Why you should write in 15 minute increments

Susan DeFReflections, Writing resourcesLeave a Comment

When life is big, write small.

We’re in that time of the year where things tend to feel like they’re both speeding up and slowing down–speeding toward the end of the year, and slowing because of impending time off around the winter holidays.

It can be a challenging time of year as a writer.

I know I’ve been feeling that challenge, and maybe you have too.

On one hand, it’s easy to develop some pretty lofty, pie-in-the-sky ideas about all the writing you’re going to get done with all that time off around the holidays.

On the other hand, it’s easy to simply give up on all that, embrace the revolutionary power of rest, self-care, and holiday socializing involving copious amounts of cheese and booze (or maybe that’s just me), and decide to forget about writing until the New Year.

Either way, you may be wrestling with the nagging sense that you failed, once again, to achieve your writing goals for 2023.

I’m no stranger to that persistant, nagging sense of having failed at achieving your writing goals for the year.

But over the years, there’s one thing I’ve found has genuinely helped me to overcome that sense of always falling short of my own goals.

One thing that’s helped me to continue writing in challenging times.

One thing that has helped me avoid setting New Year’s writing resolutions that I always fail to achieve.

That one thing?

Writing for small increments of time.

Really small. Like, 15 minutes a day.

Wait, you say, I can’t write like that–it takes me so long just to get my head back in the game! I need a good unbroken two hours, at least, to do any meaningful sort of writing.

I understand that position. I used to share it myself.

But as my life got busier, I found that having written something was a lot better for my mental health than having written nothing.

And over the years, I’ve found that there are other reasons that writing in what productivity expert Lauren Vanderkam calls “confetti time” can be a powerful strategy:

1. Atomic habits

Many of you have read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, in which the author makes the case that starting with very small changes can lead to big results. In one of my favorite books on the same subject, Stick With It by Sean D. Young, the author explicates the brain science behind that very principle: by starting with goals so small that they’re easily achievable, you don’t have to focus on finding time, or finding the discipline to Just Do It–instead, you’re able to simply focus on frequency and repetition.

Which means that starting with 15 minutes a day is one of the most powerful ways to build a writing practice, period.

2. It all adds up

No, you may not achieve much in 15 minutes of writing time–especially at first. But the writing you do this way really can add up over time.

And in my experience, there’s something sneaky about saying you’re “just” going to write for 15 minutes: I often find myself writing for longer, and thereby “finding time to write” that hitherto did not exist.

3. It keeps your head in the game

One of the most difficult things about returning to a project after time away from it is getting your head back in the game of the story and its characters.

Which means that even if the writing you do in snatches of time over the next month or so doesn’t wind up producing real momentum for your book…you’ll still hit the ground running with that project in January, in a way you otherwise wouldn’t.

4. It gives you a fall-back pattern

When life throws a curve ball, many writers seize up, get thrown off, and can’t keep writing.

I’m all for taking a break when you need to take a break. BUT: I’m not a fan of how hard it can be to get back into a project after a long period of not writing at all.

Having a 15-minute-a-day writing protocol that you can fall back on when life gets crazy (or, you know, you find yourself having to care for a small human, the way I am right now) will keep you from winding up in that position.

So if you find yourself leaning toward either Option #2 (“I’ll write a ton over the holidays!”) or Option #2 (“forget it, I’ll just get back into writing in January”) this holiday season, may I suggest a third option: Finding a way to write for 15 minutes a day, five days a week.

That’s what I’ll be doing from now until Dec. 22. (We’ll see what I actually feel moved to do, writing-wise–if anything!–between then and Jan. 1).

If what I’m suggesting resonates with you, I invite you to join me.

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