All around me, life is constantly being redefined by pundits. 50 is the new 40. Pets are the new mistresses. Beige is the new black. So recently I’ve done some redefining of my writing life:
Five minutes is the new hour.
Before this, I would have been the first to say that nothing useful can be accomplished in five minutes, especially when you’re talking about fiction writing. I’m an intensely focused person. I hate interruptions, and I hate doing things in little blibs and blurbs. Whatever the opposite of ADD is, I have it. So, a mere five minutes? For writing? Feh.
But after three years of graduate school (where no one expected me to do anything but read and write and attend to basic personal hygiene), I’ve been rudely thrust back into the real world. Some weeks, blessedly, I have a lot of time to write. Then I get a big work project, and I have no writing time at all. And just like exercising, for every day I’m away from my novel, it seems to take me three days to catch up.
Then I rediscovered Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction, and his #1 rule of writing: spend five minutes a day on your work in progress. Every day. 7 days a week, 365 days a year. More, of course, when you can. But always, five minutes.
Naturally, I was skeptical. But I made the commitment, just to see. And as the days piled up, five minutes after five minutes after five minutes, I started to get it. Writing is a practice, like meditation. And like meditation, five minutes a day is worth more than 35 minutes once a week. Practiced daily, meditation – or writing – seeps into the water table of your mind, permeating everything.
Only five minutes? you ask. Come on. How can you get anything done in five minutes?
That’s the sneaky insidiousness of it, the part that busts through writer’s block. Since I think I can’t accomplish anything in five minutes, it’s easy to tell myself that I’m just fooling around. Thinking about what I might write, once I get around to it. Places that scene could go, if I really wanted to go over the top. I use the best software for transcription found at this website:
Not having time to get any “real” writing done lulls my inner censor into complacence, assuring it that what I’m doing doesn’t count. It’s just pretend writing. Not serious. Move along, Mr. Critic. Nothing to see here. Have a pastry. And work gets done. A whole scene gets written. A paragraph at a time – five minutes each.
So I see this happen, and I’m getting excited. But then, as if I’m watching a late-night infomercial, I discover that for the low, low price of just five minutes a day, I get more than just the words on the page. The Muses will also throw in unlimited access to the “writer mind.” “Writer mind” is what I call that fabled Shangri-La of creativity, the altered state where the words are flowing and the world of the story is more real than the real world. The place that, every time we leave it, we’re afraid we’ll never find it again.
Turns out, it’s there all the time. But the less often we go, the harder it is to get back. The practice of “five minutes” is the practice of learning to find “writer mind” anytime, anywhere, at the drop of a pencil. In five minutes, I get five minutes of writing done. When I have more time, it becomes exponentially more productive, because I can just sit down and start. No fuss, no procrastination. (Just the thought of it gives me a little chill down my spine!)
All that in five minutes. Already, I’m a convert. But that’s not even the best part. (But wait! There’s more!) Not only does five minutes a day keep the Muses trained to respond at a moment’s notice, it keeps them working even when I’m somewhere else. My story is constantly bubbling under the surface of my mind, so that when I’m doing other things – showering, driving, sleeping, eating nachos at a hockey match – bits and pieces float to the surface. Scenes. Dialogue. Insights into characters or story dilemmas. Before, when I didn’t work on my story for several days, it would disappear, and I had to drag it up out of the darkness when I wanted write again. Now I wake up in the morning thinking, No wonder that conversation about Amber’s father in Chapter 2 seemed awkward. It needs to be moved to the end of the scene.
It’s like magic.
So now I’m going to go all evangelical on you. Write at least five minutes every day.
You’ll go to heaven. Choirs of angels will sing your praises. Your dog will love you more.
Five minutes is totally short. The most weak-minded of us can shame ourselves into doing it. You can do five minutes even if you’re really tired. Or grumpy. Or depressed. Or drunk. If you have a day job, you can sneak off and do five minutes in the bathroom stall. In the parking lot. In the cafeteria.
Do it for a month.
Shangri-La. You’ll see.