It’s been a while (months, I’m afraid) since I’ve mentioned the book I’m writing. Or rather, I suppose I should say “the book I was writing” because if we’re being honest I haven’t worked on it much since July.
There’s plenty of excuses for why I haven’t been writing — my book notes and thoughts were never properly unpacked after I moved in early July, I became busy with another major project at the end of July that’s been eating up a lot of my free time, etc.
Excuses are cheap and easy to come by.
But the truth is that all of those pretty excuses are just excuses.
It’s not that I don’t have the time to work on my book.
In fact, I’ve had “spend 20 mins writing” on my To Do list every week since July and there’s only been a handful of times I’ve actually crossed that item off.
For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out why I wasn’t writing.
I tried most of the tricks I know — I used to set the goal of writing for an hour but when that didn’t work I made the goal smaller, just 20 minutes. Surely I could find 20 minutes?
I started to work on other intangibles, trying to sleep more and working to tidy up my physical space — both of which are important but neither of which helped me.
And then I started to toy with the idea of doing just five measly minutes minutes of writing.
If I didn’t have 20 minutes then I absolutely had five. I’ve had great luck in using five minutes to re-build flagging habits (an idea I heard first from the lovely Anna Kunnecke).
What if I wrote for just five minutes?
It was a question that haunted me for weeks. Surely 5 minutes wasn’t enough to produce anything meaningful?
Usually when I write I need at least 20 minutes to get into the swing of things, remember what I was doing, and produce something useful.
But 20 minutes wasn’t working and I kept wondering about the tantalizing possibility of five.
Which was, naturally, when I figured the whole thing out.
Because five minutes might totally be enough time to write something useful — but only if you sit down at the beginning of those five minutes knowing exactly what it is you plan to write.
Five minutes wasn’t working for me because I didn’t have a plan.
This not-having-a-plan thing is the problem I’ve run into every time I’ve declared I was writing a book — from my first attempt at age 11 to my most recent failure during NaNoWriMo 2012. And it nearly got me again, this time around.
Every time I have a book idea, I jump right into the writing. I draft pages and pages of story (sometimes as much as 100) and inevitably, eventually I get stuck.
I get stuck because the story grows so large that I can’t keep it all in my head.
I get stuck because I have a million and one good ideas and none of them quite seem to fit.
I get stuck because I only kinda-sorta-maybe know where I’m going.
I get stuck because I don’t have a plan.
So this time I’ve brushed off my index cards and painter’s tape and I’m putting together my plan.
One scene, one idea, one paragraph at a time.
And you can bet that once I’ve got the plan worked out I’m going to write my way to the finish line — even if I have to do it five fucking minutes at a time.
What about you — do you have a big project you’ve been stalled out on? If so, what’s been holding you back? Let me know in the comments!