Last Monday I finished teaching an online class for women through Story Circle Network that is entitled, “Writing 20 Minutes a Day for 30 Days.” I have offered this class for several years now and students who participate report that it is scary at first committing to 20 minutes a day for 6 days a week for a month, but that after the class is over, they wish it could continue since it helped so much. How will 20 minutes of writing a day help, whether you’re a writer or not? Well, let me just name a few reasons based on my 19 years of experience teaching students, ages 8 – 80.
1. You will have a chronicle of your daily life, if that’s what you choose to write on. Just a sliver of your life, to be sure, but one that later you will enjoy looking back on.
2. You will find after a few days that all that difficulty getting words on the page is getting easier, and after a week or so, you’ll be writing as if that sludgy feeling that once plagued you never even existed. In other words, your writing will have greater fluidity.
3. You will find yourself less perfectionistic about your writing, which is a key to creativity. You have plenty of time to go back and “fix” anything that’s not as you like it, but when you only have 20 minutes to write, you are outrunning that nasty critic that often holds you hostage with ugly words like, “What makes you think YOU have anything to say?” The ability to hold that critic at bay will increase with practice. That’s a good thing.
4. You will find yourself more observant about the world around you. When you know that you have to come up with something to write every day, then you actually start looking around for something to write about. I often take photos in anticipation of my 20 minutes of writing so I have something to refer to when it’s time.
5. You will have the chance to write about things that are important to you but that you never actually say to anyone. For example, I wrote about my wedding ring for 20 minutes one day and my grandmother’s rocking chair in another 20-minute session. I was happy to have a place to articulate how I feel about these things, just for my own enjoyment and satisfaction.
6. You will feel a sense of relief that you’re actually writing if this is something that’s important to you to do. No more beating yourself up with thoughts such as, “I want to write, but just can’t find the time.” When you commit to just 20 minutes a day, you can actually find the time even if it’s in two 10 minute sessions or even four 5 minute sessions.
7. You will find yourself breathing deeper, feeling more relaxed and having a sense of accomplishment just from taking the time to slow down and put words down on the page. This can also be thought of as meditation time when you refocus your priorities and simply allow yourself to pour out your thoughts on the page. This alone would be worth the effort since there is a multitude of research showing the benefits of slowing down and doing something that is calming in your day.
8. You will feel that your life has more balance. By taking that 20 minutes, you are whittling a bit of time out of your day that is solely for you. This goes hand in hand with the meditative quality of this practice. You will soon find that you feel better about life in general and your life in particular.
This list is a reminder to you (and myself) why writing 20 minutes a day is much bigger than simply putting words on a page. It is about claiming a bit of your day just for yourself and thinking of this as a meditation practice as much as a writing process. Then your critic really has nowhere to go with complaints. After all, you can simply say, “This is just me noticing more closely what’s happening in the world around me and inside my head. No room for a critic here. I am just musing.”
Get out your timer and give it a try. If 20 minutes is too long, start with 5 and work up. Remove the obstacle standing between you and writing. The fastest way to do that is simply to start writing today, even if only for a few minutes. You don’t need to worry about the length of time, just relax and give yourself whatever time you can spare. You will soon see that your writing will come easier and that you are calmer. Come on now, go get the timer. There is no time like the present to begin.
Len Leatherwood, Program Coordinator for Story Circle Network’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students for the past 19 years. She has received both state and national teaching awards for the past 9 years from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Awards, the oldest and most prestigious writing contest for youth in the US. She is a blogger at 20 Minutes a Day (lenleatherwood.wordpress.com) as well as published author of flash fiction and nonfiction.