The “Just 15 Minutes” Approach to Achieving Your Goals

The “Just 15 Minutes” Approach to Achieving Your Goals

How to make yourself work when you just don’t want to work

When I first start a project, I’m all fired up and ready to go. But writing takes longer than I can sustain my enthusiasm. As the weeks, months, (years) slip by, progress periodically stagnates.

There are many people who only write when they feel their muse talking to them, then the words flow out of them. Full chapters, books come out in states not-so-far from a finished product.

I am not one of those people.

I’ve spoken before about my marathon-style writing. In a world of hares and turtles, I am a turtle. A turtle who’s been known to take breaks and binge on tv, as though the race itself were on pause.

But, eventually, shame and guilt kick in. I’ve been slacking off and disappointing the one person I can’t avoid: myself.

That’s when I tell myself: JUST FIFTEEN MINUTES

clock

If I just sit down at my desk, pull out my manuscript and do something, it’ll count myself as having made some progress, as having not skipped yet-another-day of working on my novel. I could do a great variety of things:

  • write
  • edit
  • read
  • take notes

as long as I do it for at least 15 minutes.

Sometimes, that’s all I do. I inch forward with the tiniest bit of progress, just enough to claim credit.

But you know what?

Most of the time? I get a lot more than just 15 minutes of work done once I actually get my butt into that chair.*


What tricks do you have for getting work out of yourself?

*Note: This technique also works on laundry, dishes, office work, learning to play guitar, playing with small children**, and a variety of other tasks!
**Note 2: That’s a lie, after 15 minute  with small children, I’m ready for a nice, long nap.

The #1 Reason I Won’t Let You Read My Manuscript

I’ve been blessed with many supportive and encouraging friends and family. Many of whom have offered, asked, or begged to read my manuscript. A select few, I said ‘yes’ to, as beta-readers, but for the rest of you, I’m making you wait.

Why?

I want you to enjoy my book.

blankPerson But Morgan, you say, I’m sure I’ll love your writing! Plus, I could be part of the process and that would be fun!
Yes, supportive friend, it would. But I want you to still be excited when I’m published. avatarMorgan
blankPerson Morgan, you don’t think I’d still be excited?
Friend, you can only read my story for-the-first-time once. avatarMorgan
blankPerson Seems obvious.
And I want you to travel the journey WITH Lilyen. If I let you read an earlier draft, you avatarMorgan won’t be able to stop yourself from comparing it to previous versions. You’ll wonder why I changed [this] and why I didn’t fix [that]. I want you to enjoy the very best I can offer. When someone is working on a chocolate-chip cookie recipe and you get to try every batch, eventually, cookies are still tasty, but you’re not enjoying them, you’re stuck in Evaluation-Mode.
blankPerson I don’t know, I really love chocolate-chip cookies.
Keep the excitement, just wait a little longer. avatarMorgan

I Can’t Read My Own Writing

I Can’t Read My Own Writing

I really wanted to read my novel before starting on copy edits.

I just wanted to be able to make notes where my attention started to wane, so I’d know what might need heavy editing.

Slower Pace

When I read for fun, I typically read about a hundred pages an hour. I slow down with dense descriptions and war maneuvering, but for the most part, I read quickly. I blame being very plot driven, having an imagination that’s more conceptual than visual, and playing far too much with my grandmother’s “Learn to Speed Read” kit from the ’60s.

When I’m copy-editing my work, I can get through about ten pages an hour.

I thought that it couldn’t possibly take me more than six hours to read my own novel, but I was wrong. I’m not reading as slowly as copy editing, but twenty-five pages an hour is a quarter of my recreational reading pace.

Copious Notes

I’m not the sort of person who typically takes notes while reading recreationally. I’ve done a fair amount of copy-editing and critiquing of peer’s writing, though.

I absolutely cannot read my own work without making notes! Without saying “this part needs rewording” or “that part is awkward.”

Critical of My Own Work

I don’t know if I’m reading it differently or if I’m just being overly critical, but I’m seeing so many more issues with my writing trying to read it as a whole than I did when I was editing it a page at a time.

Clearly, the difference is I’m looking at it like a reader or a critique partner, rather than a writer trying to be done with this draft.

Finishing Reading

I’ve got 50 pages read, 253 to go, wish me luck! I’m hoping being this judgmental is exactly what my novel needs.


Can you read your own work? Do you find that the best way to find the flaws?

The Hardest Part of Writing

The Hardest Part of Writing

It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been doing this, how skilled you are, or what stage you’re in, there’s always one thing that has to happen each day.

You have to get started.

You have to write that first word, that first sentence, that first page, that first draft.

You’ve got to edit that first paragraph, that first chapter, that rough draft.

And revise. And edit. And re-write.

And every time you sit down to work on it, you’ve got to open the document, remember where you were, what you were working on, and where you were going.

Sometimes Many times Usually when I sit down at my computer to work on my novel, I check my Facebook and my chat messages. I open up the document and read some article someone linked me. Then, I tell myself I’m getting down to business and I’m gonna get through this. So, I open up my twitter and tweet that I’m clocking in. But, perhaps a snack would help, plus I like to have one or two full water cups on my desk, so I don’t take a break until I’ve drunk all the water. (All this is, of course, assuming I can talk myself into working when I get home, instead of just chatting with friends or watching TV.)

Finally, on my good days, I start to dig in. I read my notes on where this chapter is going. I read the last worked on paragraph a few times to remind myself where I was and then I’m off.

Usually, it’s faster to go from ‘starting’ to ‘reaching my daily word/page count goal’ than it was to get from ‘sitting down’ to ‘starting’.


Do you have any rituals you do to get your mind prepared for your writing?

Wrestling With Revisions

Wrestling with Revisions

Sometimes when revising with an editor, you can run into conflicts.

I’ve been almost stalling on my current section of revisions: my editor suggested that I turn a background romance into a full-blown subplot. I’ve been fighting it and I don’t know why: I like the character, I like the concept.

Why Am I Pushing Back?

  • Maybe it’s too much work.
    • My internal editor is just being lazy on how to integrate this new plot point.
  • Maybe it’s just not the story I’m trying to tell.
    • I could be struggling with integrating it because it’s the wrong story and the romance features should stay in the background or get cut entirely.
  • Maybe it isn’t the story I’m trying to tell – but maybe it’s a BETTER ONE!

Asking For Help

I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked for help. I asked my YA support group and my alpha reader if they had any ideas.

That’s when J. in my support group reminded me, “a subplot that can be cut or ignored without affecting the main plot shouldn’t be there.”

It hit me like a brick in the face.

My editor was trying to make the elements I’d presented her with WORK-she wasn’t trying to make it a different story.

Subplot Uses

I need to make sure that the romance element is doing something. It needs to forward the plot, it needs to forward my main character’s internal growth.

Ways to use a subplot:

  • Forward the external plot
    • The love interest character(s) always forwarded the external plot, but the romance itself didn’t effect much
  • Forward the main character’s emotional growth
    • She opens up, but there should be more. It should help her overcome something in her head, some hang up of hers.
  • Provide motivation for the secondary character

Now What?

  • Follow the suggestion
    • Do I bring the character back?
  • Fix the weak point, but do it a different way
    • Do I make my main character angst over the love interest more?
  • Ignore the suggestion
    • That doesn’t matter, because I’ve made the scene work for me in other ways
  • Something else?

I’ll be over here staring at my revision draft.

20170309_111749.jpg


What revision suggestions have you struggled with? Did you end up going with the suggestions?

What Do You Give Up For Your Writing?

Giving Up

I was raised Southern Baptist* and we don’t do Lent. I might have seen ashes on people’s forehead’s once or twice before I headed off to college, but just accepted that as “a Catholic Thing.” I was barely aware of Mardi Gras outside of The Count of Monte Cristo**

In college, though, I learned about Lent. That’s when I discovered it was a time for sacrifice and cleansing. It started to fascinate me. What was I willing to give up?

As writers, we give up a lot for our writing.

Time

First and foremost, we give up our time.

During NaNoWriMo? I’d say I spent 60 hours writing in one month, that’s 15 hours a week. And that’s not counting the time I was distracted by the internet and trying to write.

In an average month? I’d say I spend 3-10 hours a week on my writing. And that’s before you go into beta-reading other people’s work, reading about writing (mostly blogs), and helping run a writer support group (well, 2 right now, because I was backup for a 2nd group). That’s probably another 8-10 hours a week. [Note to self: change up that ratio! More time writing, less time talking about writing.]

– Hobbies

That time has to come from somewhere.

For many of us, writing is technically a hobby. But it’s also a dream, with further potential.

When you make your writing a priority, something’s got to give, and for most of us, our hobbies are the first to give. Those are things we do just for us, so, they’re the most easily sacrificed. The time most easily carved out.

Be it team sports, reading, or video games: we’ve got to make a choice and these tend to be first on the butcher block.

– Social

I’m not saying we lose friends over our writing, but when it comes to finding time for writing, spending time with friends can suffer. “Want to go dancing/to the bar/meetup?” turns into, “I can’t, I’m trying to finish this revision by the end of the month.”

Don’t ask me how excited I am about Friday nights at home, with no distractions, no bedtime, and a chunk of editing to do.

– Downtime

You know that time you spend sitting in front of the tv (or computer) just vegging out, mindlessly being entertained? Hanging out with friends with no scheduled activity or set end time? You might still try to do this, but in the back of your head is a clock saying “you could have finished that chapter tonight.”

– Fitness

You want to hit the gym, but you got out of work late again and if you’re going to get this book out there, being queried sooner, rather than later, you need to get home. You’ll just skip snacks tonight, it’ll be fine.

4 hours later, 1 microwaved dinner and 2 snacks, with 1 chapter edited: it’s past time for bed.

– Family

A lot of family time IS downtime and social time. So, by giving up those, you give up time with family. I try to set aside time for family where I’m not writing, but they usually end up being events, where there’s an event and a scheduled activities. Making family time double as social. Sometimes, I schedule family time for writing events- this year, I’m going to Balticon with my mom.

Looking for Balance

Giving up all that stuff to carve out time for writing takes away your balance.

When you’re over-scheduled and every free moment is chores or writing, it’s time to step back and see where you’re losing time and where you can find time for those other things.

My goal for lent is to stop wasting time on click-bait. Those “12 reasons X” and “30 stories of Y” and find more actual downtime AWAY from a computer.

What do you find yourself giving up?

*although, a peace-love-and-acceptance sort of church, not Fire and Brimstone + bigotry which is what some of the Southern Baptist churches seem to be preaching these days. Side Note: Southern Baptists do use dried palm leaves on Palm Sunday.

** I shouldn’t blame that on my hometown. That was just me not watching much tv.

Some Days, You’re a Super Star…

Progress Post

Some days you’re a super star, and some days, you just show up to work. I’ve been revising, but took a long weekend off and am slowly getting back into things.

25807 / 88257 words. 29% done!

Where I’m At

I’m up to page 93* and I’m about to start chapter 8 tonight. I’d hoped to be starting this week at Chapter 9, but I made other things priorities and that’s the trade-off for not putting my writing first.

Excuses

I visited friends, ate out a lot, and got called up as emergency back-up for a sick voice actor to help record another episode of anansistorytime.com (not necessarily in that order).

Plans

Try to get minimally 4 chapters edited a week, hopefully 5-6, so that the last 2 weeks of March can be spent proof-reading a printed out copy.

* Out of 324 pages.