I work for myself and could easily fill every waking hour with tasks related to those businesses. In fact, after completing 50,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo in 2016, I allowed myself to put my writing on the back burner and wrote almost nothing for five months. The problem is that writing fiction is not something I can honestly say is a sensible use of my working time – almost every other job I do in my businesses has a better chance of paying off than finishing that second draft does. Even if my fiction career goes as I hope and plan, it’ll be a long while yet before it pays its way. So, when I sit at my desk with priorities pulling me in many different directions, the businesses win over my target to write, say, 1,000 words. And so I write in fits and starts and it takes far too long to finish each novel.
My target this year was to get the novel done and published by March, but I had no idea how to achieve this. I’d pasted a poster to my wall containing a huge “500” – the aim being to remind me that I was supposed to write that many words a day, minimum. And, in two weeks, I’d written 500 words – total. And then I heard Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits, a book with a charmingly simple premise. We fail at habits when they require willpower and motivation, that’s just how we are wired. The answer is to set a target so low that you need neither of these things in order to achieve it. He uses the example of starting a fitness drive by committing to one push-up a day. Now, clearly he’s not going to get fit on one push-up a day, but that low barrier meant he got down on the floor and did it – and then, since he was down there, he carried on.
As a scientist at heart, I decided to try an experiment. I committed to writing for 10 minutes a day. I can write 200-250 words in 10 minutes so it would, at that pace, take me somewhere around a year to write a novel, which is much too long – I want to write three books a year. But the beauty of committing to 10 minutes is that there is no food for the procrastination demon – there’s almost nothing that can’t wait ten minutes. It’s a trivial job to find that amount of time.
And so I started. In practice, of course, I write for more than 10 minutes. Sometimes I simply carry on as I’m in the flow or, more often, I complete one, two or three more 10 minute sprints during the day. The genius of this is that I know I have no excuse for failure – it’s only 10 minutes. Because I’m writing every day, I have no problem getting into the flow, so I can bash out the words pretty quickly. It’s been an utter revelation, and I feel my fiction career, and my goals, are back on track.
Results so far are encouraging. Since I started, I have completed 25 consecutive days and have written over 19,000 words at an average of around 760 words per day. Compared to the previous 5 months when I wrote zero words – a period during which I was no busier than I am now. I now know that I can write a complete first draft of my next novel in three months without impacting on my businesses at all.
So there you are. Deceptively simple, as all the best ideas are. All you need is ten minutes a day – commit to that and nothing more, and see where it takes you. Do not be tempted to increase that to, say, twenty minutes. The goal must be trivially easy to achieve otherwise there will be days when you won’t feel you can carve out the time and you’ll fall off the wagon. Commit to 10 minutes and you’ll probably write for 30.