This is the first post that I am creating following my return to writing and blogging announced last week. You would think that I would be bursting with ideas and content given that I have stored it all up in the past few years. Alas, not. It is as challenging today to start with a blank page as it has always been. 

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is scary but it’s certainly a challenge to come up with something ‘good enough’ to justify putting in front of you and that ticks the box of adding some value.

So, what is there to do? At this point, I haven’t a clue other than to remember the words that I try to recall any time I get stuck like this.

‘Just Start!’

I know that if you don’t start, make an effort or take some form of even the smallest action then nothing gets done. 

Being prepared to take the smallest action over the smallest period of time has always been the key for me.

That’s why I tend, when I remember, to resort to using the ‘Pomodoro’ Technique. Yes, the Tomato Technique!

This is the approach devised by Francesco Cirillo when he was a student and trying to be as effective as possible in the use of his time whilst studying for exams. He took a Tomato Shaped Pasta Timer and set it to 25 minutes and then started the particular task that he had been procrastinating about or was overwhelmed by.

At the end of each 25-minute block, he stopped, stepped away and took a break and then after 5-10 minutes, he would return and do another block.

He found that by limiting his work target to nothing more than 25 minutes of time, he overcame the blocks to him getting started because he could easily rationalise to himself that ‘I only need to get 25 minutes done’. He also noticed that his concentration was much better and his understanding and retention was much improved in the short bursts.

Each 25-minute block was a tangible accomplishment which made him feel better about himself which in turn fed into his motivation to get another Pomodoro block done.

He transformed his study approach, became far more effective in the short bursts of time and afterwards started to teach the technique to other people. He now runs a consulting firm in Berlin and has an accreditation process for training new teachers in his technique.

Anyway, that is what I have used to get this piece written using the timer on my phone. It took me two Pomodoro blocks!

However, before I go on, I would say that there is a tendency when you get started, to go beyond the 25 minutes after the alarm goes off. You feel like you are on a roll so you want to continue.

This is a mistake. 

You might feel like going on but it is imperative that you take a rest, otherwise you will run out of steam after several ‘Pomodoro Time Blocks’ and you will start to get tired and lose concentration and effectiveness. 

So, take your breaks.

I also used a technique called Free Writing which is essentially a way of breaking through writing or creative barriers by writing something on the page even when you don’t really know what you are going to say. You might start, as you see that I did above, with some incoherent ramblings about not knowing what I was going to write about and no sooner had I cleared the brain with these musings and ‘unblocked the pipes’ so to speak, the idea for writing what I have just written popped up.

It is unfortunate how our education system has taught us a really bad habit of trying to write and edit at the same time in order to ‘get it right’ first time. 

It doesn’t work – ever!

This alone is the cause of pretty much all of the writer’s block, perfectionism and consequently, procrastination that we encounter every time we sit down to do something creative. It is a terrible idea killer, productivity inhibitor and limiter of potential.

The way around it is to forget about being right or perfect or the need to edit as you go. Instead just get the words of the poem, the song, the email, the blog, the business letter or indeed the images and colours of the drawing or painting down on paper. 

Accept that creativity is a process of creation and that in order to create the masterpiece, you first need to produce something on the page to work with – the ‘Shitty First Draft’ as Ann Lamott calls it! 

This is how all poets, writers, songwriters, artists, and creatives work. Just read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King or ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott to get their perspectives on it.

So, anyway. That is what I have just done to create this piece. Unfortunately for you, apart from a few spelling and typo corrections, this is my SFD and it lacks a lot of polishing but as the weeks go on, I know I will get better and hopefully the value of the content hasn’t been lost in the rawness of the piece.

It’s probably also a bit long but that too will get better with practice.

If you would like more information on the two techniques that I talked about – The Pomodoro Technique and Free Writing, here are a couple of links to explore:

The Pomodoro Technique – the website of founder Francesco Cirillo

Free Writing – the website of Mark Levy, author of Accidental Genius