Thursday, May 11, 2017

10-minute (writing) workout?

Infomercials promise workout plans that can change your physique –– and, thus, your life –– in 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes a day. Sound too good to be true? Well, if it talks like a duck and it walks like a duck . . .

But what if we applied this theory, in concept and scale, to novel writing? Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t believe you can get into shape by working out 10 minutes a day. You can get your heart rate up, hold it there, and that’s a good thing. However, life-altering results, it seems to me, require more.

But novel writing? Creating a 100,000-word manuscript, even a rough draft, certainly takes a sustained, concentrated effort. In college, a professor told me he wrote poems because “writing novels takes large chunks of time.” Stephen King, in On Writing, says something to the effect that one should try to write a novel in three months. I understand his reasoning –– writing a book in such a short period of time guarantees that the story, characters, and conflicts remain burned into the forefront of your consciousness. It makes sense.

But it’s just not possible for many writers to write a draft in twelve weeks. Life usually gets in the way, and if it doesn’t, the fact is that few authors write as fast as Stephen King. And most don’t or can’t write as often.

Since many writers don’t have the necessary “large chunks of time,” can there be a 10-minute workout to turn your brilliant idea into a 100,000-word manuscript? Or more specifically, how does one write a novel without multiple hours each day dedicated to the task?

I try to write a book a year. That’s always been the goal. (It seems easier when a contract looms over your head.) And to do this, theoretically, one must only write a page a day for a year. Theoretically. But everyone knows the process on day 1 is not the same on day 51. Or day 251. The plot has a way of jumping up and grabbing you by the throat and squeezing the life out of you every hundred pages or so. (Or it does that to me any way.)

So I concentrate on time –– two hours a day. I can get 500 to 750 words of fresh copy written (or read through 30 pages) in two concentrated hours. It’s what I shoot for.

I’d love to hear what others who lack “large chunks of time” do to get their novels written.


Sybil Johnson said...

I've written scenes in a "spare" ten minutes, but definitely can't see writing an entire novel that way. I tend to write for a couple hours at a time when I'm doing the first draft. Later drafts, I can write longer.

Rick Blechta said...

I'm a firm believer that you should snatch whatever time you can, when you can. It can be as brief a note to yourself when you have an idea. I try to remember to have a notebook in my pocket at all times. Now that I have a smart phone, I can use that to type a quick note if I forget the actual notebook.

It's too easy to think, Oh well, I don't have a couple of hours to put in, so it's not worth it to write. (And I still find myself thinking that after all these years.) The five minutes you're able to put in might turn out to be the 5 most important minutes.