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.
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.
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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!