Friday, November 9, 2012

How to Write Every Day--The Benefits of Even Fifteen Minutes a Day on Your Writing and Why Nanowrimo Is So Popular

A writing colleague once said:  "If I'm away from my book more than three days, it's like starting over again." 

Have you experienced this?  I have.  It's no fun.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writers Month, is happening throughout November.  I've published one novel written during Nanowrimo and am currently working on its sequel.  
Writers who sign up for Nanowrimo enjoy the community but even more the discipline and accountability of hundreds of thousands of people writing every day. 

We get to experience the unique lift of this discipline, the creativity it brings. 

One of my biggest challenges as a writing teacher is to get writers to try this.  To write a little on their books every single day, even if it's fifteen minutes.  Every day writing creates momentum, turns on the inner faucet to more ideas.  You can use Nanowrimo or an accountability calendar like Jerry Seinfeld used to--he liked to put a big red X on every day he wrote.  After a while, the accumulation of big red X's makes it hard to skip a day,

What keeps you going on your writing?  We all know it's much more work not to write. 

And if you're waiting to write, you're a waiter, not a writer.

Writing in Airports
The weekend before Hurricane Sandy hit, I was in Minneapolis teaching three days of writing workshops at the Loft Literary Center.  Skies were blue and Minneapolis was calm.  The storm was somewhere far far away.  I was able to put complete attention on my workshops and the many different writers who came with their very interesting book projects. 

By Saturday night, the news was full of warnings.  Sandy was going to make landfall on Monday.  New England (where I live) was possibly in its path--or at least in line for some intense winds and probably power outages.  When I saw the item about East Coast airports closing down, I got on the phone to change my ticket and fly home Sunday night instead of Monday.
My evening flight made it to Chicago.  I sat there for several hours with hundreds of other passengers, all of us watching the Departures monitor and listening to the announcements of cancelled flights.  I felt tense--I didn't want to wait out the hurricane a thousand miles from my family. 

What to do?  I remembered my book.  Pulled out my laptop, found an empty chair near an outlet, and plugged into the story.

Because I've been writing every day, even just for fifteen minutes, I could get into it immediately.  I also use a technique called "linkage" that lets me re-enter without a hiccup.  (See below.)

Time passed and I wrote and wrote.  What a good distraction it was!  My characters were in much direr straights than what I was experiencing, so it was great relief to let my anxieties go onto the page. 

Soon my flight--delayed but still able to land in the last open East Coast airport--was called.  On the plane, instead of sleeping, I kept writing.  The story had me in its thrall.

When I got home, we prepared for the winds:  filled the bathtub, got out candles and olive oil lamps, dragged out the generator to keep the fridge going, did laundry.  Each of us was asking what we'd miss most if the power was out for a week.  Now that I was home safe and with my loved ones, able to help neighbors and friends if needed, I thought about my airport writing time.  How could I keep going on my novel with no laptop?

This is a good problem to have! 

Techniques That Let You Re-enter Easily
Because we are human and we procrastinate away from our writing more than move toward it, it helps to have a couple of tricks in your back pocket.

Here are my favorites:

1.  Linkage 
I learned the technique called "Linkage" from a friend, who said it came originally from writer Stephen King.  It might even be in his book, On Writing (an excellent book, by the way).

The trick to Linkage is to stop each writing session in the middle of a sentence.

When I do this, I just school myself to stop before I finish a thought, close my file, and end for the day.

Of course, the unfinished sentence drives me NUTS.  So I can't wait the next morning to open the file and begin typing.

Of course, the technique works because I don't just finish that one sentence--I write a lot more.

If this sounds like fun, write "Linkage" on a note to yourself and put it near your computer or writer's notebook.  When you are writing later today, or tomorrow morning, try stopping in the middle of your last sentence. 

See if it works to get you writing the next day.

2.  Two-Inch Photo Frame 
This technique comes from writer Anne Lamott, of Bird by Bird fame.  (If you haven't read Bird by Bird, get thee to a library or bookstore and find a copy!) 

On Anne's advice I purchased a two-inch photo frame, without any photo in it.  I put it on my writing desk.  Anne's story:  She told herself she only had to write as many words as would fit into that frame's opening. 

I used this technique for years.  Like Linkage, it's a mind trick that really works. 

Embarrassing that we need these, but if we do, they keep us writing.  I'm willing to swallow my pride and try them.  Are you?

3.  Kitchen Timer 
I own five kitchen timers.  I use them for different reasons--to remind me that I need to leave the house at a certain time, when I suspect I will forget (too involved in writing!).  I also use them to keep me writing.

My freewriting partner and I use them when we write each week.  We're up to about ninety minutes on the timer.  We set it and go to our separate corners.  The rule is that you can do anything that has to do with the book during that time, not just freewrite.  I allow myself organization time and list-making as part of the writing session. 

But mostly I like to keep myself writing for the whole ninety minutes, if I can.  It's giving an outer accountability, like a class might.

At home, I set my timer for twenty minutes.  I have to keep my pen moving or fingers on keyboard for the entire time, even if I feel I am writing nonsense.  Most times, I will keep going after the timer rings.

Sometimes, I don't even hear it.

Why We Need Limits
Some writers are very nervous about getting deeply into their writing.  It's akin to going under general anesthesia.  We lose any awareness of ourselves and our surroundings.  This can be quite uncomfortable if you're new to it.

Try this last technique--the kitchen timer--to set a comfortable limit for your writing session.  Knowing that you only have to do this for twenty minutes might give you some relief.  You'll be back to yourself in twenty minutes.  That's not so risky.

If you'd like to try Nanowrimo this month, there's still time to sign up.  And it's free. 

Anything to keep writing, right?   

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