As a professor, I generate, oversee, edit, review, and comment on a lotta, lotta writing. I may be an academic, but really, in an important sense, above all I am a writer, with all the attendant neuroses, fears, freezes, and inspirations that implies.
Recently, having added this book writing project to my (naw, not full at all!) plate, I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to keep that writing going.
A dear friend used to get up at 5 a.m. to work on her (done! published! successful!) book, to get in clear thinking before the flood of minutiae hijacked her day. That wasn’t going to work for me, so I turned to another trick I learned in graduate school: write for 15 minutes a day.
This sounds silly, I know. How can you get anything done in 15 minutes a day? you ask. You might be especially puzzled when I tell you that you don’t even have to write something “good” or “meaningful” as part of that 15 minutes. You’re just supposed to write 15 minutes of anything related to your topic. Maybe you’ll just write, “Gah, I am so stuck on this section about the integrated implementation of utilizing schema to further provide advancement to the functionality of the relevant mechanisms…” (j.k., I don’t really write like that).
Or maybe you’ll write, “Oh book on school / you are so cool. / You will teach me not / to be a fool.” (no comment)
But actually, writing for 15 minutes a day is positively transformative. The short version is, it works. Try it.
The long version is my theory about why it works*: I believe that accessing the parts of your mind, focus, and energy that are associated with the writing you’ve tasked yourself with a) provides practice in spending time in that “writing space” in your head; b) lowers the fear/stress-based barriers to being productive on the project because it’s such a low-level commitment; and c) getting anything done at all, even 15 minutes of blather, makes you feel damn good (resulting in Happy Thoughts getting linked more and more with writing).
I urge my stuck graduate students to follow this advice, and if they’re really struggling, I make them go buy the book that taught me this. The advice is valid, I’ve found, for any kind of writing, not just academic stuff.
So if you’re on the hook to write, try writing something on it, anything on it, for 15 minutes a day, rain or shine, hell or high water. Be unrelenting! Never skip a day, no matter how uninspired, cranky, frustrated, terrified, annoyed, or overwhelmed you feel. It’s only 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, right?
I promise it will make a difference.