15 Minute Writer?


Who said that thing about needing to work 10,000 hours in order to be an expert in your craft? I thought it was a Renaissance painter, or someone romantic, but Google says it was Malcolm Gladwell, who is a very much alive and current journalist – does that make the quote less timeless?

Google also has many many links to articles debunking the statement. But whatever the origin or veracity of the measurement, the basic idea behind it is true: if you want to get good at something, do it. A lot. You know, practice makes perfect and all.

A writer in my prompt writing group opened her piece this past week, and I am paraphrasing: I am scared. Now to sit and do the thing that I think about all day. She was referring to writing. And I was right there with her. The idea of writing is a constant on my mind – a tangle of desire and fear, need and doubt.

Part of the doubt and fear comes from the fact that the writing idea is jockeying for position with other desires and needs: running and/or yoga, cleaning, organizing, feeding myself, showering, and perhaps most loudly, sitting passively and consuming entertainment via a screen. And this long list only gets its turn on the agenda when the children are sleeping or otherwise occupied. All in all, I have 2 to 3 hours per day to do with what I will. And I have been very grateful this summer as I have realized how rich I am with time compared to last summer, when my responsibilities included all of the above PLUS a newborn with no set schedule. The fact that Cole naps consistently and reliably, and Maya is at school three days a week, has afforded me possibility and autonomy that seemed a distant and unattainable luxury not so long ago.

Do I feel my absolute best when I am writing? Yes. Do I long for the process when I am not doing it? Not exactly. I’m too tired. The only thing I long for is relaxation, the end of the day, quiet, sleeping kids, and perhaps American Ninja Warrior. See? Even in my downtime I can’t handle plot or story. Just pure mindless repetition.

The leader of my prompt group, Nancy Peacock, wrote in a Facebook post, ” I can only write a few hours each day…” and I add phrases like this to my long list of “Why I don’t write today” – because I cannot give the time it deserves.

It is a common issue I observe with myself: If I cannot give it my all, I will give nothing. If I cannot do the project in its entirety, I will do nothing. Even when it is so obvious that just a part of the whole would be a big improvement in my life. I can’t make it to the gym for an hour class? Then would only running one mile and dedicating 15 minutes be worth it? Better than nothing. I cannot deep clean the bathroom with a toddler underfoot, but I could at least wipe the toothpaste off the counter, right? Better than nothing. That’s going to have to be my new mantra: better than nothing. Of course I can’t give anything my all – heck, Maya is watching The Lego Movie and I’m batting Cole’s hands from the keyboard as I write this – so neither the kids nor this post is getting my full attention, but hey, I wrote this, and it’s better than nothing!

Perhaps the problem is that I have it in my head that I can only be writing when I can dedicate a string of hours, uninterrupted. So therefore, never. Perhaps if I see the process as something that CAN be done in starts and fits – in 15 minute increments, then maybe I can build something. A daily practice, small bits of flash fiction, pieces of a larger story, a familiarity with my characters…something; anything is better than nothing.

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