Fifteen Minutes

This week I continually reminded myself of the Fifteen Minutes Principle (my silly name to make it sound more official and professional and authorly in my mind). The Fifteen Minutes Principle basically states that if you can even give yourself fifteen minutes a day to work on your writing, you can accomplish a great deal. I first realized this years ago when I joined a guided writing prompt group after a lengthy hiatus from writing. The leader of the group would give us a suggestion, and we would write for fifteen minutes, and I would be amazed at the number of pages I could crank out in this short period of time.

When I decided that I finally had to sit down and write that novel that I'd wanted to write ever since I was a kid, I relied on this principle. Writing your first novel, at least for me, was frightening. I had tried in the past. I had left behind a trail of unfinished drafts. I had no assurance that I could actually make it to the finish line this time. So when I started out, I wrote for fifteen minutes a day three times a week. That was all I could do. But that was all right. I had begun.

Now I generally write for an hour a day when I can. But, three weeks ago, I finished a rough draft of The Sharpest Claw, the follow-up to The Loudest Meow. Stephen King would recommend that I let that draft sit for several months. I let it go for two weeks. And that felt hard. It felt difficult this time because it felt so good to let it sit. I actually didn't miss my writing practice. So then I worried. “Do I really want to write? Will I be able to go back to it when the two weeks are up?”

Last Monday, I sat down again to start on the second draft. This how I re-enter that writing world. I print out the draft, and I read it out loud and take notes. It usually takes me about two hours, or two writing sessions, to go through the draft in this way. Then I go back to Scrivener, back to Chapter 1, and fill in and take out and reshape and revision what I wrote before.

Along with being a writer, I'm an editor and transcriber. That's my day job. Holiday times are often slow, but it turned out last week that I suddenly had a great deal to do. I couldn't see how it all was going to get done, with or without my one-hour writing practice. Part of me panicked. “I have to write. It's time,” and then I heard the voice that reminded me of the Fifteen Minute Principle.

So that's what I did last week. During breaks from editing or transcription, I would write down notes for this draft. And ideas came in funny ways. For example, in addition to everything else, Mike and I also had Christmas errands to do. We're currently listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks on our drives, and at this point last week, Jim Dale, the narrator for these books, sang a Sorting Hat song. And that made me think. There are certain songs in this draft of this book. I hadn't thought of actually giving them lyrics and a melody. Now that seemed like opportunities I would like to take.

This is how the mind is funny. Today, I knew that, after breakfast, I would have a full hour to write. While Mike was making pancakes, I started constructing a game plan for that time. This early chapter had one of the songs in it. I played with ideas in my mind about that tune for a moment, then decided, “I will just jot down what I want to do here and then proceed. Songs don't come on command.”

And, at that moment, it showed up, a short little ditty, very silly, complete with a melody. I wrote it down, ran into the kitchen, sang it to Mike, then went back and recorded the song on Voice Memo so that it wouldn't be lost. Then I ate pancakes and went back to work, marveling at the mysteriousness of this process we call writing.