manuscripts, and to write separate gobbets that can be shuffled around, as necessary, until you are happy with the overall structure. You can compile a final version of your manuscript in a variety of formats, including PDF, RTF and EPUB, so if all else fails, you can always self-publish your manuscript as an e-book. The program handles very large files, so it’s possible to incorporate your research into Scrivener, though I haven’t bothered to do so, having overflowing folders and filing cabinets of the stuff already.

Like most people newly in love, I don’t yet know everything about the object of my affection, but I’m enjoying exploring the possibilities over our shared early morning pots of tea.

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9 responses to “For once, a successful New Year’s Resolution

  1. Me too! Between Pomodoro and Scrivener (and WordPress) some things are getting done!

  2. Interesting method. I’d never heard of it before. I feel like I’d probably fail at it though and spend my 25 minutes staring at a blank screen :/

    Congrats on actually completing a resolution though! And I’m definitely going to check out Scrivener.

  3. Congrats!

    Out of curiosity, what is your usual wordcount at the end of a day (or week)? Everyone seems to have such different expectations, so I always like to see what other people end up with.

  4. I’d never heard of Pomodoro before, but I already do it – only it’s 20 minutes, not 25. Whether I feel like it or not, 20 minutes a day, minimum, writing, and then on to the next thing. It does work!

  5. Alison – there are some very good videos about Scrivener at the official Scrivener site. And believe me, you won’t spend 25 minutes looking at a blank screen – as Eve says, the system works (not least because it’s too BORING to sit in front of a blank screen for all that time!
    Brodie – there’s no easy answer to that, but this morning, having seen your comment (while making my pot of tea!) I thought I’d check, and I did 260 words in the 25 minutes – basically another 2 paragraphs added to the screen shot above.
    And Squawking Galah (aka Tracy) – yes, you’re right. Writing the blog in WordPress helps too, because it reinforces the habit of writing, with the added advantage of instantaneous feedback. (So thank you all for your comments)

  6. I like the Pomodoro idea. I’ll give that a try soon. And I love Scrivener too. It’s a wonderful aid to writing a book, keeping new research in some kind of searchable order, and rewriting. However, like my brain, I fear I only use a small percentage of its actual capabilities!

  7. 25 minutes a day – genius. I tried it yesterday and ended up doing more than hour’s work. Ask me again in 364 days if I kept it up! How long did it take for you to form the habit?

  8. I’m glad it worked for you Michelle. I’m not sure how long it took to get into the habit, but after a month or so of very active self-discipline, I found I reached a stage where I felt scratchy if I didn’t write. They (whoever they are) say it takes 40 days to form a habit, and that’s probably about right, but it’s easy to relapse. Whenever I take a break I have to make an effort to get into the habit again, although it takes less than 40 days now.

  9. Reblogged this on Historians are Past Caring and commented:

    I wrote this a year ago to celebrate a year’s successful writing, using Scrivener and the Pomodoro technique. 366 days later, I’m still getting up early each morning to write. I haven’t quite finished The Book but with 80,000 words under my belt I’m nearly there.

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