Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Gift of Writing

Today I was sitting and thinking about all the projects I have to work on, current finances, and various other issues. Not exactly feeling overwhelmed, but definitely not upbeat. When something changed. Was it the sun breaking through the gray sky? The realization that I have an uninterrupted week to write next week? My hot wife smooching me on the back of the neck? Yes, yes, and yes. But it was more than that too.

I realized that I have a year to write whatever I want. Twelve months to use however I see fit. I might not write anything good. But on the other hand, I might write something amazing. Suddenly I had the feeling of, “Right here and now, anything is possible.” I have some great projects I am working on. Some great people on my side. And the time to complete what I want to do.

As I pondered a little more on time, I played with a calculation in my head. What is the minimum that anyone can write over the course of a year if they are determined and willing to stick with it? (Understanding that we all have prior commitments—jobs, kids, spouses, yards, pets. Lots of things to get in the way. ) But putting all that aside, how much could an average person write if they were willing to commit some time every day.

Now before I go on, let me point out that I am not great at making or keeping New Year’s resolutions. First, it just seems like a lot of work with little payoff. I ponder a goal. I set it. I immediately feel pressure to keep it. I break it. I feel guilty. And as you all know by now, I am not real big on guilt or feeling bad.

Instead of setting a “resolution.” I’d like to think of this as an opportunity. Like if someone gave you a $1,000 to spend on whatever you want. Pay bills. Go on a trip. Buy a ton of books. If someone gave you the money, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about how, when, or why you spent it. I want to give you the gift of writing.

Here we go. First, you have to actually be ready to write when you sit down. That means knowing in advance what will happen in the chapter you are going to work on. Those of you who aren’t outliners, don’t turn red and start to swell up. You don’t need to know the whole book, just tomorrow’s chapter. So when you go to bed tonight, imagine the scene in your head. Got it? Okay good. Now, the next thing you need to know is how long it takes you to write one page, double spaced. I actually want you to try this and prove it to yourself. Come up with a scene and write one single page of it. Start the timer when you write your first word and stop when you hit a new page. Don’t rush, just write at your normal pace.

I just tried it. It took me twenty minutes. Some of you may be quicker. (I type with three or four fingers at most, and I usually reread as I write.) Some of you may be slower. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say it takes you twenty-five minutes. That’s doable. Most people can find twenty-five minutes right? In the morning before you get the kids up. When the baby is down for a nap. Come on, it’s less than one TV show. Now here’s the key. Can you find three segments like this a day? Three twenty five minute breaks? I think you can—at least on most days. If so, you are good to go.

Great! If you are still with me, you have determined that you can find three twenty to twenty-five minute segments a day to write. This will give you three pages. Again the key is that you sit down and write. Not plot, not edit, write. Which requires you to plot while you are making sitting on hold, typing reports, feeding the baby, doing laundry or falling asleep. Things that don’t require all of your brain power anyway. By plotting—at least the next page—before you write, you are ready to use the next twenty five minute break.

So what can you do with an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes of writing a day? Well do a word count on a page of double spaced writing. My check gives me anywhere from 250 to 350 hundred words per page. We’ll take the medium and call it 300. If you write six days a week, that’s 900x6, or 5400 words per week. Do that 50 weeks a year and you have 270,000. That’s right. If an average novel is 90,000 words, you can write three novels a year, putting in only an hour and a half a day. Oh you want to edit too? Or maybe take a little time off? Great. Write only five days a week and take an entire three months off for editing and vacations, and you still have 5 days x 39 weeks x 900 words, or 175, 500 words. So yeah, only two complete novels.

An average person with a modicum of commitment, but plenty of determination, can do it. YOU can do it. YOU can write a book. Again, this is a gift, not a resolution, not an obligation. If you don’t want to spend your time writing, please don’t feel guilty on my account. I guarantee, I won’t spend this much time on my garden, or working out, or volunteering, or any other number of great and wonderful things. It’s your time, spend it however you want. But if you’ve always wanted to write a book, hopefully this will help you realize you can. Even if you can only find one twenty-five minute segment a day, you can still write a 90,000 word book if you do it six days a week for fifty-two weeks.

It’s a great year. It’s your year to do what you want. I hope it is wonderful for you, and if you decide to write I hope it beings you all the joy writing has brought me.


At 1/04/2010 3:27 AM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

FABULOUS post, Jeff! Thank you for the gift. I think this is one I'll keep and treasure always. =]

At 1/04/2010 12:13 PM, Blogger Gale Sears said...

Thanks, Jeff. That was a big dose of encouragement. I've been stuck with writer's brain freeze for several weeks, and this might be the needed thaw.

At 1/04/2010 2:08 PM, Blogger Laura said...

"I realized that I have a year to write whatever I want. Twelve months to use however I see fit. I might not write anything good. But on the other hand, I might write something amazing."

This is EXACTLY how I feel!!!! Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

At 1/04/2010 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I timed myself on a page today, and was pleasantly surprised. It's amazing to see how every little bit adds up. Thanks.

At 1/05/2010 9:17 AM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

Thanks so much for this wonderful post. In the last couple of weeks I've really got inspired to start writing again, and you are right, it isn't hard to find the time when you really want to. So thanks for the gift, I love writing so it's the best present you could have given me.

At 1/05/2010 10:24 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

great thoughts Jeff--as always.

At 1/06/2010 11:23 AM, Blogger UTMomof4 said...

I can't wait to see what you come up with this year! Great post.


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