by Chris Fabry
Writing is losing yourself. When you are into the story, the essay, whatever you’re creating, you lose yourself. At least, that’s supposed to happen. I had heard that concept from many writers—that they get into the writing and don’t realize they’re writing. Was there something wrong with me? How could I get to that point? Here’s a tip that can help you move into the hard work of freeing yourself to write, of losing yourself.
Find a timer—it could be an egg timer, a more sophisticated digital device, your phone, watch, an online timer—whatever works for you. You need to be able to set it for a specific amount of time to count down and then leave it. The timer isn’t something you stare at while you write.
I use my timer just about every day. Here’s how it works. I set the timer for a certain length of time—perhaps some deadline I’m up against. I know I have to drive my son to school at 7:00 a.m. and it’s 6:33. I’m afraid I’ll be late, and that fear makes me want to stop writing and do something else, comb my hair, mail a card. I tell myself I don’t have time to write, but that’s not true. I quickly set the timer for 25 minutes and click START, then put it to the side.
This immediately frees me up to create, to mine the words in my heart I don’t even know are there. There are all kinds of thoughts and words and jumbled emotions swirling inside, so the timer allows me to jump into whatever I’m writing with abandon. I don’t have to worry about being late. The timer will sound two minutes before I need to leave—just enough time to save my writing and back it up to the cloud (always back it up!) and put on a hat.
Now that my fear of being late is gone, I jump into the page and simply write. (I just put my timer on five minutes in order to finish this tip, and I will not edit this paragraph to show you what I mean.) I’m not thinking about making mistakes, I’m not thinking about whether these words are any good, I’m not thinking of if my story will get published—all of those things are outside the purview of my timer exercise. I’m not concerned with grammar, per se, or spelling (though I did correct “purview” from “perview” because, well, I had to.) The timer is giving me permission to just get my thoughts out. I’m purging the heart of what I’m trying to say. Later, I’ll come back to these words and shape and mold them into something more focused, but right now the timer says, “Go. Don’t worry if this is any good. Just write.”
What I’ve found with this tip is an ability to dance with the words rather than labor over them. So much of what holds me back as a writer is my fear of making a mistake, of going down some wrong trail or hitting a brick wall, writing myself into a corner. And the timer allows me to simply be who I am and be all there in the middle of whatever I’m writing at the time.
(I just looked at the timer, and it says: 17 left.)
The buzzer goes off. I save my work. I back it up. (Always back it up!) And I leave the room, drive my son to school, and when I return I have 25 minutes of content I wouldn’t have had. I’ve found short bursts are better than longer ones. If I set the timer for three hours, invariably I have some interruption that takes me from being “in” the story. Set shorter times to really focus and jump into what you’re writing. Then, take a break and set another short amount of time.
I find nuggets from those short bursts that I wouldn’t have if I had slogged through the chapter or story or essay all day. And the goal of the timer tip is to train your brain to be free to create, free of criticism, free from the voice that says, “Don’t write that; your mother might read it.” Think of it as a writing treadmill that’s moving faster than you may feel comfortable walking, but once you get on and adjust your mental pace, you find the movement helps you progress. The timer will give you momentum for your writing.
Now stop reading this tip and get your timer out and see if it works.
Keynoter Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who has won five Christy Awards and was inducted into the Christy Award Hall of Fame in 2018. He hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio and is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. Chris’s latest release is Under a Cloudless Sky. His books include movie novelizations, including the bestseller War Room, nonfiction, and novels for children and young adults. He coauthored Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. His adult novels include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and The Promise of Jesse Woods. Discover more at www.chrisfabry.com and his new writing website www.heyyoucanwrite.com. Chris will keynote and teach at the upcoming spring OCW conference May 18 in Eugene. For registration information, visit https://oregonchristianwriters.org/spring-2019/. Registration opens in mid-April.