I read The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy a few years ago and it has always stuck with me. The simplicity of the concept nudges at the back of my brain whenever things get hard. Whether it be things in life, in relationships, at work, or in my writing life. Full disclosure, it has been a while since I’ve read the book, so what I took away from it may not be the best representation of the book, but this is what stuck with me. Small, consistent steps towards your goals are more powerful than large, irregular ones. I have found this to be incredibly useful in many areas of my life, but especially in my writing. I have never gotten a story written in a handful of long sittings. Maybe this is just my personal writing method, but I find that I only ever finish my works in progress when I have short consistent writing sessions. On my current novel in progress, I even set myself just thirty minutes a day! But you know what, that thing got written!!
So, why does this idea work for me in my writing?
For a few reasons.
Firstly, I work a full-time job on top of writing and running Cozy Writer’s Room, so time is scarce anyway. Giving myself only thirty minutes feels doable amongst a busy life. I can also fit thirty minutes in during the morning before I leave for work. Mornings are my most productive writing time, so it is important for me to write early, but also before I get distracted by other things in the day. So, schedule restrictions are a big factor in the short writing sessions.
Secondly, I find I can ALWAYS write for thirty minutes even on days when I feel completely and totally blocked. This is a big component of why this style of writing works for me. You know those days when you just can’t see what comes next in your project? Or you feel like a total waste of space writer who has nothing worthwhile to say? Or you just wake up hating your novel, your characters, the entire thing up to that point? Or, any other of the myriad things that can block your creative process? Yup, I know those days too. And those days are really hard to write through. I’ve tried writing for an hour or longer and when I come across these blocked days, that hour or so feels like the most daunting thing I have ever faced. It becomes a mountain that I am not equipped to climb. I’ve found that thirty minutes is my sweet spot. Even on these terrible days, when I tell myself I only have to write for thirty minutes, my brain says okay, sure, I can do that. It’s only half an hour. It’s barely any time at all. I can fake being interested in this for thirty minutes. I can fake having something to write for half an hour, then I can go make a cup of tea and get on with my life. Maybe your sweet spot is longer or shorter than mine, but finding that time frame that my brain seems to think is no big deal even when the going gets tough, was a big eye-opener for my writing process.
Before I decided to actually give myself the time and space to write I would spend large chunks of energy thinking about writing. Not the physical act, but the stories. Instead of reading on my commute to work, I would find myself with my book in my lap staring out the window of the train at nothing. My mind would be busy concocting characters, plot lines or scenes for a story. Sometimes they would be momentary ideas that I never thought about again. Other times, the ideas would stick with me, following me around from activity to activity. I found my mind wandering to these stories while I was cleaning my house, walking my dog, even watching TV! The problem was, I didn’t think much of them. I didn’t think much of myself either. Sure, it was a fun character to think about in my head, but it certainly wasn’t worth putting on paper. Not to mention the fact that I had tried writing before and I wasn’t any good at it. I could never finish anything, so why bother with this story? Plus, I didn’t actually have time to write. I just had these moments between things, like my commute to work, to think about it. It wasn’t possible to write while I cleaned my house, so I must not have the time or energy.
It wasn’t until one of these random stories started to take over my life that I finally stopped to listen to what my heart really wanted. It wanted to write, and it had a story that needed to come out.
I wasn’t ready though. At least not to sit down and start writing a novel! But, I did decide to take some time for writing. To make some space for it in my life and see what happened. Maybe, just maybe, giving it space would make me realize that I could consider writing the novel that I had started creating in my head while I walked my dog.
What happened? Cut to five years later and I have published that novel and am a few months away from publishing a second novel! Giving myself a little bit of time for my writing turned into something I never imagined possible. I actually finished writing the book that I thought I was just daydreaming about.
Since then I’ve continued writing other stories, and just writing exercises to keep myself active and I’ve discovered 5 reasons that giving writing the time it needs is important to achieving writing goals.
I read this book about a year or so ago and I kind of fell in love with it and Dani Shapiro. It is written in short, easy to read chapters which makes it perfect to pick up when you have a few minutes to spare but not enough time to really dedicate to reading. Which is why this book holds a special place on my writer's bookshelf. When things get tough, and let's face it things often get tough, I reach for this book and flip to a section that resonates with my current situation. The short dose of inspiration can often jolt me out of my funk and get me back into writing! I know this is a big claim, and I'm not saying this book is a magic cure to writing challenges, but it sure does make me feel better. At the very least, I can return to my writing knowing that this big, successful author has experienced something similar to what I am going through.
The book is divided into three sections, Beginning, Middle, and End. I've pulled quotes from the three that really struck me. I hope you feel just as inspired!
On getting started...
"Build a corner. This is what people who are good at puzzles do. They ignore the heap of colors and shapes and simply look for straight edges. They focus on piecing together one tiny corner. Every book, story, and essay begins with a single word. Then a sentence. Then a paragraph. These words, sentences, paragraphs may well end up not being the actual beginning. You can't know that now. Straining to know the whole story before you set out is a bit like imagining great-grandchildren on a first date. But you can start with the smallest detail. Give us the gravel scattering along the highway as the pickup truck roars past. The crumb of food the wife wipes from her husband's beard. The ripped bottom of a girl's faded jeans. Anchor yourself somewhere - anywhere - on the page. You are committing, yes - but the commitment is to this tiny corner. One word. One image. One detail. Go ahead. Then see what happens." (page 17)
This feels like straight up good advice! Especially when getting started on a larger project, or any project for that matter. I often get myself overwhelmed at the beginnings, thinking of how I'm going to get my characters to where I see them in the end of the book, which isn't the most productive place to start writing. I love doing puzzles, so this metaphor really works for me. Find the corner and piece just that small section together first. That is manageable. That is doable. I can do that. In fact, that doesn't seem hard or overwhelming at all.
Grab my free Writing Life Checkup printable to see what is stopping you from getting started.
So you have a novel you are writing or wanting to write. How’s it going? How far along are you? At what point did you say to yourself, “OMG, how the heck do I get this story out of my head and onto the page?”
For me, this usually happens around page ten of my manuscript. I often have a pretty clear idea on how the story starts and also how the story is going to end. It’s that large chunk, you know the middle, that stumps me every time. Well, I guess if I’m being honest, it is the 200 or so pages between those first ten and the last ten, so a bit more than the middle.
I am an organizer! I love calendars, planners, productivity tools, stationary in general. I’m that girl. So, naturally, when I have a problem like this I look to some sort of organization tool that can help. This is where printables have saved my writing life.
I have found that great printables have three magical powers to help me finish my work in progress.
1. They prompt you to think through big ideas in manageable chunks.
Have you ever been asked that question in a job interview, “As a manager, how would you handle a difficult employee?” And you start running through a thousand answers in your mind because “difficult” could mean any number of things. Are they showing up late to work? Do they have an attitude? Is it bigger than that, are they showing up to work intoxicated, or harassing other employees? The question is too broad to answer with clarity and we want to get clear when we are working on a writing project. So asking ourselves questions like, “what happens in this novel?” can yield such a variety of answers it doesn't help. Printables can narrow it right down for us. Typically, printables are designed with a very specific focus and ask prompting questions that get us thinking through those big ideas, like the entire plot, with focus. So, instead of asking “what’s the plot?” a great printable will ask something super specific like, “what happens to the protagonist that inspires them to take action?” This focus gives us writers the tools to fill in that blank space between page 10 and page 190.
Hi, I'm Lia! I'm an author and the creator of Cozy Writer's Room. I believe in the power of storytelling and love helping others tell their stories using simple productivity tools like printables!