Last week I had the pleasure to teach at the Burlington Writers Workshop, a very cool nonprofit organization in Vermont which helps writers to grow in the craft. My workshop title was, “Writing a Novel in 15 Minutes.” I have an e-guide out by the same title and my hope was to help this small group of writers really recognize what it was that was holding them back from making time to write—a conundrum that so many writers share.
As we went around the table introducing ourselves, it was apparent that, yes, every writer there struggled with finding time to write. One mentioned that she felt she didn’t want to bother unless she had a three-hour window of time. Another man said that when he sat down to write he ended up doing a bit of research … only to realize hours later that he hadn’t actually written anything he’d intended. Someone else said that they didn’t feel like a “real writer.”
How I use the method
I could relate to all of the above. What helped me the most in finally finishing that very first novel—and then another and another and so on—was this: make writing a habit. Do it every single (work) day without exception. Make the habit so small, so easy-to-manage, that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. In fact, when I tell people that I write novels in 15-minute increments, most are dubious. “You must be a really fast writer!” someone will comment, or “That would never work for me. The good ideas don’t start until I’m at least an hour into my writing session.”
Why 15 minutes?
Is 15 a magic number? I don’t think so. But because it is so innocuous it works for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of a three-hour writing session. While I spend the bulk of my workday writing, it’s on a bunch of different projects: some for myself and my “brand,” and some for clients. If someone told me to sit down and write for three hours on my current fiction manuscript, I’d probably cry. Variety is the special sauce of my writing success.
Also, it’s important to remember that while the actual writing time can be short (15 minutes, 10, even five), there is other background work that happens before you write. Washing the dishes, going for a walk, taking a shower: all of these are good “brainless” activities where you can let your mind wander. And a wandering mind, for a writer, is a beautiful thing. Great ideas take time to show up and often go unheard in our overly busy, rush-rush world.
Find your rhythm with habit
So, while I don’t think that you must write for 15 minutes and 15 minutes only most days of the week, it is a great place to start. It’s short enough to not be overwhelming. It’s long enough to propel a story forward. And, if you dedicate yourself to making that writing time part of your normal morning routine—just like taking a shower or flossing your teeth—it’s a great way to boost your day right from the start. There is something so energizing about crossing off a priority first thing. Using a method like habit stacking will help you make the transition seamlessly.
J.P. Choquette writes novels in 15 minutes a day from her home office in Vermont. She’d love to share a free 7 Ways to Find Time to Write guide with you—it’s free when you sign up for her writing newsletter. It comes out twice a month and is packed with information, inspiration and education to empower writers.