Scents Of Time | Using Incense To Time Writing Sprints

I am a candle hoarder.


An entire drawer in The Hollow is dedicated to my stash.


As if I didn't buy enough candles myself, they have also become a go-to-gift for loved ones to give me at Christmas and my birthday.


Candles have a significant role in my writing sessions, from setting the mood for writing historical romances set in an age before electricity to lighting those with scents that help me step into the worlds of my stories.


The Hollow is located in the laundry room off the garage, making it a seasonal workspace I love but find myself spending less time in during the colder months.

When events in 2020 resulted in my other household member working from home, I turned a corner of my bedroom into a writing space so the living room could serve as a home office. With this new spot, though, I haven't been able to light any candles.


We have a longstanding household rule that candles aren't lit upstairs for a number of reasons and, simply put, I've missed having that element of my writing routine.


I experimented with a few types of air fresheners, but none of the forms captured the magic of candles.


After passing a display of incense sticks on a recent shopping excursion, I bought a bunch on a whim and, to my surprise, it quickly became the way to go.


One of the benefits of incense is the cost; I spent a fraction of the typical candle and walked away with several dozen sticks. The scents also seem to linger for a while longer. And because they're so short-lived, it's harder for me to grow tired of the scent the way I sometimes do with candles.


But the thing I didn't expect with incense? The functionality of a tech-free timer.


Ever since starting at my current job, writing sprints have become part of my new routine. The strategy, however, is a bit trickier to implement at home.


If you missed my post about writing sprints, I've taken to devoting my lunch breaks to writing-related activities, primarily blogging. This is made easier by the inability to access the internet with my tablet, eliminating a good amount of distractions.


At home, this isn't the case.


Setting a timer on my phone or computer has more than once pushed me into the rabbit hole of the internet.


Incense prevents this.


So how does an incense writing sprint work?


Like a standard writing sprint, there is a timer involved, but it's silent and smokey.


To start, I light a stick or cone of incense depending on how long I want to write for.


There is some ambiguity here since you cannot set an exact length of time incense. Cones have a shorter burning time than sticks in my experience; I've yet to try the method of scattering incense and herbs on a charcoal disk but it does interest me. The sprint runs from the time the incense is lit to the time it goes out.


In a way, not knowing how long I have left in a sprint keeps me more focused on my work. The only indication I have is the trail of smoke wafting gradually lower as the stick or cone burns down to a stub.


This silent timer also allows me to write beyond the sprint.


When I'm using my computer or phone as a timer, the end of the countdown is announced with a strident beeping tone or other noise that can come seemingly out of nowhere if I've successfully gotten myself in the zone. This tends to break my concentration.


It's rare that the set amount of time runs out anywhere other than in the middle of a thought, and the sudden disruption can make it hard to jump back in later and remember where I left off.


Incense, on the other hand, quietly expires. There have been a few occasions I've only realized the sprint is over when I reach for my drink and happen to glance over to find the cold stub protruding from the holder. Incense allows me to remain in the groove, totally immersed in the work, and come to a natural stop.


As with candles, I've gotten in the habit of burning incense with scents that remind me of my various fiction projects. I've been favoring sandalwood and jasmine as of late.


Timing writing sprints with incense may sound a bit odd, but it's been working very well for me.


The method actually reminds me of a candle auction, an event I've been dying to incorporate in my historical fiction. Candle auctions were a variation on the traditional auction in which the end of the auction was signaled by the flame of a candle going out. This prevented last-minute bidding and added an air of ambiguity I can only imagine added a new now-or-never kind of excitement and split-second impulse decisions to what could have otherwise been a tedious night.


As far as writing sprints go, incense has created a way for me to stay on track for an indeterminate amount of time, alleviating the disruption of a traditional timer and lowering the chance of getting distracted by technology. And just like candles, using scents relating to my WIPs makes it easier to slip into the project at hand and stay focused.


I've always taken to the idea or creative writing opening itself to creative ways of getting done. Authors have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves for a successful work session. They may seem strange, but as long as it helps them get the job done, that's all that matters.




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