The 20-Minute Writing Commitment

Earlier this year, I did something that, for me, was extraordinary.

I finished the first draft of my first novel.

I’d like to say something elegant like, “this novel was 20 years in the making”, but it wasn’t. It was more like “it took me 20 years to get myself seated in that chair, in front of my keyboard, for long enough to finish that first draft.”

As for the writing of the draft, this is how I did it: I committed, publicly, to a writing goal of 20 minutes a day. Twenty minutes, I reasoned, because 20 minutes didn’t scare me much at all.

That little voice of mine that likes to surface and wreak havoc and destruction on my writing habits finds itself rather speechless against “I’ll write for 20 minutes a day”.

After all, what exactly could it say? It’s only 20 minutes, after all.

This goal worked really well for me. Within weeks, I had amped up my goal to 40 minutes a day. I was working that writing muscle. And I got that first draft finished.

But just now, I realized I’d lost sight of the importance of committing to a daily writing goal. My NaNoWriMo novel is still sitting there, waiting for the additional 20,000 words or so that it needs to be completed.

But the importance of that commitment came back to me just now when I stumbled onto author Stephen Pressfield’s blog. I have his book, The War of Art – it’s been a while since I last read it, so I’ll be rooting it out of the stacks when I get a chance later this week. Not all of his writing philosophy suits me, but it’s an inspiring book, and definitely a motivating one.

On his blog, Pressfield writes about What the Muse Wants. This was such a great reminder for me, a reminder that the time constraint thing is just something I’ve made up in my mind. When it comes to writing, the amount of time I have to spend on writing really isn’t the deciding factor.

What it all comes down to is commitment. As Pressfield notes in his post:

One hour. The goddess can live with that. If we can give her sixty minutes of undistracted, unscattered, deep, focused attention, she’ll accept that. Maybe not forever, but for now. For a start.

And I’ll go one further than that. This is what I know for sure. I don’t even need a full hour. That stack of pages, those 120,000 plus words sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to read and revise, is testament to that.

All I need is 20 minutes a day. Every day, sure. But only 20 minutes.

Now, the question is, in the midst of all these deadlines, can I do it? Or should I put off committing until after the holidays and after this latest rash of deadlines. Put it off until January 12, which is when I have some breathing space?

I’m still trying to decide … am I ready to commit?

It’s only 20 minutes.

26 thoughts on “The 20-Minute Writing Commitment

  1. Cathryn

    Thanks for a very inspirational post. I have The War of Art and it really helped me, time for a re-read. (It sounds like you and I have several of the same writing books.)

    What especially inspired me is “sixty minutes of undistracted, unscattered, deep, focused attention”. I’ve been seriously committed to daily writing for quite some time, BUT, the distractions I manage to spin up all on my own are *quite* unbelievable.
    .-= Cathryn´s last blog ..Flash: White Lies =-.

    1. Belle

      Distractions aren’t my problem, because once I do sit myself down to write, I seem to be able to get very focused. But the obstacles I manage to manufacture for not sitting down sound like your distractions!

  2. Joanne McCall

    Loved your post!

    Waiting until after the holidays is another subtle way to procrastinate. Really! I have heard it so many times over the past few weeks (by myself included), so if you will commit to your 20 minutes a day, I will too! My book is right here…calling to me…and I’m writing to you instead! :-)
    How about it? And others? You too? 20 minutes…we can do it!

    1. Belle

      You’re right, Joanne – waiting until after the holidays is just a subtle way of procrastinating! I am thinking I will commit to this. It’s only 20 minutes …

  3. Michelle

    I’m not a writer so I don’t have much advice, but I really enjoyed reading this post and seeing how writers struggle and overcome their struggles to get their final product (which I then happily read). Congratulations on getting this far. Just keep remembering how far you’ve come when you want to put off your 20 minutes. And know that people like me are impressed that you write at all. :)
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesdays =-.

    1. Belle

      Thanks, Michelle – you’re right. I shouldn’t lose sight of how those 20 minutes add up, and the pile of pages keeps building!

  4. Margot

    Your last line says it all: It’s only 20 minutes. That’s what you really want to do so – just do it. (At first I capitalized DO IT but I didn’t want you to think I was yelling at you. So, sorry for my tone of voice.) Writing is what is calling you. Fit it in somewhere.
    .-= Margot´s last blog ..Wondrous Words #45 =-.

    1. Belle

      Margot, thank you so much for this. You’re right, of course. It IS what I really want to do. And it’s only 20 minutes. You could have capitalized DO IT – I wouldn’t have thought you were yelling :)

      It’s always just a matter of choice, isn’t it? I can fit it in. I can, I know that.

    1. Belle

      Thanks, Kathleen. It’s funny how I had to use that small goal to trick myself into doing something I actually wanted to do! But it works. And I know it will work again. As long as I can stop procrastinating!

  5. rhapsodyinbooks

    I don’t think the “20 minutes” part is the problem; rather, I think it’s the okay I’m going to sit down and do it part. Everyone keeps telling me I only have to exercise 20 minutes a day, and once I get out there, I rarely regret it, and may even go longer. But it’s the GETTING OUT THERE that’s the stumbling block. So here’s an idea for your 20 minutes. Maybe a little reward system. Like stick a (wrapped) piece of chocolate under a small sheaf of papers. If you work your way through them, you get the chocolate. Or have your husband agree to cook something you really love if you accumulate enough points – say 100 (5 days of 20 minutes). Heck, I’d even exercise for that reward!!!
    .-= rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog ..Review of Undercover by Beth Kephart =-.

    1. Belle

      Rewards! Jill, you are a genius! And you’re right. The problematic part for me is getting myself to sit down and write every day. The 20 minutes only makes it more “acceptable” to that part of me that stops me from doing this. The very odd thing is that writing is what I want to do. (Unlike exercising).

      I think chocolate will work. My husband’s cooking won’t do – I mention I like something and he can’t resist making it almost right then and there. But chocolate would work!

  6. molly

    Great post, Belle. It truly gives me food for thought.

    I have no sound advice for you. While it is only 20 minutes — I know the holiday season is filled with other stressors that have nothing to do with deadlines. I say follow your heart :)
    .-= molly´s last blog ..A WINNER!!!!! =-.

    1. Belle

      Good advice, Molly. You’re right, I should follow my heart. My heart says, do what you love. Sit down and write. It’s the rest of my body that’s giving me problems :)

  7. Janel

    The 20 minutes commitment sounds sensible and achievable, after the holidays. I know I’m so frazzled right now I’m trying very hard not to commit to anything!

    1. Belle

      I know, Janel – it’s that “after the holidays” thing that trips me up, too. But I keep thinking, it’s only 20 minutes, which is the allure of the whole 20 minute idea.

    1. Belle

      That’s so true, Jemi. You know, I am feeling inspired now. It is, after all, just 20 minutes. And I do want to keep writing. I felt so good when I was writing daily!

  8. Steve Kubien

    Have you ever thought about leaving the house to write? It may be the kick-start you need…. Ok, I’m leaving the house, I’ve my cup of tea and a muffin, my laptop is open etc etc. Go sit in your car and write.

    We are all different but this works for me.
    .-= Steve Kubien´s last blog ..Fountain Pen in Thuya Burl =-.

  9. Barbara

    When I worked for naturalist Hal Borland’s widow, she told me he always said, “It’s not how many hours are in the day, it’s what you do with those hours that matters.” I repeat this to myself whenever I realize I’m just dithering away the day, which unfortunately is quite often.
    .-= Barbara´s last blog ..Malice in the Highlands by Graham Thomas =-.

  10. bunnyb

    Procrastination is one of my best friends! But I do find that when I start to do a little work, I will go on and do it till it’s done! Putting in a little effort will always pay off in the long run :)

  11. Cat Woods

    I’ll have to check out your links. I think I need a gentle reminder to give my muse a specified amount of time. That seems to work well for me.

    And since I’m posting this after the Marcus unveiling, I assume it does for you as well!
    .-= Cat Woods´s last blog ..My Holiday Gift to You =-.


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