Last Updated on February 15, 2022
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" – Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
Is your most important goal for this fresh new year to finally write (or finish) your book?
But with so many demands on our time and energy, how can we successfully engage with our creative work so that we don't squander our “one wild and precious life”? What can we do day by day to overcome all the barriers that overwhelm us and keep us from writing that book?
Huffington Post blogger Laura Brady Saade has outlined a process for tackling any level of goal — from cleaning off a desk or doing our taxes to achieving those dreams we can't let go of but seem so out of reach.
She suggests that small amounts of time — just 10 minutes — can be:
- Liberating: Ten minutes isn't long enough to be scared or overwhelmed.
- Motivating: Seeing one's progress after a few minutes can be an inspiration to continue.
- Powerful: When there's limited time, we work smarter and more efficiently.
Describing herself as a person “high on dreams but short on the confidence that I can achieve them,” she sets out her approach in “The Wimpy Way to Be Fearless: Just Do It for 10 Minutes!”
Here are some quotes from her inspiring and practical post:
- This 10-minute plan is perfectly tailored to me and maybe to you, too. Here are the symptoms: short attention span, lots of other pulls on your time, the dread of unpleasant tasks, the fear of not succeeding at something new, the worry that you'll be devastated if you put too much heart and soul into something and then fail. That's me in a nutshell, and if you suffer from any of those symptoms for four hours or more, you may have the same syndrome.
- Here's the antidote: Take 10 minutes each day and apply them directly to the task at hand. Repeat daily until task is complete.
- This works not only for mundane goals but bigger, life-changing goals, too. I got back to playing the piano after a 20-year hiatus by wading in just 10 minutes at a time. For years I'd thought it would take me forever to get back to where I had been, and I didn't even know where my music was or what I'd play. Within a few days I was on the path: found the sheet music one day, picked a song the next, found a place to set up the electronic keyboard, and was on my way. After years of the goal lingering out there, it really only took about three 10-minute bursts to get on track.
- It works for those big “Where do I even start?” goals, too. A couple friends and I wanted to start an organization to raise awareness of nonprofits we and other friends were involved with. Sounded like a good idea for “someday”—too much to think about while life was so busy. I decided to take a crack at it 10 minutes at a time (one day thought through who we'd invite; one day thought about mission; another day about schedule, etc.). Within a month of 10-minute-a-day planning, we were up and running and had our first meeting scheduled. Now we have over 100 members and have raised thousands of dollars for many nonprofits.
- Ten minutes at a time is my slow-and-steady way of being fearless. Little by little I chip away at a goal, safely, somewhat risk-free. Do I take the world by storm? Have I ever been an overnight success? No and no. But slow and steady is better than not at all, and so I inch along, gradually working up to running a full marathon and climbing the tallest peak in the continental United States, among other things.
- There are good side effects to this 10-minute tack, though: increased stamina and motivation. I may tell myself that I'm going in (to the pile on my desk, the box of photos, the cluttered garage) for just 10 minutes. But by the end of the 10 minutes, I realize it's not so scary and not so overwhelming and I can do it. Sometimes I stay a little (or a lot) longer and press on. Or I do my 10 minutes, log a little bit of progress, and know that I'm not so scared to come back and continue tomorrow.
Finally, you might also want to consider these strategies, which I've found helpful for making the most of the 10-minutes-a-day approach as it applies to writing and creative work:
- Dare to do “brain dumps.” Whether you have a full-fledged story or just a single image you can't let go of, consider using your 10 minutes (or more, depending) to record whatever's in your thoughts or imagination in computer files, notes, drawings — but definitely in a physical form that you can save and retrieve for future use. Let yourself free-associate, brainstorm, scribble, go in any direction that calls to you. As Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Letting yourself go and generating material by brain dumping can generate that block of “marble” that will contain your book. So pour everything out and trust that the time for structure will come.
- If your 10-minute commitment sometimes (or often) turns into a warm-up that kickstarts a burst of energy and you want to keep on, go for it!
- As best you can, focus on the process of putting in the time and avoid thoughts of the goal of “finishing.” Urgency can deflect you from the process, and being in a hurry can lead to burnout.
- And one practical but vital task: back up all of your work early and often. If nothing else, email your files to yourself so they're stored in the cloud!