The Pomodoro Technique: Writing a Novel 25 Minutes at a Time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan a technique named after a tomato serve as the answer to your time management woes?

For those writers who dream of having several uninterrupted hours to write a novel but find those hours never arrive, maybe it’s time to consider another approach. It’s that fantasy that often keeps us from ever getting started–the common but sometimes detrimental belief that writing a novel will only happen if we have six hours a day of quiet time. I know that particular expectation derailed my own efforts more often than I’d like to admit. Between my work, my husband’s demanding schedule, and three kids who all play sports, the chance that I will have several interrupted hours in a row will only happen if I catch the flu and wind up in bed. This is true for most of us, isn’t it? The fantasy of writing all day colliding with the reality of a jam-packed schedule with the result being a persistent frustration surrounding why we can’t get this novel finished?

Why can’t we get to THE END?

I finally realized that I would need to figure out a method that would best work within the structure of my own life. For me, that meant searching for successful authors who juggled day jobs, kids and other demands. I’m a bit of a time management and organization geek anyway, so I used the opportunity to seek guidance. When I came across the Pomodoro Technique, I felt it might be just the tool to push my project along.

Francisco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique in the 1980s and it has since become one of the most popular time management techniques used today. The word ‘pomodoro’ means tomato in Italian and the name came about because Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato when developing the concept. Here’s how it works: you simply write in a 25 minute block of time, called a pomodoro, and then you take a five minute break before starting the next pomodoro. After four completed pomodoros, you then take a 15-20 minute break. To keep your motivation up, mark each pomodoro on your calendar with an X or a circle. As you see these marks add up, they 1) help build momentum for your project and 2) show you just how much work you can do in short blocks of time.

I found this strategy has helped me move my own work forward. In times past, I would discount even a fifteen minute block of time for fear that it wouldn’t make a difference. I realize now that I was wrong. I actually convert my pomodoros into 15-minute blocks because it keeps me from disregarding any small block of time. It often leads to 25 minutes of work, but only expecting 15 minutes means I’m more likely to give it a shot.

This approach has changed my entire mindset when writing fiction. I no longer believe I need an eight-hour day of solitude to be effective (although I still dream about it). It does require some advance preparation on my part–keeping papers together, taking notes regarding the next scene to be written–but I am now working with my editor on my first book while writing my second. I am moving forward with my fiction, and if it happens 25 minutes at a time, that’s just fine with me.

What about you? How do you balance your writing projects with your daily demands?

–Laura Oles

7 thoughts on “The Pomodoro Technique: Writing a Novel 25 Minutes at a Time

  1. I need to implement this! I read a recent article by Joe Lansdale. He said he tries to write at least a paragraph a day. Usually once he gets started, he writes more. But even those little things add up, just like you’ve said.


  2. Writing gets easier after the first few words are on paper. But I forget that. I’m also overwhelmed by the thought of how much there is to do. The Pomodoro technique looks like a good way to approach the conflict–you know you don’t have to write page after page at one sitting–just what you can do in 25 minutes. I’ll try it. Only thing is–I need a lot of time for staring into space between sentences. Should I use a timer to limit those?


  3. Pingback: Tailoring, Treaties, and Tomatoes: 3 Techniques to Turn You into a Tenacious Writer | Austin Mystery Writers

  4. Pingback: Interview With AMW Member Laura Oles | Austin Mystery Writers

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