Here’s a common-sense mantra for writers: Before you do anything else, Write Today First.
In theory, it’s a pretty great goal but the acronym tells a different story:
Sometimes, despite good intentions, our hearts simply will not settle. My mind (not to mention my body) can be relentless in its sabotage. In fact, the best way I’ve found NOT to write a novel was TO write a novel in the first place. Which is why I’m sharing with you an experiment that worked for me last year.
In 2015 I decided to begin my day with just ten minutes of writing. After the kids left for school, I set a timer (to avoid checking the clock) and wrote in a notebook using a pencil like the dinosaurs did (to try something different).
Once the timer was set, my brain accepted that very soon I’d meet my goal. This eliminated the fear (not to mention the excuse) that I had bitten off a word-count I couldn’t chew. The time-limit forced me to move quickly; and since I wasn’t pausing to edit on my laptop, I wrote SO MUCH MORE.
This seems counter-intuitive because most of us type faster than we write; but we also waste time fiddling with first-draft sentences at the keyboard. Although I feared I’d write garbage if I couldn’t edit along the way, I often preferred what I wrote longhand (frantically and sloppily) than the mannered and overwrought paragraphs I eked out at the computer.
Occasionally—because of other obligations, errands, distractions, or procrastinations—this would be the only writing that I accomplished. Still, I told myself at least I’d done ten minutes and I was quicker to forgive myself than I had been on days when I didn’t write at all.
(Remember my slogan? I did not do nothing TM.)
But what happened more often than just a ten-minute session was this: Back at my computer desk, I’d type out the longhand pages and discover upwards of 500 new words! That’s more than an entire day’s output when I’m truly blocked and struggling.
If I had even more time (can you imagine?), I’d expand on the newly-written scene and try to end each day at a spot that provided an easy starting point for the next ten-minute session.
On mornings when I had no easy re-entry, I’d pick a side-character and write a first-person monologue. Details from their perspective rarely worked in the actual manuscript, but these pages ALWAYS provided insight into other storylines and motivations.
After a month of this routine, I tried completing my ten minutes at other times and it consistently worked for me. The hour and location didn’t matter. As long as I had my timer and my notebook, I could bang out 500 words (more or less).
This was progress made. Every. Single. Day.
Leaving my computer desk relaxed and inspired me so I wrote on a couch, in my bed, in the backyard. The paralyzing element of “work” disappeared, and I gave myself license to play with words; to come up with new plot threads and dialogue I hadn’t considered.
I also tried lighting candles and meditating beforehand, but all this did was improve the ambience and remind me I suck at meditation.
No, the key elements seemed to be the timer, the notebook, and the pencil.
Although I’m not a psychologist, I can guess why: The longhand renders output that’s authentic and straightforward; the timer offers a readily-digestible task. We writers believe we must tie ourselves to the chair with a minimum goal of WORKING FOR TWO HOURS.
But two hours = daunting. Ten minutes? Anyone can do that (without sacrificing the gym or lunch or an occasional shower).
Note: If your day is too packed to carve out even ten minutes, you’re too busy to be a writer. Embrace your current life—it’s fodder for future manuscripts—and try again in a year or two when your schedule isn’t as full.
Bottom line: Letters for Scarlet took years to write; my current WIP, under six months. So what’ve you got to lose?
Starting on February 1st, try it for one month. Ten minutes a day with a pencil in a notebook.
Then report back here, because my writer-friend, you are not alone.
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