Power of Ten Minutes

Like most authors, I try to remain disciplined with daily word count goals when it comes to completing a rough draft. The goal always being to throw as much story as I can on to the canvas and to worry about making it pretty later on. I learned this strategy from Stephen King’s On Writing memoir, and an anecdote by an old teacher who had Harry Turtledove as an advisor. Apparently Turtledove has a gnome figure above his computer with two signs on it: Edit and Write. This serves as a reminder to him to not look back until he finishes the rough draft so he has enough momentum to finish.

For the longest time I struggled to consistently break out of the 1000-1200 word a day routine. There were times I successfully challenged myself to do so, but it yielded similar results to crash dieting. A brilliant short-term return with no long-term results.

No matter what tricks I tried, real life would always kick my average back down to my plateau. Now I would like to say there is absolutely nothing wrong with only writing 1000-1200 words a day. The reason it was a problem for me was entirely personal happiness.

I knew I wanted to produce more output, and I knew I could not continue the same routine I was doing and expect different results (thanks Einstein). That’s when I read a quote by Elbert Hubbard saying “Positive anything is better than negative nothing.”

It’s true. Just because you can’t reach your goal at a particular moment that day, doesn’t mean you can’t make progress towards it. I used to make the mistake of only giving myself a block of time to write. I would sit at my kitchen table during my designated block of time, knock out my daily minimum (listed above) feel fatigued and call it day.

I figured if a single designated block of time wouldn’t yield the results I was looking for, maybe unstructured, multiple sittings would.

The results were more than I was hoping for.

Originally I wanted to get to the point where I consistently wrote 2000 words a day. At that pace, I could have a decent length draft (60k+) done in a month.

What ended up happening was three or four sittings a day, resulting in 2500-4000 words.

Why this turn around? A number of reasons. One being fatigue. I never reached the point of being tired while writing. I would knock out as much as I could in the morning before going to class, knock out a little more after class, and then do one or two sittings in the evening.

The second reason being I never felt like I was working. Before when I wrote in one long block of time I felt like I had to see results or else I failed. By spreading it out throughout the day I accepted there would be times the words fly onto the page and times I struggled, but no matter what I was moving towards my goal. It also created an almost insatiable desire to keep writing. Before I looked forward to finishing my designated writing time, but now if I only give myself a small taste of writing, I find myself thinking about where I need to take the story next and can’t wait to get back to my computer to keep writing.

Finally, I realized I used to underestimate how long ten minutes was. I say ten minutes, because a number of times I would get my writing done in the ten-fifteen minute slot before class started.

The average person writes 40 words per minute (since I’ve spent so much of my life at a keyboard I have the luxury of typing faster). This means in a ten minute period they could write 400 words (+ or – the time it takes to think about the plot). For me, I was able to crank out around 500-600 words in these ten-minute slots, making a decent dent in my daily goal. When I finally arrived home after class, to the time previously designated to writing, I’d already be at 1000 words, making the goal much more achievable.

This may not work for everyone, but do not sell yourself short. You can do a lot more in those short moments of freedom throughout the day. Before I started this routine, I used to think “I only have ten minutes, I’ll write later.” Don’t fall into the trap. Even if you can only write 200 words (shoot even if you can only write 50) in that time, it’s still more than you would have without it.