Reprint from 2011: Thoughts on This 20 Minutes a Day Process

(I have a sore throat tonight and an ear ache so I pulled this piece from the first week of my blog in 2011.  I think it is still relevant.)

I have to admit that writing for 20 minutes a day – which ends up being around 40 once I edit – and then publishing on this blog has not been exactly like gobbling down a piece of moist chocolate cake with lots of butter cream frosting on top. (Can you tell I’m hungry?) No, some days, it’s quite the opposite. That’s when I start by waking up and immediately thinking, Why am I doing this? Nobody cares about this stuff. Why would they? These are random stories and reflections coming out of my head with no real connection to real world events – well, some might vaguely be – but none wax eloquent on a subject for the purpose of edification.

Since my practice so far is to hop out of bed, make a quick cup of tea with almond milk (sounds gross, but isn’t) and sit down to write, these pesky negative thoughts don’t bode well for my 20 minute quick write time. First, I have to push them firmly aside with a brusque, “Shut up. You are not doing this for other people. You are doing this as part of your writing practice. Period. If others happen to enjoy what you produce, good. Otherwise, it is not pertinent. You are building up discipline, you little lazybones. Now, shut up and start writing.” (You can see I am rather hard on myself and also where the “Surreal” story had its origins.) So after this slight brow-beating – or reality check which is actually more what it it when I’m not feeling sorry for myself – I settle down with my timer and stare at the blank computer screen. Oh dear. What to write about?

I look around the room: the green brocade chair – oh yes – I did a story on that. All the other objects: the tv, the rocking chair, the Morris chair, the drop front Mission desk, the couch – no – nothing striking a spark.

I listen: the hum of the refrigerator, the traffic outside, the clicking of Cordelia’s toenails on the hardwood floor. Yes, I like all of these, but nothing yet.

I feel: the soft blanket that’s warming my tootsies. Yes, I have written a story that started with a soft blanket. The feel of the leather couch to my hand – not bad – the ache in my leg, oh yes, that’s a good one. I might easily start a story with “My right leg started to ache, I don’t know why. It might relate to the fact that I never get up and out, that I’ve become the quintessential couch potato…yes, I could go with that…an instant problem.

So, I use the senses: what I can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell as primary jumping off spots on any given day. Or a picture in a book – not so much, but good on some days – or a random phrase that pops in my head, like “I don’t know how it happened…”, which immediately suggests a problem, and then off I go.

The actual writing itself might zip along, words flying onto the page, or else drag with one word coming after the other like a long walk with too tight shoes. It depends. I love the zipping and hate the dragging and on those days, I consider scrapping the story, but try not to since the draggy stories often end up being my favorites in the long run. (The stock ticker story falls in this category.) But I write with no real idea what will happen. I just write one word and then the next and see what clues my subconscious provides to create a problem – tension through conflict – and then a resolution of some sort. I also try to give my character a sense of yearning since Robert Olen Butler suggests this in his book on writing, From Where You Dream, and it does seem to pop the story up to another level.

And then I write until the timer goes off, or, if I’m really rolling, I’ll reset the timer for 10 more minutes and head off again. Then I sit and read through the story quickly, correcting any of the obvious problems and leaving those that can’t quickly be resolved. For example, in my story yesterday about Going Back Home, I didn’t particularly like the ending. The last line didn’t seem quite right, but I worked on it a bit, then looked at the clock and thought, Time’s up. If you like the story so much you want to work on it for submission somewhere, then you can look at it with fresh eyes then.

Bringing me to the subject of submitting these works for publication in ezines, journals, magazines or anthologies. I haven’t done that yet and am intentionally waiting before sending them off to various spots. Why? First, the time I’m devoting to the 20 Minutes a Day project seems plenty for now in this writing process, particularly when coupled with my work as a writing coach and editor, which right now is keeping me plenty busy. (Hurray, this is seasonal so I will steel myself for slower times). Also, I want to let these stories marinate and then go back and read them. Some are better than others and those will be the ones that I tackle anew and add or delete or reconfigure a bit. Right now, I want to be happy that I’m completing this commitment to myself: writing a minimum of 20 minutes a day.

So, I’ll keep rolling with this. I see the benefits. I do have some readers at this point and readers make me happy. Plus, writing and publishing on this blog reminds me that I truly am a writer. That’s not always easy to remember when you’ve written a memoir and a novel and neither have found representation yet. It’s surprising how much reinforcement is needed to keep the energy going for a project that may or may not pay off with actual money in the end.

Which brings me to my last point: external validation. Life is hard and kudos are wonderful and money is even better, but alas, that isn’t necessarily the way is works with artistic endeavors. You do those out of pure love and hope like hell they pay off in the end with cash. It’s hard to predict whether that will ever happen, but pursuing your artistic dream will pay off in personal growth, higher self-esteem, and giving you a much more interesting life since it is passion-filled. That, in the long run, trumps money, though I would love to have both.

For now, I’ll just be happy I’m building a daily discipline and know that is good enough.

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