I took a particularly dreadful class in my freshmen year in college with a teacher whose name that I would love to share with you for a number of reasons:
- To warn people against ever taking his classes.
- To let him know he needs to up his game.
- He has a really funny name and if I told it would you it would make you laugh.
Nameless man’s class was a filler class called “learning strategies” and all I really remember of this class was learning to speed read which is a skill I didn’t really need as I was already one of those annoying students who could read so fast that I would not just read what was required but I would also read everything on the suggested reading list.
Nameless man also had enormously novel and helpful tips like “use highlighters when you read.” I also remember nameless teacher sharing stories about his romantic life that made me want to jump from the second story building so as to end my suffering. I liked to imagine the headline of the student newspaper reading: “Desperate student leaves a highlighted note that professor nameless’ class was so bad that it drove student to suicide.” I liked to imagine that he would be charged with man slaughter for teaching such a deadly boring class.When I didn’t have suicide fantasies I was calculating what I was paying for the class per session, hour, minute and second. These figures only heightened my pain and strengthened my death wish.
There was however something that I learned in this class, no thanks to the professor. Rather, it was from a late in life student, a peroxide blond in her late 60’s who looked like she either had a career in B-movies or she worked at the Pink Flamingo in Vegas, that I received a strategy that I have held onto for over 20 years. I hadn’t been paying attention in class, something that our professor gave a lecture on the importance of, so I am not sure what inspired the saucy 60-something student to share this tidbit of wisdom. Whatever it was I am glad she did.
Prepare yourself for the wisdom. She suggested that how she got herself to write a paper, or clean her house, or organize her Vegas pension fund paperwork was to turn a timer on for thirty-minutes and the she would tell herself that she only had to do it until the bell rang. I am not sure why I so valued this woman’s advice but it immediately seemed brilliant to me. I felt sure that it would stop the procrastination with my writing. I had on my to-do list everyday for years, “write.” each and everyday I would get everything done on my list but the writing.
When I went to grad school I had to write a 300 page thesis and I was not at all sure I could accomplish such a feat. I did two things. First I put the date in my Palm Pilot of when I wanted to have this thing done and then I had the Palm Pilot count for me how many days and hours I had until I had to have thesis turned in ( yes, it does seem that I have some mild OCD like behaviors) and then I went to Target and I bought myself a kitchen timer.
For 30 minutes a day, seven days a week I turned the kitchen timer on and I wrote. And I had absolutely no expectation of writing anything good. I just had to write for 30 minutes. I wrote any random thought I had about my thesis topic and when I couldn’t think of anything to write I copied quotes from books that were ideas that I wanted to integrate into my thesis. I did this until the bell rang. Over time I had over 700 pages of crap and it was crap. Seriously, it was a hot mess of randomness. But I had enough to start organizing and refining and figuring out what I was really trying to say.
What was really surprising is that after a while I no longer quit writing when the bell rang. I kept writing. However, there were days when i waited for that bell as I wrote. I waited for that bell like I had waited years before for the phone to ring after “he” had asked me for my phone number. On those days when the bell would ring I would run away from my computer as fast as my little legs would carry me.
I am not saying this is the best way to write a thesis or a book, it is a way and it is a way that worked for me. If I had started with an outline and had organized it so on Monday I was supposed to work on this part and Tuesday on another I would have NEVER finished it. Instead I just wrote and wrote and wrote and then when there seemed like enough to work with then I started organizing it.
Maybe you don’t want to write a book or don’t need to write 300 pages. Maybe you just want to write and you never do. Well buy a timer. Set it for 30 minutes and write, and then do it again and again and see what in time you have.
I no longer have to use the timer. But, there are days when I have to promise myself that I only have to write for an hour and then when the hour is up I usually find that I don’t want to quit writing. I’ve got to go, my 60 minutes are up.