Tag Archives: Discipline

Getting Regular Exercise: Writing 20 Minutes a Day

Not too many years ago, I was in the very definition of a soul-sucking job. I knew it was bad news by Day Two, but with a kid on the way, I did my best to mentally buckle down until I could escape.

It was a long road, but what brings me joy every time I think to those dark days is that it was writing and creativity as much as anything that saw me through. I was able to write over 350 pages of scripts during that period, probably one of my most productive writing periods to date — and I did it thanks in great part to a method that was introduced to me by Cory Doctorow’s essay “Writing in the Age of Distraction.

Quite simply, it was a series of tactics to help one write 20 minutes a day, every day.

If you haven’t read the article –or even if it’s been a while– go ahead and check it out.

Done? Good, isn’t it? For me, the article was a welcome and timely call to action.

Just as he notes that he didn’t invent the techniques, I’m not going to say this method will work for all of you. At the same time, I want to explain why it worked so well for me — and why I keep on coming back to it.

For one, it was instructive, here was a very busy guy: father, lecturer, author, who was finding time to write even when roles other than writer made their priorities known.

Second was the knowledge that I could fit in 20 minutes sometime during any day — and I did. But since it was 20 minutes, I didn’t need to wake up at 3 in the morning to toil away for an hours. I could wake up at 6… or steal away some time on a lunch break… or stay up just a bit at night. I did it all over the months as my schedule shifted, especially after the baby came.

And this leads to three: the time adds up. 20 minutes doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re doing a page or two day in and day out, all of a sudden you have a whole episode. In a couple months, you have a draft of a script. Sure you need to revise and re-write, but you have written.

And that leads to point four –the most important part for me– and the reason I love this method: although I’m writing for 20 minutes a day, my brain is thinking about the writing for the rest of the day (yes, even as I sleep). On more than one occasion, I would hit a roadblock. Some character’s dialogue wasn’t ringing true. The plot was stuck and I couldn’t figure out how to move forward. And I would dutifully put in my 20 minutes for one day, two days, THREE days. And then: a solution. I found the character’s true motivation and the dialogue poured forth. I abandoned the stuck plot and blazed a new, more satisfying path. I connected this scene to that scene and gave the script an additional emotional resonance. I was problem-solving and storytelling the whole dang day.

And it felt good. I’m not going to lie: the soul-sucking job kept on trying to defeat me. When said kid was born,¬†sleep did not always come easy. But I wrote. I wrote every day and that was great. It was the exercise I needed.

And it’s an exercise regimen I try to maintain as much as possible.