Discipline,  Organization,  Uncategorized

How to Start Writing in 10 Minute Increments

My timer and I have a love/hate relationship. 

Ever since I started calling myself the 10 Minute Writer, back in 2006, I’ve realized that either I’m racing against the timer, or the timer haunts me for my lack of skill and speed. 

During the first minute, it’s like priming the pump, I just write words, any kind of words. 

During the second minute, I may think of a metaphor and I get it down quickly. The third minute could be a silly stretch of the metaphor (I always want to stretch my metaphors as far as they can go). And my fourth minute is the second-guessing of that metaphor and perhaps where I slip into my frequent neurosis about the original idea and I may check the time to see how much I have left. And the fifth minute I wonder if I’ve got anything else left to say. And the sixth minute is remembering what I’m going to do after this is over. And the seventh minute is a reminder to myself that hey, at least this smattering of words is something. (And something is always better than nothing!) And the eighth minute is rereading everything I’ve written so far and resisted the temptation to waste my time editing. And the ninth minute I wrestle with more self-doubt. Or maybe I remember the puzzle pieces of a quote I’m going to have to look up. I don’t want to waste time on that yet.  And the tenth minute, of course, I’m inspired because I have an new take on the idea and just about the time that I realize that I can make some sense of this idea, the timer dings and I get to make a choice. Do I go back to the housework or the to-do list, or do I reset my timer? Today I’m going to go to housework.

Enough 10-minute segments like that and eventually I’ll have something worth editing. And even that happens in 10-minute increments.

I must keep writing in any increment of time. I must keep putting the words down. I can’t be afraid of stream of consciousness or a brain spew.

Because of this method, I’ve learned to write faster. I’ve learned to ignore the self-editor. I’ve learned to plan my non-writing time effectively so I can make the most of this time.

Do you need help writing in short spurts? 

Try this:

Get your document ready.

Send your inner editor out on a fruitless errand so you can work alone.

Get all those little things you think you need, like the right music, the right font or the right beverage.

Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Describe why this topic you’re writing about (or the story, the character, the setting) is so important.

Go as quickly as you can. Try not to backspace for errors.

If you’re stuck, go back to the beginning and just rewrite what you wrote. You may like a second version better.

Don’t look at the clock if you can.

Add fluff words, descriptions, back story, or nonsense. You need this to teach your self-editor who the boss is, to practice writing quickly and you never know, you may strike gold.

When the timer dings, walk away. Don’t analyze it. Don’t start editing.

Spend the next segment of time doing something mindless or necessary.

When you return to your writing, keep going until you have a natural stopping point. Don’t edit until you have a good chunk to work with.

Repeat as needed.

Be flexible with this system. Figure out what works. You may want more time. You may want less. The point is, you wrote words. That’s all that matters.

My original words are just mediocre. I know that they’re nothing magical. I know that most of them will cut, twisted, refurbished, pitched, smashed and smoothed.

But the point is that I have more now than I did 10 minutes ago. 

You can do this too. 

I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.