I’m sure you’ve heard it, maybe from a writer you love, someone you admire. Someone who’s a “real” writer. It’s the most succinct advice in the world:
You’ll never be a great writer unless you put in at least an hour a day. Sometimes it’s two hours. Even more. But let’s say it’s an hour a day.
It sounds so reasonable it must be true. Writers write. If they’ve got full-time jobs and families, they just get up at 4 a.m., when it’s quiet and the yogis say there’s more creative energy. And if you were serious, you’d do that too.
To which I’ve often said, “No possible way.” Quickly followed by the thought, “I must not be a real writer.”
The all-or-nothing trap
Every time I read some version of the “hour a day” truth posited by another writer I loved, perhaps someone who gave up everything for their art, I put another brick in the wall that was rising between me and my writing. In a way, that made things very simple. I ached to write, but I was at a desk in an office for 10 or more hours a day, I needed to eat and sleep and de-stress and try to have relationships, do laundry. I didn’t have the requisite hour, ergo, I should just leave the real writing to the people who did.
I did that for a long time, dying to write but getting farther and farther from it. It was like falling out of touch with a good friend. Less and less contact, then guilt about not seeing each other, until it was just too awkward to try to start again. What would I say? I was the one who couldn’t get it together to keep things going. All because I couldn’t come up with one crummy hour out of 24—which is not, I’d repeat to myself, a lot to ask.
So, with the perfect logic of all-or-none thinking, I let the writing drift away for long, long stretches.
The deliciousness of “just a taste”
That changed, for good, when I set aside the rules and sent my writer idols to another room to talk among themselves about suffering, sacrificing and writing in the pre-dawn hours. In the quiet, guilt-free space that remained, I asked: What would it feel like to just give myself a taste of what I wanted, and missed, so much?
I’d had the good fortune of studying meditation with a teacher who asked us to sit, during our first session, for just one minute, then two. Can you experience meditation in two minutes? Absolutely. Would two-minute writing breaks add up to anything? I thought I’d find out.
As it turned out, both practices “work” in two minutes, and both build easily from there. I gave my initial practice two parts. The first involved observing something—anything—with my writer’s sensibility. And the second was to write down what I’d observed.
Those two steps gently put me back in the room with my writer self, the one that so delights in noticing, and in pulling words from whatever realm they occupy to capture them on paper.
This is what I learned: In two minutes, you can be awake. Your writing can stir. You can feel it breathing, find things to talk about. And two minutes by two minutes, you can be a real writer again. You already are.