The One Hour Draft

“The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material.” — Jen Eggan

Today I’d like to discuss the idea of a “one hour” draft. I’ve been experimenting with different approaches to writing over the last year, looking for the best way to maximize productivity and reduce burn out.

And what I’ve found is: writing in short, one hour bursts, is the most effective way to make sure I sit down and write everyday.

one hour draft writingFor me, it seems there are only about two hours of real writing I can get done in a day. After that my brain starts to feel fuzzy, and my concentration begins to wane.

Sometimes I can write for longer; for instance, when I have a deadline to meet. But even then I’ve noticed that taking a short break, every hour, before returning to the computer, makes a huge difference.

I believe this works because the task of facing a blank screen is often overwhelming. For example, I used to try to force myself to write all afternoon in one sitting. This worked for maybe a week or so, but over time I began to write less and less.

My production went down because the thought of having to sit and be “creative” for an entire afternoon felt like a huge undertaking. But, by breaking my writing into smaller intervals, I was soon back to writing every day with minimal effort.

How do you get anything done, when you spend so little time actually writing?

Well, as I’ve said in earlier posts, “less is more.” If you apply the one hour rule consistently, it actually adds up to a lot.

In short one hour bursts I’m able to produce 1500-2000 words a day. Since, I prefer not to write on weekends, this works out to roughly 10,000 words a week, which adds up to novel length in a mere three months. That’s not bad at all. Back when I tried to write for entire afternoons–not only would I not produce as much–I would burn out and create sub-par material.

A point to remember is: I only apply this rule to first drafts. During the rewriting stage I’m able to stay at the desk much longer, which is probably due to the fact that I have something to work with. The “sculpting” stage isn’t nearly as much of a creative drain — though it is definitely more time-consuming.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t apply the one hour rule for second and third drafts; I just find it most effective when facing a blank page. The point is to get you to start.

draft writingIf you set unrealistic goals; you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, try writing for an hour; then take a break and regroup. Give your mind some time to mull over what you’ve just written. When you return to your desk, not only will you feel refreshed, but new ideas may appear on the page.

With so many approaches to writing, it’s important to experiment. Stick to what works best for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re just beginning or a seasoned professional, facing the blank page is always difficult.

If you’re constantly overwhelmed, you’ll fail to start, or burn out by making the task more difficult than necessary. But by practicing the “one hour” draft, you can remove fear, reduce anxiety, and easily motivate yourself to get down to business.

A book is written word by word, one page at a time. Even if you only write for an hour a day, you’ll produce infinitely more than failing to start. Don’t fall into the trap of setting unrealistic goals. Writing should be your favorite part of the day; so stay within your comfort zone. Try a “one hour” draft and watch the words pile up.

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