In CrossFit, a fair amount of our training is completed “under the gun” of a running clock. Workouts are performed at high intensity with the aim of completing the work under a certain time, or seeing how much work you can complete for a specified duration. I have used this methodology in my training for the past six years, and, unknowingly, have structured my writing schedule similarly.
I write in the morning, starting at five and continuing until I need to pull myself away from the computer to go to work, usually around seven. I do this every day of the week, and only on occasion write on the weekends. Therefore, in a year (260 days without weekends) I average 520 hours writing. That’s not a significant amount by most standards.
It was only recently that I began to understand how I can still produce a novel a year (90-100,000 words) in such a limited amount of time. That metaphorical gun to the head of the clock in my workouts applies to my writing.
I waste no time in the morning, usually eating my breakfast as I check email and wake up. The it’s immediately to the writing. I often start with longhand in my journal, clearing out the debris from the day before so I may concentrate. This doesn’t last more than 10-15 minutes. I immediately turn to the notes on the project I’m writing, make a mental list of what needs to be addressed, check my outline for the scene I’m creating and go.
At this point I usually have an hour and a half to crank. And I do. There’s little to no rest (coffee drinking and refills are allowed) and I try not to over think what I’m doing. Much like in training, the “paralysis of analysis” is crippling, and the running clock keeps me motivated to keep it simple and to avoid the unnecessary.
Therefore, when finished, I have crisp, active writing and have produced a fair volume of work.
Now, the paramount question: Is it any good? Yes and no.
Most often my first drafts are skeletal. The plot is hung, but the characters need fleshing out, the themes refined, the foreshadowing placed appropriately, and on and on. It is reasonable to say that my method is ridiculous since I have so much to do the second and third and fourth times around. I’d agree, if I had more time each day.
But I don’t. I can’t pause and reflect. I get those “first thoughts“–ala Natalie Goldberg–out. I try to get the entirety of the story complete within a season–ala Stephen King. Then I wait. Like with exercise, I recover. I mull over my weak spots–plotting or characterization–and I work on those in smaller stories, mere exercises for my “sucks” (those elements of craft I need to work on).
Then I attack the second draft with the same energy drive and determination as the first, now with different aims, but with the same running clock.
I repeat this process as many times as needed. It’s not pretty. It’s often a bit stressful at the start, but once I’m moving, like with any demanding workout, I’m fine. Because I know at the end I will be satisfied that I’ve written. Perfection comes in the revision. These sessions are about production. And under the clock, the 3,2,1…go! I’m on fire.