Shut the Door

shut the door pleaseA few weeks ago I took part in the 3 Day Novel Contest. The gist was that I had to write a novel (around 100 double-spaced pages) in three days. All entrants started at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, August 30th, and had to finish by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 1st.

If this sounds like a ridiculous goal to you, then it probably suggests that you understand setting timed goals with reasonable attainability. It sounded ridiculous to me as well, and when I registered, I reveled in this ridiculousness. I planned and outlined. But as August 30th approached I realized that the time for reveling was coming to an end and the time to sit down and do the work was fast approaching.

The strategy. I set a goal for thirty single-spaced pages per day. So this broke down to three three-hour writing sessions per day, each one resulting in ten single-spaced typed pages. So, three days work would yield about 90 single-spaced typed pages and therefore about 130 double-spaced pages. In other words, my goal: a novel.


In theory.

And then the contest started.

I wrote in my three-hour shifts, scheduling my day as follows:
9 a.m. – 12:00 writing
12:00 – 1:30 lunch break
1:30 – 4:30 writing
4:30 – 5:30 break
5:30 – 8:30 writing
8:30 – bedtime staring at stuff and avoiding my keyboard as though it had herpes

Now here’s the interesting thing – it worked. I wrote for nine hours a day for three days, twenty-seven hours over a long weekend, and I finished a novel in that time. My theoretical attack plan had actually panned out and when it was all over, I realized why.

In the first place, each three-hour writing shift had a clear, measurable goal – ten pages. And this meant that if my three-hour shift ended and I had nine pages, I had to continue writing until I had ten. Now, if you have ever worked for three straight hours, then you know you need a break like a drunken man needs pizza. So ensuring the entirety of that break was a great motivation. And I wrote like the devil.

Moreover, during my three-hour shifts, I refused all social media, social interaction, and internet shenanigans. I didn’t pick up my phone, I didn’t look at Facebook once (yes, I exhibited withdrawal symptoms), and I didn’t surf the internet.

I wrote.

Sure, sometimes I stood and stretched my legs and peed, because I was drinking Bolivia’s daily production in coffee. But for three-hours all I did was write.

Love him, hate him, or think he’s shit, you have to admit that Stephen King is one prolific son of a bitch. His views on getting your work done are clear and unapologetic. You write a lot and to do that you go to a place which needs:

…a door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business.

King further suggests that this space has no phone, no distractions, and that you bring nothing to this room that will take you away from your work. You don’t pay bills, watch TV, or play video games here. It is a place where you shut the door and work.

I had heard this advice before, and I have written hundreds of blogs, dozens of stories and essays, and three novels before ever taking part in this 3 Day Novel Contest. But this was a game changer.

By shutting away the outside world with purpose, I hit a flow that took me into that highly desired “zone.” I wrote for three straight hours, often without noticing the time or the page count. It was only when I stood and stretched that I saw what I had completed. The story was pouring out of me and I felt as though I was at a Buddhist meditation retreat. Only with coffee.

If you’re asking what the hell does this have to do with me? I am not going to write a mother-expletive book in an expletive weekend.

Good point. So how does this apply to you?

Researchers have found that to best exploit your productivity you should work for 52 minutes and then rest for 17 minutes. Sounds arbitrary, doesn’t it? The idea is that when you do your 52 minutes of work, you don’t do anything else. You don’t work for three minutes and then check your boyfriend’s Facebook status. You don’t work for twenty minutes and then go for a cigarette.

Perhaps you do something to signify that you are ‘shutting the door’ when you get into your work zone. You could put on earphones, so people know not to bother you. But it can be a smaller gesture just for yourself: put on your reading glasses, a hat, or if you actually have a door, you can shut it. But the point is this: you do nothing but work for 52 minutes.

The same goes for your 17 minute break. While on your break, you don’t do half-assed work. You don’t call your boss to check something, diddle around with some numbers, or catch up on emails. You take a break. You take a walk. You have your cigarette. You watch Frasier. You check Facebook.

Since a lot of us work on computers and the computer is where roughly 200 million opportunities for distraction exist, it is incredibly easy to get into a pattern of half-assed working. Sort of working and sort of playing. And this doesn’t allow us to get into a good flow or get into the zone, and therefore our productivity suffers.

Oh, and I am as guilty of this infraction as anyone on this earth.

Since the 3 Day Novel Contest ‘shutting the door’ and doing nothing but work for a set period has been a major boost to my productivity. It has also led to a higher quality of work because I am getting into that flow and zone instead of half work half play.

No matter your job, try shutting the door, working hard, and taking breaks. It’s made a huge difference in the way I view work and better success when I do it.

  1. #1 by Adam Sweet on September 25, 2014 - 11:01 pm

    I thought this was going to be a hilarious tale of discomfort, insanity, and stewing in your own sweat-juices.

    Instead, it’s just one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever heard.

    Very nice work, sir. And good luck with the contest.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on September 28, 2014 - 12:36 pm

      Adam! Thank you sir, and I highly recommend trying out something like this for your writing. It’ll give you some serious insight into what you’re capable of when you buckle down and remove distractions. It was incredible.

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