Writing Timers, Wasting Timers

A great way to waste time not writing is to set up your system for managing writing time during the time when you should be writing.

I used to write non-stop, heads-down till my body collapsed, lost in the tunnel of creativity, absorbed with characters and stories. While exciting and vaguely mystical, this is not a long haul strategy for writing sucess. Eventually things (like, you) begin to break down.

Somewhere along the way, I think from the Scrivener boards, I learned of a system for working in periods of forty-eight minutes followed by breaks of twelve minutes. The idea was to train the subconscious to visit during the twelve to help the creative process along.

Easy to adopt, right? All you need is a great timer, because if it works you’re fully absorbed during the 48 and will/should/hope to lose track of time until the bell goes off.

So I had to go find the right timer. Don’t laugh, this is a big deal and it can take dozens of hours of frittering to try them all and get just the right one.

I learned that the big boys on the block are:

Each is a fully functional timer application that can do everything clock related including starting or stopping your operating system. They even make coffee. (No they don’t, but you’d think they could given all their options.)

But what I really wanted was a minder chime, that nice little tone that rings every quarter hour or so just to nudge you to pay attention. And I wanted a cyclical timer that could support my 48 minute, 12 minute cycle.

I have the widget, Minutes which is wonderful. You can open multiple instances of it in Dashboard, each of which can have a different skinned background, and each can be set for a different duration, like 48 or 12 minutes. So as long as you remember to hit the 12 timer after the 48 one is finished you’re all set. Wana guess how many times I forgot to hit the 12 or the 48?

The problem is they don’t run one after the other. I found out that what you are looking for in this search is a customizable repeating cycle timer, a feature that to greater or lesser extent exists in all the big paid-for apps above. I played with them all, as well as the weird OS X functionality that has a synthesized voice telling you the time, but each seems so huge and multi-functional, it was like firing up Excel to check my math.

One option, of course, with almost no system overhead, is to begin writing on the hour. Then a quick look at any clock would tell me if I were closing in on the twelve minutes of thinking time. Somehow, and I know this is strange, that just seems a bit constrictive. And you risk never looking up to check the clock. Another option is an egg timer, a big hit with many writers. But the physicality of the device is a distraction for me. I just want the thing in the background.

In the end I found a minder chime called Cuckoo. It’s a system preferences add-in so it works in the background, and is customizable to ring on any combination of 5 minutes. (What kind of mind wants chimes at 5, 20, 30, 35, and 50 minutes after the hour? I want to meet this person. But you could do that in Cuckoo if you felt the need.)

This app is perfectly priced at $6. (And $6 is a perfect price. Free is a silly price for an application because if you like it you’ll want the programer to keep updating it. If they don’t get paid they disappear. But the $25 that many of the big timer applications want is just silly. iPhone apps have taught us that a buck or two is a great price for a piece of software, especially one you want to have around for a long time.)

The other application I picked up was the Lotus mediation timer, it has three sequential timers and four alarms. Designed for the three stages of meditation – preparation, mediation, and post meditation devotion – (who knew there were stages?) the app is elegant and reliable, and it has great chimes. If it repeated it would be perfect, but at least it provides a full 48/12 cycle with temple gongs, all for $5.

As you go along looking for your perfect timer, which is best done during times when you should be writing, you’ll find sounds you like in applications you don’t. A little trick is to open the application bundle and pull out the sound files. (carefully abiding by Creative Commons, TOS, and copyright usage rules, of course) You do this by right-clicking on an application. What looks like a single application file is really a bundle of many folders. Right click on it, chose Open Bundle, and look for the WAV or other sound files. Copy them to Library\Sounds and most of your applications will be able to find them. A less copyright infringement alternative is to go to freesounds.org and find more sound clips than you could possibly ever need to waste time with. Those are all available for use under CC provisions.

So that’s how I solved my timer needs…DING… Oh, look, it’s time to go back to work…

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