dropping dimes and kitchen timers

Ray Bradbury’s memoir—Zen in the Art of Writing—is a delightful read about a man who enjoys life. I adore Bradbury’s writing. He is a genius.

Nevertheless, his description of the writing process is utterly foreign to me. Maybe that’s just a difference between writing science and science fiction. Surely, he worked hard at his craft, but he never describes the writing process as a grind. He describes it as whimsical and joyful and cathartic. These are adjectives that I would never use to describe how I feel when I write.

To me, writing is a craft. It is work. I get satisfaction with writing concise, precise, and clear sentences the same way a carpenter may get satisfaction from building level, square, and plumb walls. It feels satisfying to look at something you built with your hands, but fun it ain’t.

Even though my experience is different, my approach is not.

My favorite Bradbury memory is his story of writing Fahrenheit 451. He talks about dropping dimes into the typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library. “You thrust your dime in, the clock ticked madly, and you typed wildly, to finish before the half hour ran out.” When his dime ran out, he wandered upstairs and “strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of libraries.”

Drop a dime. Type for 30 focused minutes. Take a walk to refresh and think. Drop another dime. Now this is a part of the writing process that is familiar to me.

I don’t actually drop dimes; I use a basic kitchen timer app on my phone instead. But my app does the same trick. My writing sessions typically include 25 minutes of writing and then 5 minutes of a break. If I have an hour, then I do that twice. If I have two hours, I do it four time. And so on.

Using a timer is a great writing tool. If you write, you should give it a try.

Why? It prevents interruptions from checking a clock. If you trust your timer, you can set it and forget it. You’ve now freed up a teensy bit more mental capacity. While your timer is going, you can give your mind permission to immerse yourself in your writing. Any tweak to your environment or nudge you can give yourself to just get a bit more focus is a big difference-maker. A timer won’t make you the best writer, but it is a tool that can help make you the best writer you can be.

Bradbury and I have quite different experiences of the writing process. But, when it comes to focused writing, we are buddies. Writing is done one dime at a time.

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