I battle the wiggles

(That title will inevitably make some of you imagine me engaged in an epic struggle against these guys. In fact, it’s such an amusing image, I almost want to leave it at that — perhaps with an apology for putting that song in your head. It should only last month or two, until you happen to see a big red car somewhere.)

Back when I was in college, I read an essay by Daniel Pinkwater about his writing process. He used the “Butt in Chair” method: you park your butt in a chair and you don’t let yourself get up until a certain amount of time  has passed. You will get so bored, just sitting there, that eventually you’ll start writing just to break the tedium.

That essay was written before the internet. If you’re using a computer to write – and most of us are, anymore – there is always something else to do besides work, no matter how long you park your butt in that chair.

Here’s what I’m slowly learning to appreciate: it’s actually more useful to pry yourself out of the chair at regular intervals.

If I sit in front of the screen too long doing one thing, I get wiggly – both physically and mentally. I need to get up and move around, or I need to find something else to think about for a little while. Moving around easily turns into running errands and doing housework; thinking about something else becomes surfing the internet before I know it. Both these things equal “Rachel isn’t getting her work done.”

Writing is my job now. If I let myself be overtaken by wiggles, I don’t get my job done.

So here’s my current strategy: I schedule my wiggles. I work for 30-45 minutes, and then I wiggle for 5-15 minutes. I use a timer, so there’s no losing track. Acceptable wiggles include: exercise, housework, snack, quick e-mails.

It is possible that my day was breaking down into about this proportion of work to wiggling anyway (although possibly not, because the internet does occasionally sink its claws in me), but the other advantage is that I can easily and accurately keep track of how much time I’ve spent working. Word count isn’t always the best measure of a day, as I’ve discovered. It’s nice to have a tangible measure because there are plenty of days where I work very hard and feel like I’ve almost nothing to show for it by the end.

And there’s my timer! Wiggle time!

Speak, friend!

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