When I first began to build this website, a friend advised me, “Write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.” I thought, yeah, I’ve heard this advice before. It’s as ubiquitous in books on writing as the copyright notice.
I thought: what can you really accomplish in fifteen minutes? I mean, by the time I sit down, open a document, think, and get to work, it will be time to quit.
But I had asked for advice, so I felt obligated to try it, mainly of course to prove it didn’t work. The funny thing is: it did. It worked in ways I had never envisioned. Yes, I got pages written, but the benefits went beyond that.
In her well known work The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about having to write every day to stay balanced. Her essays and exercises are all focused on removing the blocks that arise if we don’t write.
I was never aware of this until I started to write every day. I set a goal of fifteen minutes a day, seven days a week.
The first thing I had to do in order to make this goal a reality was find a place for my writing. I couldn’t waste time getting a project out and putting it away again, so I cleaned off a counter top in my study and spread out a binder and a couple piles of papers. I had a light over my workspace and a pen lying there to jot down ideas and plans. Every day, I did a little something: a little drafting, a little outlining, a little research. The progress didn’t feel slow at all. In fact, at the end of every writing session, I really felt like I had accomplished something.
Soon I began to notice that I felt pessimistic and grumpy at the end of the day if I hadn’t done my fifteen minutes. It wasn’t so much that I was accomplishing great things in that time; it was more a feeling of satisfaction that I had devoted that time to myself, my dream. It was a daily acknowledgment of what I consider important in my life, and it made me feel good.
I’ve had times in the past when days or even weeks would go by where I managed to do nothing on a writing project. Looking back now, I can see how the negative feelings generated by a lack of progress build up over time. Eventually there comes a point where you haven’t done anything on a project in so long that you begin to think, “What’s the use?” And that, as Cameron points out is the death knell of any creative endeavor. I know now that the way to keep that from happening is simply to steal a few minutes each day to work on a writing project. When I do, I instantly feel more positive and optimistic, feelings that spill over from my writing to every area of my life.
You may not think you can find fifteen minutes every day for your writing. I didn’t think I could either. But think of it this way: you would take fifteen minutes to return a call from a friend, wouldn’t you? I bet you take at least that much time alone every morning to get dressed and ready for your day. If you can steal a few minutes of private time for those activities, why not for your writing?
Some days you may do more than fifteen minutes, some days none at all. But slowly, imperceptibly, it will add up to a lot of work. Ask yourself: how much total time would you estimate you’ve spent showering or bathing in your entire life? If you had (and of course, I don’t recommend this) spent that time instead writing a book, would the book be done by now? I bet it would. In fact, several books might be done. And that’s just fifteen minutes a day.
So you say you don’t have fifteen minutes a day. There are, after all, only 1,440 minutes in a day, and all yours are spoken for. Then you’ll have to take them from something else. This is the game of life. We have limited resources. You have to decide how to use them. Do you want to put your minutes into gardening, or watching TV, or learning karate? Or do you want to put them into building a portfolio of writing? It’s entirely your choice.
But if your goal is to write, you’ll feel better at the end of each and every day if you’ve worked toward that goal. So many people dream of writing full-time, but they don’t write any-time. If you define a full-time writer as someone who writes every day, then you have the opportunity to do just that. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish and what a sense of peace and satisfaction fifteen minutes a day will bring you.
Try it and see. Just for this week, find fifteen minutes each day to work on a writing project. You aren’t making a long-term commitment. Do it just for seven days, and then see how you feel. If you decide that you accomplished more this way than doing nothing at all, or waiting for that longer block of time that you just know is coming someday, then you can evaluate continuing.
I took the try-it-and-see approach, and I’ll never go back.
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