The Ten Minute Rule

Sometimes writing is easy. Often is is not. It is particularly hard to get started. Getting started on a project. Getting started every day is difficult. I have found that when the project is in the midst, I can spend hours on it. However, there are those terrible times where I don’t know what to write and doubt whether I should even try.

So, here’s my trick.

I promise myself ten minutes a day is success.

That’s it. Just ten minutes.

Sometimes it takes all day to get those ten minutes. But if I do ten minutes, I am a success.

I have conquered some really hairy situations with the ten minute rule. I wrote my dissertation with the ten minute rule. Of course on many days, the ten minutes grew into a longer time.

Why does it work? When we are feeling less than wonderful about our accomplishments, we get into a circle of doom. I can’t do it, so I won’t do it, so I’ll play cards, binge watch old movies or tv, clean the house … anything but write. And because I don’t write, I suck even more. So, it builds. Every day it is a little harder.

Ten minutes for success breaks that. Because I know that if I do those ten minutes, I will eventually do more. All it takes is that first series of ten minutes.

My other trick is that when I’m writing – the goal is to get something, anything out on the page. Peter Elbow talks about separating writing and editing. The idea is that you/ I cannot both create the story and worry about if I’m saying it right, god forbid I go to the place where I worry about specific words or punctuation. The goal is to get through the thing, from beginning to end.

For me, there is a near physical feeling when the story is a whole. I know I can and will improve it. But while I am writing, if that little shit angel on my shoulder starts whispering that this story sucks and I’m telling it all wrong … if I listen to that angel, I’ll stop and I won’t start again. I’ve got to get it in one piece. Then, and only then, can I go back and work on it and make it better and move things around and add and cross out whole sections.

The job when writing is to get it on paper. No matter how messy and disjointed. Get the whole thing out. Fix it later.

And the way to get it all out is ten minutes at a time.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about rewriting.

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