Monday, August 2, 2010

Is A Tiny Bit Enough?

Mr. A and I have had a disagreement. (Shocking, I'm sure.)

I shared with him my advice to you about writing every day, even if it's only half an hour. Heck, even if it's only fifteen minutes. Because 200 words or 50 words or TEN words are more than zero.

And so you creep steadily toward your goal.

"That's not enough time," Mr. A declared. "You can't get anything creative done in such a short amount of time."

I understand where he's coming from. He's a musician. Composer. Producer. Film maker. All the things at which he could EXCEL if he didn't have to make a living. Doing other things he's good at BUT DOESN'T LOVE.

I've preached at him over the years. Get on a schedule, I've said. Let's pick evenings on which we're both working, I've said. I could, yanno, WRITE while he creates music or videos or whatever happens to grow beneath his fingers.

He's resisted. Because he's one of the most disorganized people I know. (Aren't most artists?)

And yes, it's hard to imagine getting an entire song written in 30-minute intervals. Hard to imagine mastering Adobe Premier in 30-minute intervals.

But the alternative is to not do anything at all. Zero minutes = zero results.

I love Mr. A with all my soul. Yet I believe he's wrong.

I am also a musician. I majored in music education with a piano concentrate. I practiced for hours daily. Truth be told, I resented the reading and studying I had to do for my classes--especially the non-music classes--because it took away from my practice time.

And I was good. Not fantastic. But good. Dedicated. Winning scholarships along the way because of my piano playing.

My worst fear was to become a musical has-been. Surprise! I'm a musical has-been. But that's because I'm not supposed to be a full time pianist. I'm supposed to be a full time writer.

Here's the thing, though. My Baldwin upright sits in the corner, out of tune and sadly neglected. If I were to make the decision to sit down for thirty minutes a day and practice my scales and arpeggios, my fingers would get back into shape in no time. I'd be able to sit down and play my favorite Mozart and Beethoven sonatas and Chopin waltzes without sounding like I was missing a few fingers.

It wouldn't take much! And I'm sure I could find the 30 minutes if I looked hard enough.

But it's not my main passion anymore. And while it would certainly FEEL GOOD to get my fingers back into shape, it wouldn't be the best use of my time.

So, yes. I have the musician perspective. Which isn't so different from the artist perspective or the dancer perspective or the composer perspective or the actor perspective. Or the writer perspective.

The arts require daily feeding. Large increments would be wonderful, but most of us don't have that luxury. So we settle for small increments. Which can be VERY PRODUCTIVE if we're committed to them.

Of course, we can always plan for big chunks of time to dedicate to our creative passion. Setting aside an entire Saturday for writing. Choosing one evening a week to hire a babysitter and have a writing marathon (don't scrapbookers do things like that?). Using one or two vacation days to give ourselves a personal writing retreat. But aside from all that, those small, daily rations keep us going.

Prioritize. Plan. Feed your passion. Write your novel.

Then come on over here and brag about it. I'll be happy to applaud your accomplishment. The one you achieved one daily writing session at a time.


  1. Ah, Authoress, you nailed it once again. I remember attending daughter's pep rallies, ms. pages and red pen in hand. Sometimes, that's all the writing I got done that day, but...

    It demonstrated my commitment to the project, to me, if nobody else. And that made it really, really valuable.

    Plus, finding small time segments for writing leads to finding bigger segments--and finishing the novel :-)

  2. Absolutely! Whether writing, revising, researching or reading, I be sure to do something writerly each day, something to keep my head in the right place. In little bits, whenever I can. I wrote my first novel in virtual secrecy at night after husband and children went to bed. It was an incredible feeling to say one day, "Look! I wrote a whole novel!"

  3. I am torn. I agree you have to do something every day to get anything done, and a bit each day is better than nothing.

    But... it's really REALLY hard for me to work like that.

    I've tracked my own work habits. On a typical day, it takes me about 2 hours of producing crap before I can start to produce anything worth keeping. If I have a 14 hour period of uninterrupted time in which to work, that means 2 hours crap/12 hours gold. If I have a 4 hour work period, it's half and half. And if I have less than 2 hours, I produce nothing worthwhile.

    It is too frustrating to produce crap day after day.
    So if I don't have at least 4 hours a day I can set aside for creative writing, I end up not doing it.

    You have to understand, though, I also write a lot of nonfiction. Same rules apply, so I find it hard to write them both at the same time. It's all one or all the other, manically, fanatically, as many hours as I can steal from my poor family.

  4. I think you're on to something, but each person works differently. I think Mr. A should give it a shot for a week or so, because there's only way to find out if it will work.

    For me, I've found that the magic number for getting in the groove and accomplishing something worthwhile is about 45 minutes.

    That's a rule of thumb, though. If I'm on a roll and I've been writing daily, I can bust out bits of good stuff in tiny snatches of time, 10 minutes here or there. But if I've been slacking for awhile, I need at least a half day to "prime the pump" before I can get back into that rhythm again. Otherwise I feel like Tara and the short sessions I give myself to write (or draw or belly dance or whatever) only frustrate me.

  5. you left off "count the days til school starts back and you have dedicated writing blocks again..."

    (followed immediately by "feel guilty about being counting the days til the kids are back in school so I can write." ;o)

    I would only add that while writing every day might not add to your WIP, much like daily piano technique, it keeps the creative muscles limber... :o)

    good stuff~

  6. I've never been an every day writer. There are times when the words flow so much that I write for days on end without stopping. There are other times when days pass without me writing at all.

    Every writer is different, and writes in the way that is best for them.

    I read an interview with a published author who said she would go long periods of time without writing. She might write a paragraph one day, nothing for 10, and then do a bunch of writing. You know what? She published that book that she didn't write every day, and subsequent books as well.

    This was her process and what worked for her.

    We each have to find what works for us as individuals.


  7. Absolutely right--everyone works differently! Here's the problem: if YEARS are going by with nothing to show for it, something needs to change. So while some of you have found your stride writing in an on-again, off-again style, there are others who need to make a decision about whether they want to accomplish something or not. Something, as in, a finished product.

    That's why I say 15 minutes a day is better than nothing.

    I also should have called it a STARTING POINT. Because once you get into the HABIT of writing daily, you are then going to be less likely to settle for anything less than productivity. And you'll search for the right way to accomplish that--whatever works for you.

    It supposedly takes 21 consecutive days to form a new habit. If you're not writing for EACH of those 21 days, you're not forming a habit.

    (Who makes this stuff up, anyway? ;P)

  8. There are two separate problems.

    (1) Starting. As Genie called it, "priming the pump." I think Genie and Authoress are right the longer you go without writing the harder it is to prime the pump.

    (2) Stopping. I almost flunked out of college because I decided to write a novel during finals. I should rephrase: I didn't want to write a novel, I only wanted to jot down a little each day, BUT I COULDN'T STOP.

    My fear that I won't be able to stop, and I will neglect my work and lose my job, actually keeps me from writing when I know I have other deadlines. I can't even write a little. It's like a former alcoholic trying to have just one drink.

    This makes it really hard for me to balance writing with a "real" day job. (I've held a lot of no-brainer jobs for just this reason.)

  9. I agree with both of you. Thirty minutes of writing is better than zero, but I do much better work when I have larger blocks of time.

    Since life is not perfect, I steal my writing time where I can.

    Thanks for the post.

  10. It really depends on the person, I think. I know several published authors who don't write every day. They work better in bursts than steadily plodding along. That's definitely the way I prefer it too. I'd rather get a large chunk done one day a week than write in small increments. I feel like there's better continuity for me, personally, when I do it that way.

    But I feel like a lot of people prefer the write-every-day method because it keeps you on track, which I can understand as well.

  11. 100 % of unfinished books don't get published. Well, maybe not in an age where relatives of deceased writers mine their notebooks for stuff they can sell, but for the masses it's still true. If you lay one brick a day, eventually you will finish the wall.

  12. The main question for me is, what KIND of writing am I doing? If I'm editing, proofing, reformatting etc., small chunks are best before my eyes glaze over and I start thinking of other things.

    If I'm on a first draft, I need large chunks of time on a daily basis so I don't interrupt the creative flow. I'm in editing mode now and just itching to write something new.

    And the hub has needed to talk at night (I know you know :) Which is #1 priority. He'll delve back into his creative cave soon (also a musician/song writer) and so will I. Priorities!!

  13. I challenged myself to do that, did it a couple manuscripts (minimum 1000 words a day). It really taught me that 1) I can write on command whether inspired or no, and 2) I don't like it.

    I've found it's a lot better to write in scenes (not to a word count), and only when I'm itching to write. Paradoxically, I end up writing a lot faster. I'll have a few days of nothing, then two days in a row of 8k a day.

    I think it's just whatever works for you.

  14. florkincaid, I've had the same experience. The scene is the natural unit of writing, however long that may take.

  15. I've found I can work in the short increments, but that came to the fact that I've been doing a lot of my plotting/thinking while scanning huge documents at work. I'm stuck standing over the copier so I start scribbling away. 85% of the time, I don't end up typing it up, but it gets me thinking.

    I prefer long blocks of time, but on the other hand, the longer I sit there, the more likely I am to go surf the internet/IM friends/etc. But, I guess I'm not doing too bad when, since early July I've gotten almost 70k written on my next WIP, plus been a mommy with a "real-world" full-time job.

    Whatever works, I guess.

  16. I've been struggling with this very thing, because I also like having larger blocks of time--preferably at least an hour. It's been difficult to carve out that much time of late.

    Then the intimidation factor sets in, as it's been so long since I've seriously written. So then it becomes "you must write for at least 15 minutes." Which gets me to what I was trying to do in the first place, I guess.

    But I agree that a schedule is key. I'm going through Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways course, and one of her points is tat if you want to write for a living, you've got to learn to write on demand. So I know I need, for myself, to set up a schedule, but haven't yet managed. :(

  17. The hard part for me right now is the revision part of the novel. Not the first one but like the tenth. There's still something not quite right and everytime I sit down to open up the book, I flake out and do nothing.

    But your post motivated me. I'll devote 30 minutes a day to it. Force myself. Because at my current rate it will be years (it's been three already)before I finish.

  18. I agree with you, Authoress. (Sorry, Mr. A.) There is no substitute for steady, albeit slow, effort.

    You do have to train yourself to take advantage of smaller amounts of writing time, though. I'm still a lot more productive (in terms of words per minute and not just total number of words) when I have two hours rather than twenty minutes to write, because I need a little time to really sink into that writing place, but you have to learn to use what you have.

  19. LOL, I'm also counting the days 'til school starts. IME, having a family makes getting even 15 mins. a day in for writing extremely difficult. And in the past, I've simply done nothing because of x activity, y recital, z other commitment. I put myself last and everything else first.

    But you know what? That's not fair to me or to my family. So I do create every day. It may be fifteen minutes on a WIP, it may be 15 minutes on a haiku, LOL! But for me, going long periods without being creative only makes it that much more difficult to get back on the horse, so to speak.

    And I want to be successful. I love writing for writing, but it's also my business. And if I don't work and produce, I don't get much out of that business. So learning that it isn't selfish of me to demand my working time was a big deal. And so was understanding that taking 15 mins. a day to make sure the synapses are firing is the least I can do to make sure I'm 'primed' when I do have a larger block of time to produce.

  20. I have a neuroimmune disease that makes it difficult for me to tolerate any activity longer than 30 minutes. I write in chunks of 300 words, 500 words, 750 words on a really good day. Once I almost hit 1,000 and really did myself in. Bit by bit, I've written several flash fiction pieces, one short story, and the first really rough draft of my novel. So, yes, yes, yes! Write every day, and love it.

  21. It's harder for me to make small, consistent improvements than large, heroic ones, but we have to work with what we have. And I can get quite a bit done in 30-60 minute intervals of revision over a week.

  22. Amen! The ONLY way I managed to write and publish articles and books early on as a young mom was in tiny snippets that I carved out or stole whenever they showed their faces.

    I heard a male NY Times author recently say that he can't get anything written if he doesn't have at least a 4-hour block.

    I howled with laughter. If I had to wait for a 4-hour block, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere I have with my career.

  23. I think you're both right - but it depends on where you are in your project and the kind of writer you are. But mostly where you are in your project.

    If I've written the scene in my head (LOVE when that happens) I only need snatches of time to transcribe it. If I have no idea what comes next, but need to figure something out, I need some real time to organize my thoughts, where I'm not bombarded by requests from little people needing stories read and glasses of milk, etc.

    So, see, you're both right. ;)

  24. I think a tiny bit is definitely enough if you do it consistently. I wrote my first YA novel last year in one to two hour increments.

    I'm also married to a singer/songwriter who has a day job. We do "worknights" four nights per week, where he goes in his basement studio to create songs while I write upstairs (where I can hear the kids). It's worked really well so far, so I really recommend it!

  25. Of course you're right. He knows it but it's called procrastination. It means making excuses for not doing it. I am a painter. I studied it. What I learned though is while I'm quite good at it, I'm not fantastic. I don't have a passion for it. It doesn't have a passion for me in return. But I am good at drawing and brilliant at illustrating children. I can draw them out of my head. So I got published - and the next step was to write for them.
    I fed my passion and discovered when I had a passion for the freedom of writing for adults that my years on children's books paid off in my adult writing. 500 good words or 2000 sh** words you throw away or re-edit 50 times is better than a guilt complex or procrastination. It's like running your car every so often otherwise the battery dies.
    There's a saying. Every mickle makes a muckle. Have no idea where it's from but it's true.

  26. I totally agree with you. My kids' music teachers say the same thing, a little bit of practice every day is better than nothing.

  27. I think part of the reason why your hubby resists the idea of doing something in small steps rather than one surge pf creativity is that he wants it (the song, video) to be perfect when he stops. We as writers have learned (often the hard way) that it takes revision, revision and more revision to get it perfect. But to be able to revise you need at least something to start with. And to get that, small steps are better than none.

  28. I've tried the writing every day thing, but it doesn't work for me, so I'll have to disagree with your statement about 'writing' daily. Just because I don't write daily, it doesn't mean that I don't 'think' about my current story. I do. I've solved all sorts of story issues while walking, in the shower, folding laundry, sitting in church, etc.
    As a writer, you just have to figure out the method that works for you.

  29. Sorry. I am with Mr. A. High five me Mr. A! I can think about my writing every day, but I only need to sit and put it on paper every so often. I need a big chunk of time where the idea can expand and grow on the screen. Ideally, I look up after 3 hours, my fingers smokin', my story rockin', and my cocktail being poured.

  30. GOOD post! The Write Every Day plan works. I'm one of the most disorganized people I know (and since many of my friends are musicians and writers that's saying something) but two years of doing NaNoWriMo taught me the value of a little every day.

    This summer, I've been juggling three jobs, grad school, and a bunch of difficult family issues... my time has dwindled to nil. For the first time in years, I'm not writing every day - not with pen and paper. But in my mind I'm writing: shaping words and crafting ideas and noticing details and imagining outrageous histories for innocent people I meet. Sometimes I manage to write it down, sometimes it stays in my head. But I've found that just the act of MENTALLY writing has kept me fresh. When I do get time to sit down, the words are there, at my fingertips, waiting.

  31. Creating a single work does not require consistency or routine, just a burning desire to create.

    However, for developing talent in any arena, there is no substitute for repetition and routine.

    When martial arts students ask how to become flexible, I tell them five minutes a day, every day. It's far more valuable than an hour twice a week--400% of the time.

    I've applied this same principle, not only in my own life but also for the students I mentor, to strength building, coordination, learning the piano, increasing reading aptitude, writing, soccer, drawing, and learning history.

    There is science to this method, too. Our brains work by association. The more frequently the synaptic sequences are reinforced, the stronger the patterns become. They fade with time, and daily refreshment is key to staying sharp.

    This is not to say that a binge here and there cannot achieve great results. But consistency is the synaptic sugar that ices the cake.