I was mindlessly scrolling Twitter one day and came across a tweet by Neil Gaiman (I think). I couldn’t find the tweet again, so I am paraphrasing here.
If you write a few hundred words a day, you will finish one book every year. Most people write one book every never, so you are doing great.
This advice hit me upside the head. I have a book I’ve been working on for over a year. I had a goal to finish by June 30. Then September 30. Then November 30. Then December 31. For 2021 I’m taking this self-imposed deadline away and changing my writing goal to something simple: write every day.
When I had an arbitrary deadline for finishing my book, I would think about my book all the time but actually wrote about once a week. However, I felt that I was working on it all the time. You fellow writers know what I’m talking about, right? We live and breathe our books. Did you know living and breathing a book is different than actually typing words into a computer? Not me!! During Nanowrimo, I put a sad 5K words into my book. But I thought about it a lot, so props for that I guess?
Writing consistently has been a challenge for me. A few months ago, I started taking @shauntagrimes advice to commit to writing just 10 min a day. Shaunta has an impressive streak of not missing her 10 minutes of writing time, like, ever (years, I think). If you know her, you know she is a prolific writer, putting out a ton of books and articles. I’m not saying that she does all that in 10 minutes a day, but she teaches that the discipline of writing daily keeps her on track.
The first month I decided to write 10 minutes a day, I wrote 10 out of 30 days. My word count that month was higher than it had been — ever. Some of those days, I only wrote 10 minutes, keeping one eye on the clock. Some days I got lost in my story and looked up to see 2 hours had passed.
The next month was about the same- I managed to write ten days out of the month. That month had a lot of stress in it, so I gave myself some grace. Of course, Shaunta kept up her streak of 10 minutes daily writing even when moving cross-country but let’s not compare ourselves.
Slowly my writing days crept up — 17 out of 30 days, then 25 days out of the month. My word count kept going up, too, as I became better at organizing my thoughts before sitting down to write. An essential part of the 10 minutes writing discipline is that it has to be 10 minutes of writing. Not plotting or revising, but real writing.
What if you are working on articles, not a book? In seven days of 10-minute writing sprints, I can finish a decently-written Medium essay. Writing only 10 minutes a day means publishing four articles a month (remember, revising and editing is extra time). Consistently, over time, those four articles per month contribute to a substantial catalog of writing.
When I write every day I can also free up my mind for other things. Instead of procrastinating most of the day, I just sit down, write for 10, then get on with my day. If I have a great writing day I keep writing. It’s much better than when I would spend an entire week “thinking” about writing and then actually write 500 words or so.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for my entire life. I’ve read many, many, MANY books on the craft of writing. But I’ve never cultivated a consistent writing practice. And totally coincidentally, most craft books mention consistent writing. But I’ve just been too good for that advice until now, I guess.
The secret that has taken me 20 years to internalize is that writing consistently-even for just a few minutes a day- leads to better writing and more writing. Who woulda thunk??
Audrey Zetta is a writer (at least for 10 minutes a day) living in LA. You can connect with her on twitter @sweetandzesty