✍️ Tomehto, Tomahto
or, How to Adapt the Pomodoro Technique to Help You Ketchup on Your Writing
There was once a lazy university student. Or maybe he was distracted. He was in Italy after all – who wouldn’t be distracted there? Well, I guess Italians since they’re used to it and all, which he was, so it probably wasn’t that.
In any case, this lazy university student apparently was quite rich too because he had a whole kitchen, not an illegal hotplate like the rest of us had in school. And in that kitchen was a timer. So this smart cookie wondered, “What if I turned this timer on and decided to work solidly for that amount of time? No matter if the phone rang or the fax machine whirred to life (this was pre-Internet), or the kitchen caught fire? What if I just worked and worked and worked until the timer dinged, and then I could stop working. Would I get more done?”
He could. And he did.
Here’s the kicker: apparently, he named this whole scheme after the kitchen timer he used in university, which happened to be in the shape of a tomato. Which in Italian is – you guessed it – pomodoro. How lazy is that? (And everyone accuses us writers of making shit up as we go along...)
Except that it turns out this student, Francesco Cirillo, wasn’t lazy after all. He ended up turning his simple idea into a presumably successful consulting business in Berlin called Cirillo Consulting GmbH. I think it’s actually quite impressive he could make a trademarked business at all out of an egg timer and thin air...
How Writers Can Use a Modified Pomodoro Technique to Overcome Writer’s Fears
The Pomodoro Technique is usually used in business as a productivity tool. Despite the use of a timer, it isn’t really about time. It’s more about focus, or what you do with your time.
So for example, we have all at one time or another sat down to write and thought, “Oh, I’ll just check email first.” And that email is from a friend about a new cat video you just have to see. And that video leads to another video about a butterfly that flies down from a tree to land on a cat’s nose (so cute!). Which reminds you, you were supposed to look up the best time of year to prune your apple tree. But a review for the gleaming new Apple Watch pops up in your search, and then...
Isn’t writing fun?
The Pomodoro Technique is designed to help you shut out all distractions and time wasters. Here’s how it’s supposed to work in general:
Write down a big task or list of smaller tasks you want to accomplish
Set your tomato timer for 25 minutes
Do nothing but work on that task. If you finish before the timer dings, go back and check your work.
Set your tomato timer for 5 minutes and take a break (those of you good in math will note that this adds up to a nice, round half-hour in total)
When that timer dings, set for another 25 minutes
Repeat Steps 3-5 three times (aka “3-5 Pomodori”. Seriously...)
Take a break for 20 minutes, then start again until your work day is done
It’s fairly easy to see how writers can adapt this for their writing sessions. And there are tons of posts out there on how to do it. Like this one and this one (which has a nice, jiggly graphic) and this one, and probably a hundred others. I won’t rehash.
But what I do want to do is to tie it all in to how it will help you write with wild abandon.
It’s About Focus, Yes, But Also About Fear
So let’s zoom out for a second. When would you want to use the Pomodoro Technique in your writing? The easy answer is to say, “Anytime you want to be more productive, which is always.” But that’s not my answer.
See, a big part of the Pomodoro Technique is accountability. There is a contract that you make with yourself when you set that timer that you’ll focus on your task to the ding. Remember, this is mostly about business productivity. Presumably, your boss or some other higher power already holds you accountable by sitting you down in your 9-to-5 chair. Now, you’re trying to increase your productivity during that time.
Writers don’t have bosses – at least, writers working on personal projects like a novel or a short story or a poem. So we can’t assume we’re already sitting down. We have to sit ourselves down. And that self-accountability the fatal flaw in an unmodified Pomodoro Technique for writers: we can choose to just skip the whole thing. (In fact, it’s too easy! If you’re looking for accountability, the Pomordoro Technique does not hold the answer.)
Instead, I think we should use it when we go through a long stretch of not writing. Here’s why.
Normally, if we are avoiding writing, there is a reason. And normally, that reason is connected to one or more fears. We went through a whole list of them in my last post about the Writer Fears Entanglement Theory. That post also linked to some cures, but a good general cure-all is: write anyway. Easier said than done – which is why we need help.
The Pomodoro Technique helps us to put that cure-all to work so we can get back into writing. It give us the focus we need to overcome our fears. Because suddenly it isn’t about fretting over all the things holding us back anymore. It’s about racing the timer and getting words down on the page. It doesn’t matter if those words are good, bad, or ridiculous. If we keep writing, even through the bad stuff, the good stuff will eventually come through.
As an added bonus, most fears disappear – at least temporarily – once we get writing again.
Schedule a time to write
Set your kitchen timer (a link to a YouTube version is below)
Write until the ding
You can worry about whether or not those words are “good” or “bad” in the second draft, once you have them down on paper.
Key Takeaway: A modified Pomodoro Technique can help writers who have so-called writer’s block work through the fears that are keeping them from writing. It forces you to focus on the writing, not the fear. When you’ve committed to a certain amount of time writing, you can keep writing through the “bad stuff” until the good stuff runs freely again.
Over To You: Have You Tried the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is not a new approach for writers. Have you tried it before? If so, how did it work out for you? Any tips for the rest of us?
I leave you with a two-hour Pomodoro timer on YouTube – just set it and forget it! (Make sure you have the sound on to hear the dings…)
Until next time, keep writing with Wild Abandon!
P.S. - I am away from my computer, so answers to comments may be delayed...
email me if you get lost.
Think I'll give this a go to assist me with the rather tedious task of moving a novel onto a publishing platform one chapter at a time. I'm trying not to spend too much time editing at this stage but keep getting hung up making little fixes. I just need to move the words over efficiently first. So I can nitpick later. 😁
Perfect timing! I am planning a solo writing retreat in a couple weeks and already planned to use the pomodoro timer to keep myself on track. Here’s my tip for when I’m dragging my great about getting started: set the timer for ten minutes. The super short time is much easier to conquer mentally and usually will generate enough momentum to keep going after the timer starts.