How A Simple Tomato Can Help You Write Your Book

I wrote my first book over 15 years ago. When it was published, it seemed everywhere I went people were not only interested in discussing the contents of the book, but also wanted me to coach them on how to write THEIR book. One woman told me she had wanted to write a book for the past 10 years, and please would I tell her what the “secret” was.

Well, there is no secret, not really. Just like there is no secret to losing weight—it comes down to the obvious Nike logo of “Just Do It”.

Everyone who has written a book knows that writing courses can be insightful, writer’s groups may offer motivation and camaraderie, but if you spend too much of your time attending courses and going to writers groups, you are robbing yourself of the time you need to write the book itself. Furthermore, the whole notion of “writer’s block” is another method of stalling, as it is premised on the misbelief that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before you can write.

There is no “Muse” that is going to descend on you and tell you what to write. So stop waiting for one, get rid of all excuses and distractions and make a commitment to yourself to WRITE!

Becoming an author doesn’t require a degree in literature, stimulating as that might be. It comes from the very mundane task of being willing to work hard, set aside time EVERY DAY to sit in a chair, and focus on typing out what you have outlined or planned.

The psychology of motivation, tells us that when we “chunk” large tasks into mini tasks, and then record our progress on paper, we actually get somewhere. Why? We can track our progress every time we reach a “mini-goal”, and seeing what we have accomplished thus far, motivates us to take the next step.

We can apply this technique to writing a book and I will share with you, a method that some of the most renowned authors use (e.g. Daniel H. Pink): It is called The Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

What does a tomato have to do with writing a book? Back in the late 80s when Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the technique, was in university, he always felt like no matter how hard he worked, he was not doing well with his studying. A big part of that was lack of focus, motivation, and too many distractions. Today we have even more distractions and for would-be authors, with publishers telling them to grow their presence on social media and build their “platform”, get out there and do some speaking, added to the daily tasks of oh, I don’t know, keeping your home in order, working a full or part time job, caring for pets, children or grandchildren, getting our exercise in and the other gazillion things that pop up in our mental “to-do” list every day—somehow our writing dreams just fade into the background until they dry up.

 

Don’t let YOUR dream of becoming an author dry up!

 

As an advocate of Aging Happy (title of my 4th book, which will be out in the beginning of 2019), I know how satisfying AND therapeutic writing can be, as we get older. I also know you may have wisdom and inspiration that others can benefit from if only you will get it down in writing.

Maybe you just want to write a book to leave as legacy to your children, grandchildren and generations to come with no particular desire to publish beyond making a few copies at the local printer. Or, you may want to finally write that novel from an idea you have had inside you for years but never acted upon, or started but never finished. Maybe you have a special expertise that you want to share with others by writing self-help or how to book.

The Pomodoro Technique was named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo himself used to help him stay focused on his studying, and later on his professional work tasks. The technique helped him become successful in all areas of his life and has since helped many others. In a nutshell, here is an example of how it works, as applied to writing a book:

 

Goal: Writing a Book

Equipment: Kitchen Timer (shaped like a tomato or not); Paper, Pencil, and amount of time you will set aside EACH DAY for your task—in this case, of writing a book.

Time: I like to set a non-negotiable block of time each day (either before or after work).

 

  1. Choose the Task you will work on today: This task can be the outlining of your book, or the completion of 5-10 pages of a chapter, or doing the research needed for that chapter.
  2. Set your Timer (pomodoro or other kitchen timer) for 25 minutes.
  3. During this 25-minute time segment, block out all distractions. No Internet, no cellphone, no TV on in the background.
  4. Work straight through for 25 minutes, then when the timer rings put a check mark next to the title of that task (see below for example). Next comes a short break.
  5. Get up and stretch, walk around the house, get water, take a bathroom break, etc., for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Set the timer for another 25 minutes and get back to the task.
  7. Repeat the process. After each 25-minute segment, put another checkmark next to your task.
  8. After 4 pomodori (or checkmarks) take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Go out for a walk, pop in an exercise video, prepare a salad, do whatever does not involve the task you are working on. This way you will clear your head and be able to get back to task until it is completed
  9. Set the Timer again in 25-minute segments and repeat the process until your task for that day is complete.

 

Make sure that you are realistic in setting your task(s) for the day. For example if you only have 1 hour a day to devote to writing, don’t set a goal of completing an entire chapter in that one hour. Self-motivation is about seeing yourself succeed at the mini tasks you set out. A bunch of completed sub-tasks will serve as reward and motivator to keep you going when you realize what you have already accomplished thus far.

 

Rough Example of The Pomodoro Technique applied to writing a book:

Outline Book ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔
Write Preface ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔
Research Chapter 1 ✔✔✔✔longer break✔

 

Now is the time. If you have always wanted to write a book, get going and share your insights and expertise by finally getting them on paper. You can do this, if you just take that first step and START!

Let’s start a conversation in the comments section below: What will YOUR book be about?

 

Reference (and for more information)

Cirillo, Francesco (2009, 2018) The Pomodoro Technique, LuLu & Currency Publishers)

(C) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Therapeutic Journaling To Reduce Stress and Heal From Trauma

As a former behavioral consultant to a large, hospital-based weight-loss program I often spoke to large audiences consisting of men and women who needed to lose weight for medical reasons. For these individuals, getting the weight off was a matter of life and death. A number of them told me that they were stressed and at their wits end. They felt they didn’t eat any more than their thin friends ate; and added that they probably even ate less! Some commented that even walking past a bakery semmed to cause them to put on weight. They felt defeated and anxious.

At the hospital, I taught cognitive-behavioral techniques to help people suffering from obesity to reach their goals, but the most powerful advice I ever gave clients who were stressed or frustrated—whether the issue was weight loss or not—was this:

WRITE ABOUT IT.

Write The Facts. Write Your Thoughts. Write Your Emotions. Write Out Your Solutions.

I asked my clients to think of where were they when they ate or binge ate; what event precipitated the eating chain; what were they feeling and what where the thoughts and beliefs related to the incident? Most important, I asked them to write out what could they do next time to avoid that same pitfall. Now they ended up with their own personalized guidebook; a concrete plan based on their experience and past patterns that they could measure and modify to overcome their challenges.

Writing helped them come up with a roadmap showing exactly how to reach their goals.

But the usefulness of journaling goes beyond the challenges of weight loss.

Over 30 years ago researcher James Pennebaker discovered that when we write about our stressors and our emotional traumas, we could potentially improve both our physical and emotional well-being. Since his landmark study in the 80’s many researchers have replicated and extended his work and found “expressive writing”, can positively impact the emotional/and or physical states associated with (but not limited to):

  • The stress of caregiving
  • Would healing in older adults
  • Breast Cancer Survivors
  • People afflicted with HIV
  • Men diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • Veterans readjusting to civilian life
  • Mood disorders
  • Pre-adolescent peer problems
  • Problems in romantic relationships
  • Alcohol intervention
  • Patients dealing with colorectal cancer
  • …And some research even shows a strengthening of the immune system after starting a journaling routine, as measured by certain bio-physiological markers as well as a decrease in number of visits to the health practitioner.

Freud believed that telling someone (a friend, a therapist, etc.) about our troubles is healing because of its cathartic effect. The same is probably true of what researchers call “expressive writing.” However, simply letting out your feelings on paper is not necessarily going to improve how you feel. Sitting down and writing one time and then never opening your journal again is probably not going to help either.

Here IS how to keep a “therapeutic journal” as a self-help tool that may help you deal with the stressors, challenges, and traumas that many of us baby boomers face. Such as:

  • Taking care of an aging parent or sick spouse
  • Putting your life together after the death of a spouse or other family member
  • Feeling stressed or depressed over current events
  • Being estranged from a loved one
  • Facing a work crisis or turning point
  • Coping with an illness or recent diagnosis
  • Worrying about finances
  • Losing a beloved pet
  • Being unable to let go of a past trauma

THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF EXPRESSIVE WRITING:

  1. Purchase a regular spiral notebook, or if you want to splurge, a nicely bound blank journal, to make your writing sessions special.
  2. Work on one issue at a time, but do it as follows:
    1. Write the facts about the situation
    2. Write about your emotions, primarily POSITIVE emotions of how you might achieve personal growth as a result of this experience.
    3. Write about solutions or resolutions.   This will help you to achieve a sense of control (as opposed to the world being an uncontrollable and uncertain place to be), and increase your self-efficacy (the belief that you can influence what happens to you, and/or how you react to what happens.
  3. Write regularly for sustained well-being. They can be brief 10-15 minute sessions every other day, or even 3x/week, but don’t put down your journal for months at a time if you want it to impact the quality of your life. If you set a regular time schedule for writing, it will become automatic, like brushing your teeth. You will even begin to look forward to it.

Remember, the goal of the therapeutic journal is not to ruminate on your negative emotions and re-traumatize yourself, but instead to find your way back to inner peace and well-being.

Do you journal? Has writing out your feelings and thoughts gotten your through some difficult situations? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments section below!

And as always, feel free to forward this article (citing the original source) to anyone who you feel might benefit from it.

References:

Pennebaker, J.W. & Beall, S.K (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol 95 (3). 274-281.

Ulrich, P..M, & Lutgendorf, S.K, (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. The Society of Behavioral Medicine. Vol 24 (3).

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018