Don't let perfectionism slow you down!


Never enough time?

One of the most common complaints that comes from writers is that they don’t have enough time to write. While it’s true that we don’t always have  the ability to set aside several hours in a day to work on the story, essay or article that we’ve got in mind, I want to explain how it is possible to produce quality writing in short, concentrated blocks of time.  If you want to make writing a priority in your life, but you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of having to carve large blocks of time out of your already busy life, I’ve got good news for you.  You can start by setting aside twelve minutes.   I learned this trick from a friend of mine who specializes in maximizing his time.  He takes advantage of every minute.  Literally.  He’ll write on a post-it note while he’s waiting for his toast.  He has a notebook on his person every minute of the day.  Stuck in traffic?  That’s time for a list of story ideas or a few sentences.  The thing that got him in the habit though, was setting aside twelve minutes to write something.  Here’s how it goes.

Set yourself up for success:

First of all, if you are in a family, let everyone know what you’re doing.  Tell them directly of your plans:  “I’m going to set the timer for twelve minutes, and during those twelve minutes I won’t be available to you.  Please don’t talk to me, or ask me any questions.  If the phone rings tell them that I’m not available.”

The next thing you’ll need is a timer.  This won’t work well if you’re relying on the clock on your computer.  You can’t waste valuable time looking at the clock.  Every second of those twelve minutes will need to go toward the writing task at hand.

Before you set your timer you must know that you have everything you need.  Get a drink of water first.  Use the bathroom.  Make sure your computer battery will last.  Sit comfortably in your chair so you won’t have to move around a lot.

Decide what you’re going to write about.  Think of your opening sentence before you start your timer.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  It just has to get you started.  This twelve minute writing trick is not going to work if you worry about perfection.

Don't even think about stopping:

Once you are ready, set the timer and get to it.  While you’re writing you aren’t allowed to make corrections.  Don’t worry about spelling.  Don’t worry if you can’t summon the correct word.  Just write.  Don’t let your fingers leave the keyboard (or paper if you’re writing long hand).  This is the phase of the writing where your most important task is getting the words down.   Get your ideas out and flow with any new ones that might come into your mind.  There is no time during this twelve minutes for second guessing or for editing.  There will be time for that later.

It’s important during those twelve minutes to have confidence in yourself, confidence that what your writing is valuable even in its imperfect stage.

Don’t stop until the timer indicates that your twelve minutes is finished.  Of course, if you have extra time it’s fine to keep going, but twelve minutes is enough.  In twelve minutes of continuous writing you should be able to produce between 500 and 1000 words, depending on your typing speed.  And if you practice this twelve minute trick you’ll find that both the quality and quantity will increase over time.   Be sure save your work as soon as the twelve minutes ends.  Give it a title and file it where you can easily find it later.

Finishing touches:

The end product of twelve minutes of uninterrupted writing time will not be a perfect, finished piece.  But the hard part will be over.  Your ideas will be down and you will have a structure to your piece.  The gift you will have given yourself as a writer is that the next time you sit down to work you will not have to face a blank page.  You will already have valuable content to work with.  

At some point you will have to revisit the product of your twelve minute writing session because it will need editing.  But once you’ve got your idea down on paper it will be easier to face at a later time.  It’s best to revisit your writing when you have a bigger chunk of time.   Let’s say you carve out twelve minutes a day to write something in the manner I’ve just described for five days in a row.  Then, on the weekend or in the evening, pick one of your twelve minute pieces and give it some good concentrated time.  That is when you’ll edit and make the changes.  That’s when you’ll correct the spelling mistakes, look up words in a thesaurus, research to make sure you have your facts straight.  

Most writers are held back by their desire to be perfect.  The twelve minute writing technique can help a writer move beyond their own perfectionist tendencies and get down to the real story.