There was a time, about a decade ago now, when I could not bring myself to write. I had been seriously working on my writing for a number of years, and had published poems and stories in literary journals, and won some prizes. I was at the point where I needed to be pulling together my first book of poetry.
It’s not that I was blocked exactly, I just couldn’t sit down to write.
I kept telling myself I was just too busy, with family and with work, and that I would get to it “soon.” But the longer I went without writing, the harder it was to write. Weeks and months went by without my being able to really put pen to paper.
But the problem wasn’t my busy life, it was The Great Gap.
I was terrified of the certain gap between the brilliant work I wanted to produce and the work I instinctively knew I was capable of at that moment in time. I think of it now as The Great Gap and I believe haunts every writer at some point or another. At the time, it wreaked a subconscious horror that would rival Amityville.
What saved me was a trick I continue to use to this day.
I bought a cheap digital kitchen timer and set it for 10 minutes. It didn’t matter what I wrote, I just had to start writing. After 10 minutes, if I wanted to stop writing, I could.
But that’s not what happened.
What happened is that 10 minutes became 15, became 20, 30 minutes and longer. Writing for a short time fed the desire to write more. And I found joy in writing again.
Some times I wrote in the morning, but usually I wrote later in the day, stealing a few minutes during lunch or after work, and on the weekends. I wrote at home, in bars, in coffee shops, in hotel rooms on business trips when necessary.
And that’s how I finished my first book of poetry.
I didn’t write the whole book that way — there were (are) other tricks — but I couldn’t have finished the book without it. Short Time gave me back my writing life. I still use Short Time writing sessions today, to jump start something or just to play around and try new things. Short Time is also perfect for tinkering, editing small pieces of text that need less work than others to finish them. When I don’t have anything suitable to work on, I free-write using writing prompts.
And the beauty of it is that I can always find Short Time in my life. 10-15 minutes, a few times a week. Even in the busiest times, writing for those few minutes reminds me who I am.
I think the key to it is that it forces me to release my perfectionism – after all, you can’t expect to write anything really great in just 10 minutes, so you may as well just get anything down and maybe have some fun while you’re at it. Because I’m there for a Short Time, not a Long Time.
So have a good time, the sun can’t shine every day. (Sorry, couldn’t resist! Not usually a Trooper fan but those are catchy lyrics.)
If you have been struggling to get to the page, Short Time just might save your writing life as well. Just 10 minutes: that’s all you have to find, and all you have to promise yourself.
Try it this week and see how it feels.