10-minute writing excursions

So you've found a small slot in your schedule for writing, a bit of "transition time" between activities that will give you a foothold as you build a writing practice. How will you switch gears from life or work craziness to “writer’s mind”? Try this. * Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths and exhaling completely. That can help you come back to your body when your mind is whirring.

* Shift your focus to your own voice.

If it’s one of those, “I’ve got nothin’” days, fill yourself up by closely observing one thing, whatever your eye lands on or your ear picks up, and describing it in as much detail as you can. That requires actually soaking up those details, and directing your mind to the challenge of finding words that evoke them. It’s an easy way to break a thought loop and wind up in the present, seeing.

(That’s why I mention it so often. If you’re feeling distant from writing, one of the great fears is that the basin is empty, that you’ll dip in and come up dry. Knowing that you can replenish yourself with what’s at hand can be a great relief.)

If you’ve got an Internet connection, you can click to a place like http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/ (that may take a subscription after a certain number of visits) or http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ or http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ and click through a photo gallery until an image resonates. It shouldn’t take long. Fall into a photo and write from there—a description, a list of questions or a few lines of a caption that reflect the story you see or would make up about the image.

If you’re collecting the lines you’ve been writing in one place (a good idea), you can pick up where you left off, or begin to connect images or voices or impressions. Rearrange words. Make something new.

If you’re developing a piece, you can go there and spend time with it. Add details or questions. Look at it. Keep it in front of you and your mind will keep working on it. Tinker, add what comes to you, and don't forget to play.

Do you need and want longer stretches for writing? Sure. But if all you've got are tiny windows, why not check out the view?