Your ten minutes

Right, so you’ve stacked your habits, eaten your cues and are now sitting/standing at your desk/on your couch, fingers poised over your keyboard/around your pen. You get the picture. What matters is that you write not what you write.

It’s all about the habit. Just as the pianist’s first attempts will be ear torture for all involved, their success is based not on that but on the fact that they sat at the instrument and put in their practice time. And that they sat down again the next day. And the next day.

Having said that, I can tell you what my rules are for writing time. Actually, there’s only one rule: I must spend those ten minutes writing new words. So, reading through a third draft looking for typos does not count because it’s not writing. Adding new scenes to a first draft, on the other hand, does count.

Those who like to plot their novels in advance will have to decide whether that counts. I’m inclined to say it doesn’t because I would prefer to spend those ten minutes adding words to my work-in-progress rather than an outline, but as I don’t generally work that way in any case, I don’t have a strong opinion. All I’ll say is that seeing the word count of my first draft rising each day is a huge motivation and one of the reasons I’ve stuck to the task.

So, get yourself prepared then, as soon as you’re ready to start writing, start the timer and write. Don’t allow anything short of a genuine emergency to interrupt you. Obviously, this means no Facebook (etc.), but your phone should be off or silenced and you mustn’t be disturbed. If you live with others, you’ll need to tell them that you’re working for ten minutes and anything they want you for needs to wait for that short period. A sign on the door might also be handy.

You’ll have worked out, then, that you are to spend ten minutes writing. The time starts with the first word on the page. So, you might have to spend a minute or two preparing before you begin. But you’ll find that, because you’re writing every day, your story will always be fresh in your mind, so it really shouldn’t take any more than a minute or two to prepare. You’ve had twenty-four hours to work out a way out of that corner you’d painted yourself into the previous day, after all, so get writing!

Type away for ten minutes and, when the buzzer goes off, feel your spirits lighten as you’ve taken one more step towards completing your first draft. Can you carry on? While I was establishing the habit, I found that I carried on for at least ten minutes the vast majority of the time. So, my ten-minute habit produces twenty minutes of writing.

On the other hand, if you’ve promised the kids that you’ll do something for them once you’ve completed your ten minutes then, of course, you must do that.

Either way, once the writing period is done (even if you intend to write a little more later) then you must record your new word count. This is critical as it forms evidence of your progress that will encourage you as time goes by.

You’ll also notice that you’re more likely to write for another ten minutes later in the day when you realise how effective it is in getting words on the page, and how easy it is to squeeze into the day.