Monday, August 31, 2009

Fifteen Minutes and Then You Get a Sticker

I spent most of the weekend hovering over our youngest, trying to reveal unto her the magical mysteries of toilet training. I'll spare you the specifics, but know that it involves acting surprised and excited every fifteen minutes when the kitchen timer sounds, and then spending quality time perched on the edge of the bathtub trying to look neither eager nor disinterested at the habits of my daughter's bowels. We're not ready yet, but the Mrs. and I are trying to get there before that magical window of interest slams shut and effort can no longer be rewarded with stickers and hugs and high-fives. We have a pre-teen: we know what stubborn looks like.

There's not much you can do with your day when it's punctuated by a hand-clapping parade down the hall every fifteen minutes, especially when the thermometer has reached Absurdly Hot at 8:00 AM and threatens not to back down for another fourteen hours. Stuck inside with the air conditioner blasting and our kitchen timer counting down at my elbow, I finally broke down and cracked open my NaNo 2008 draft. I'd managed to edit up through about day four's writing -- all my pages are numbered by day -- and by "edit" I mean "rewrite whole sections in-between the double spaced type." It's not easy, and at every clunky word I was reminding myself how I got here by being the obsessive over-achiever that I am. ("Why stop at 50,000 words?") I hate, hate, hate editing this thing. I don't know why, as it was it truly was a pleasure to write, but then it's far more fun to cook than wash dishes, too. Perhaps it's just this section of the novel, those first exploratory days where I was getting used to the idea of daily typing, and was still sussing out the characters. Once I get started, it's not so awful, but it's still taking me about an hour per page (!) because I insist on redoing whole chunks. And knowing that there's hundreds of pages ahead of me just fills me with a soul-sapping dread.

So I made myself a deal, in the spirit of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. All I had to do was the short assignment of editing for fifteen minutes, just until the little timer bell rang, and then I could stop. And I did, fifteen minutes at a time, and then the bell would sound for the Parade, and off we'd march, the toddler and I. Ten minutes later I was back on the sofa, winding up the timer for another wait, and made another deal with myself. Just fifteen more minutes, that's all. And then another fifteen. And another.

Added together, all those little windows passed the time -- I probably edited for around three hours in total, around all those breaks. Normally I hate being constantly interrupted, but this was shockingly productive, taking tiny little fifteen-minute bites out of the novel, with a mandated reward sticker at the end.


Olivander said...

At my writing desk (which I hardly ever actually write at), I have a New Yorker cartoon of a writer saying to his wife, "I wrote another 500 words. Can I have another cookie?"

Tackle your novel the way Adam Richman tackles his challenges: one bite at a time.

Strikethru said...

I want to be the type of person who is not too lazy and disorganized to manage a measly 15 minutes a day of writing or editing.

I am not that person.

But: you are, thankfully for you. You're going to get there. Still though, editing Nano novels is a pain in the *&^.

My daughter now shouts her bathroom accomplishments to random strangers.

Monda said...

I'm all for the Fifteen Minutes game, with or without the stickers. I love looking up and realizing my fifteen mins. were over two hours ago.

On the potty training front, we're working on the Five Second Sit-Down. Boys are different, and this seems more like bull-riding than potty training. If he could just hang in the saddle for eight seconds...

Mike Speegle said...

My son basically potty-trained himself, which was kind of nice. On the other hand, it is nigh-impossible to get him to wear clothes, eat food, or to stop hurling things down the stairs, so there's that.

deek said...

My son is ready for potty training, but we haven't started yet...I am sure it will be quite interesting, but maybe I'll get lucky like Speegle.

Elizabeth H. said...

I find that getting anywhere with *most* of my hobbies is all about grabbing those five or ten or fifteen minutes to start with. If I tell myself I should spend half an hour or an hour practicing guitar or writing today, I struggle to find that big block of time, and usually just give up and goof around instead. If I sit down for ten minutes and force myself to focus for that little period, often it turns into the hour that seemed so daunting at first glance.

Great post!

D. Loon said...

I will have to remember this.