Day 2: The Power of 15 Minutes

Whenever Randi and I go anywhere together, I find myself waiting. “I’ll be right there,” she says and then she struggles with her contact lens, searches the house for her wallet, decides it is a good time to re-organize our shoes. Meanwhile, I’ve already got my coat on; my bag is slung over one shoulder; if we are taking the dog for a walk, she is pulling the leash taut. I wait against the door frame; the dog sits at the bottom of the steps; Randi readies herself. Five. Ten. Fifteen minutes pass.

ABQ Central Bus

ABQ Central Bus

Here are a some other times, I find myself with fifteen minutes:

  • while waiting for the bus
  • while waiting for a class to start
  • while waiting for the doctor
  • while waiting for my food to be ready (at a restaurant)
  • while waiting for my alarm to sound in the morning so I can pry myself out of bed

Here are the things I usually do to kill fifteen minutes

  • check my email
  • check my facebook account
  • hit the snooze button
  • check the weather
  • stand in the doorway and ask Randi if there is something I can do to help

Here is what I could have been doing instead:

  • writing

Productivity experts talk about “the Power of Fifteen Minutes” all the time. As Neen James, one expert, points out: “People go wrong because they get overwhelmed. They think things will take longer than they do, and so they procrastinate. Procrastination key? Fifteen minutes.” Her overall point: stop making excuses. In fifteen minutes, one can accomplish a lot. So:

  • Get to the coffee shop fifteen minutes early
  • Wake up fifteen minutes earlier
  • Go to bed fifteen minutes later
  • Carry your notebook with you everywhere
  • Eliminate waiting
  • Stop thinking there isn’t enough time.

Here on Day 2, with the rest of the month before us, I think it is important to keep in mind the 15 minute rule. May there be more people with pens at bus stops.


A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise (that could go longer, of course)

This one comes from fellow challenger Chris Strickling, and it’s a beautifully simple writing prompt:

Write about a powerful memory.

As Chris says, “We started with that in the theater work I did for 12 years with disabled adults. Just that simple prompt started the creative flow that would take us all the way to performance.”


Got an exercise to share?

A minor note: Last night’s post took me upwards of 3 hours. Today, Randi said that in honor of the day’s post, this one should fall within the 15 minute mark. Other than uploading photographs and last minute edits, I made it right under the wire…

Day 31: The end is the beginning is the end is the beginning…

Of all the posts and all the pep talks and all the writing advice I’ve shared/relayed/attempted to give during this Writer’s March, this post feels the most important.  Yet, in many ways, it also seems the most unnecessary.  Dare I say it?  If you’ve made it this far, what advice do you need other than this:   Keep going.

I’ve heard it said that it takes thirty days to make a habit, but ninety days to make that habit a part of your every day life.  Instead of thinking of today as a finish line, please think of it as a milestone.  A road marker.  A pit stop.  You’ve made it here.  Be PROUD of that.  But change your tires.  Get back behind the wheel.  And keep on driving.  It’s a long road, but man, it’s a beautiful ride, isn’t it?  (okay, so a cheesy metaphor, but endings bring it out in me…)

Where Do “We” Go From Here?

Today marks the “end” of the 2012 Writer’s March.  I’d like to offer a profound thanks to Jennifer Simpson (Fridays with Jenn) and to guest bloggers, Marisa P. Clark and Lenore Gusch.  I would also like to thank everyone who dropped by to visit, who sent writing exercises or writing advice, and/or who engaged in writing conversations through comments both on this blog, on facebook, and in person.  Without your help and support, this endeavor would not be possible.  Writing daily–and blogging daily–are  daily challenges.  All of you (named and unnamed) have become a huge part of my writing life.  If you weren’t there, I wouldn’t be here.

This year, I would also like to follow up on our challenger goals, both as a way of acknowledging everyone’s hard work, but also as a way of thinking about how to shape the blog next year.  Please take a minute to submit the following form:

Additionally, we also want to hear your success stories.  Publish a poem or three or eight?  Place your short story?  Your essay?  Get a novel or memoir picked up?  Win a contest?  We want to know, and we want to promote you.  Keep an eye out for the “Success Stories” page.  I’ll get it up as soon as possible (and there will be a place to submit a form there).  In the mean time, if you haven’t already, polish up all that hard work, and get it into the world!

And finally, please take the FINAL CHALLENGER POLL

Best of luck to everyone out there.  And whatever you do tomorrow, I hope more writing is in your future.

Day 27: Writing as Habit

I cannot believe we are already approaching the end of this Writer’s March.  Five more days to go.

According to several different sites, it takes roughly 30 days to transform a desire into a habit.  And we are so very close.  If there is anything to get out of that, it is this: the daily task of daily writing does not have to be the thing we dread, the thing we beat ourselves about, or the thing we guilt ourselves into.  Writing can be a part of our daily lives if we let it.

So, this in mind, here is something I found today online.  Upon reading it, I think I maybe should have posted this on Day 1.  Yet, at the end  of this month, I’m already thinking of what I plan to do next month.  I hope you are, too.  And if so, here’s something to keep in mind.

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

originally posted on August 14 by Scott H Young

1. Commit to Thirty Days – Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.

2. Make it Daily – Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.

3. Start Simple – Don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.

4. Remind Yourself – Around two weeks into your commitment it can be easy to forget. Place reminders to execute your habit each day or you might miss a few days. If you miss time it defeats the purpose of setting a habit to begin with.

5. Stay Consistent – The more consistent your habit the easier it will be to stick. If you want to start exercising, try going at the same time, to the same place for your thirty days. When cues like time of day, place and circumstances are the same in each case it is easier to stick.

6. Get a Buddy – Find someone who will go along with you and keep you motivated if you feel like quitting.

7. Form a Trigger – A trigger is a ritual you use right before executing your habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier, this could mean waking up in exactly the same way each morning. If you wanted to quit smoking you could practice snapping your fingers each time you felt the urge to pick up a cigarette.

8. Replace Lost Needs – If you are giving up something in your habit, make sure you are adequately replacing any needs you’ve lost. If watching television gave you a way to relax, you could take up meditation or reading as a way to replace that same need.

9. Be Imperfect – Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.

10. Use “But” – A prominent habit changing therapist once told me this great technique for changing bad thought patterns. When you start to think negative thoughts, use the word “but” to interrupt it. “I’m no good at this, but, if I work at it I might get better later.”

11. Remove Temptation – Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first thirty days. Remove junk food from your house, cancel your cable subscription, throw out the cigarettes so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later.

12. Associate With Role Models – Spend more time with people who model the habits you want to mirror. A recent study found that having an obese friend indicated you were more likely to become fat. You become what you spend time around.

13. Run it as an Experiment – Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.

14. Swish – A technique from NLP. Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.

15. Write it Down – A piece of paper with a resolution on it isn’t that important. Writing that resolution is. Writing makes your ideas more clear and focuses you on your end result.

16. Know the Benefits – Familiarize yourself with the benefits of making a change. Get books that show the benefits of regular exercise. Notice any changes in energy levels after you take on a new diet. Imagine getting better grades after improving your study habits.

17. Know the Pain – You should also be aware of the consequences. Exposing yourself to realistic information about the downsides of not making a change will give you added motivation.

18. Do it For Yourself – Don’t worry about all the things you “should” have as habits. Instead tool your habits towards your goals and the things that motivate you. Weak guilt and empty resolutions aren’t enough.

[I have no idea what the rules of reposting things on the internet are.  I hope that it is okay that I cut and pasted this text here.  Please someone let me know if it isn’t!]

“What Now?”

Dear Writers Who are Addicted to the Internet, today’s thoughts are for you:

I have just returned from a weekend in Portland, oh green rainy haven of the west, and am now back in this dusty desert of ours.  A handful of gratitude to the guest bloggers who were able to take us through the weekend, Bob Sabatini, Marisa P., Randi Beck, and Elizabeth Tannen.  I decided to ditch my computer and spend my time drinking the best coffee in the world in one of my favorite cities in the world and, for four days, I left my computer at home and spent my time writing by hand.

I love this city, and I love that I got to spend my time catching up with my good friend Liz Collins

This afternoon, as my airplane rocked its turbulent way into Albuquerque, I was lucky enough to sit between two writer friends and colleagues, Katie Pelltier and Jennifer Simpson (who blogs for Writer’s March on Thursdays).  I love talking writing on an airplane.  I like imagining what it must be like to overhear us babble about desires for book deals, our writing projects, and–my personal favorite–our writing neuroses, including, but not limited to, our evasion strategies.  The top three categories of the plane ride: teaching, working, and the internet.

As Katie said, “One second, I’m writing, and the next I’m suddenly checking my email even though I checked it three minutes before.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of computers on creativity.  Ann Patchett, in her book (once a speech), What now? writes about the day she became a dishwasher in a restaurant where she used to work.  As Patchett says,

…it was while I washed that I finally learned to stare.  Oh, maybe I’d played around with staring in school.  Maybe I looked out the window every now and then when I was stuck trying to finish a paper, but I had never stared deeply.  Catholic school and college and graduate school had prepared me both for how to be part of a group and how to be the group’s leader, but none of them had taught me the most important thing: how to be alone.  I had never stared as a way of solving a problem or really seeing the details that make up a story, which is to say I had never just stayed still, been quiet, and thought things through.  In the end, it was the staring that got me the novelist job I wanted.

In a world increasingly more tech saavy, we have also become increasingly impatient.  We have one second of downtime and we seek to fill it.  Stuck in a story? There we go surfing the web, looking for answers by forgetting we need one.  Next thing we know, three hours have passed and we’ve read every facebook status update, checked our email twenty times, and balanced our checkbooks.  I would argue that the internet may be the biggest killer of creativity in this world (yes, i understand the irony of this blog and that statement).

Today, writers, I hope you’ll think of Ann Patchett’s advice, and let your brain wander for a minute.  It’s in the stillness that we solve our creative problems, and here are a few ideas for how to rid yourself of your internet addiction.

  1. Try weening yourself off of the internet.  I recently read that television is addictive (it releases endorphins that your body craves) and then more or less makes your brain flatline.  I think the same is true of computers.  Break the addiction if you have it or stop it before it starts.
  2. If you have home internet, try making someone else take your internet box with them when they leave for the day.  (This tactic was used by Flannery O’Connor Prize Winner Lori Ostlund, whose collection The Bigness of the World, is a real gift to the literary world.)
  3. Go to a coffee shop that does not have internet.
  4. Create a space in your home that you designate as “internet-free.”  In other words, when you are at your writing desk, you allow yourself only to write there.  It’s extremely important that you NEVER let this slip.  You’ve got to condition your brain to understand that internet cannot be everywhere.
  5. Cancel your internet.  Try it for a month.  Save yourself a hundred bucks.  Use it to buy yourself twenty cups of expensive coffee.

Why I (And You) Need to Be Writing Now. But Nothing.

[By Guest Blogger Elizabeth Tannen]

A couple of weeks ago I met with my adviser about my dissertation. It was, in a word, traumatic.

A year and half–midway through–the MFA program, I had finally decided that, rather than compile a bunch of vaguely connected essays and call it a day, I was going to set out to do the thing I came here to do: write a book. The family memoir I’ve wanted to write since long before I came here.

For a long time I convinced myself that, because of what I don’t know, I couldn’t write it at all: I tried writing it as fiction, but soon realized that’s not what I wanted to do. I wrote a twenty-page essay that I reasoned was all I could possibly produce on the subject.

And then I realized that was bullshit.

So I got permission from the necessary people and began to conduct interviews. For days I walked around campus feeling elated. I was going to write a book! You know, once I’d gotten all the information and knew what it was really going to be about.

And then I met with my adviser, Greg.

“I’m going to start doing interviews once a week!” I proudly pronounced.

“That’s great,” he replied, unimpressed. “And you’re writing, too, right?”

“What do you mean, writing? I don’t even know what I’m writing about!”

It was then that Greg turned my world upside down and transformed my excitement into sheer, unmitigated terror.

“You need to be writing every day,” he said. “Of course you don’t know what it’s about yet. You’re only going to figure it out by writing it. All the time.”

As a teacher of creative writing, I know this. All the time I tell my students that they shouldn’t know what’s going to happen in their stories before they’ve written them–things get discovered on the page. That’s the way writing works.

Which I tell you only to illustrate that one can know something, teach it, even, and still, when necessary–by which I mean when trying to evade writing, aka most days–completely, aggressively, totally unconsciously, forget it.

“I don’t understand,” I insisted to Greg, petulant and aggrieved as a hungry toddler with twenty minutes before snack. “How can I start writing when I don’t know what the structure’s going to be? Or what the scope of it is! Or the point of view!?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he shot back. “I could give you ten prompts right now.”

At which point he did, in fact, offer about ten writing prompts with which I easily could, and thankfully, have begun, to gather substantial writing material.

The other thing he did, which is often a thing he does, was to throw a book at me: this time, “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction,” by Stephen Koch

“You can borrow this until you take one look at it and realize you need it and order your own from Amazon the next day,” he said. Dutifully, I took it. And dutifully, I did.

Mainly because of this quote, with which I will leave you, and bid you good, if uncertain, writing:

“‘But–you may say–‘I don’t even know my story yet.’ My answer is: ‘Of course you don’t know your story yet.’ You are the very first person to tell this story ever, anywhere in the whold world, and you cannot know a story until it has been told. First you tell it, then you know it. It is not the other way around. That may sound illogical, but to the narrating mind, it is logic itself. Stories make themselves known, they reveal themselves–even to their tellers–only by being told.”

Happy revealing!

Just say Yes

Evasion Strategies.  If you try to google the phrase, you get a whole lot of information about immunizations.  And without spending too much time scrolling about, I didn’t see one reference for writers.  Truth is, we’re probably better at evasion strategies than the latest string of the flu virus.  Otherwise, wouldn’t we have written more than we have?


Apparently, this is what the "Immune Invasion Strategy of Cancer" looks like.


One of the first writing classes I took was through the UC Berkeley Extension Program with my first writing friend, Maria Howard (who’s participating in this march!).  Our first assignment is one that I am giving to you now:

Write down a list of all of your evasion strategies.  Refuse to let them be your excuses.  Feel free to post them here and, if you want to take it a step further, share your suggested ways of defeating them.

For instance:  I cannot write unless all the dishes (or the house) are clean. I cannot write because I need to walk the dog, or play with the cat, or handle my bird (that ones for you, Marisa!) I cannot write until I balance my checkbook, or until I check my email (that one is for me), or until I’ve read the paper, or planned for my class, and okay.  So maybe you do have things you have to attend to.  Like a baby.  Or a class to teach.  Or a job to go to.  Whatever it is, the word on the street is that the more excuses you make, the easier it is to excuse yourself.

And as my friend Cathy Arellano said, “If you don’t put writing first it will always come last.”  I’ll add to that by saying that the more you say that you “can’t,” the more you “won’t.”  Until eventually, when you sit down to work, you no longer believe you are capable of anything.