(Continued from yesterday.)

That timer I mentioned is a good tool to keep around for a lot of writing activities. You can Google something like “download free desktop timer” to get one for your computer if it doesn’t have one already, or if you’re into melodrama you can buy yourself an egg timer. If  you can wait for it, I’ll be coming out with the Official Marc Schuster Writer’s Timer early next summer. It comes in three colors and whispers encouraging phrases as the clock winds down.

You can do it!

Hang in there, champ!

I believe in you!

The reason I suggest using a timer is that a lot of would-be writers tell me that they just don’t have the time to write. And, okay, ideally you’d be able to block off an hour or so every morning to get some writing done, but who in the real world has that kind of time?

On the other hand, think about all those spare clumps of time you have on any given day. You’re on your coffee break. You’re waiting for your train. You just folded the laundry and you have a few minutes before you start making dinner. My friend Curt Smith takes advantage of every free moment he gets, and he’s written some of my favorite short stories, two novels, and a collection of nonfiction.

Those moments add up, and a timer can help you get in the practice of writing in short bursts. Just set your timer for five minutes, and start writing. I usually like to give myself a little prompt that’s related to the project I’m working on. Tell me about the protagonist’s car, for example. Or something open-ended, like What is the protagonist hiding from himself? Sometimes I’ll even ask myself a weird personal question like What am I forgetting?

Then I’ll start the timer and write until the alarm sounds.

The key to making this work is to keep it fairly light. Remember that you’re not writing something that other people will read at this point. You’re just putting your thoughts into words. Another way to say this is that you’re thinking on the page.

(Continued tomorrow.)