Sunday, January 31, 2010

The First Ten Minutes

Two Saturdays ago my friend Elise Hayes and I were talking about my writing goals for the year and for the next few months. I have decent ones for the year, revise my first novel to a polished draft and finish a rough draft of a second novel, but I've been struggling with breaking these two, big goals down into approachable chunks that would give me direction for the next couple of months. She challenged me to come up with at least one goal that would help me day-to-day by the end of the afternoon.

In the past the one goal that had helped me be the most productive on a daily basis was club 100, when you promise to write at least 100 words a day for 100 days in a row, but I didn't think that this approach would work for revisions. I thought about why club 100 was so productive for me. It doesn't take too long to write 100 words, so it was never too intimidating. I could always tell myself I could find the time to write 100 words in any given day. Often by the time I reached the hundredth word, I was back into my story and writing away with no intention of stopping for another hour or two or even longer.

How could I recreate this in revisions? I decided that I would set a goal of working on my revisions at least 10 minutes a day until the WRW retreat in April. Hopefully, this would mean I would have or be very close to a polished, full draft by April 16.

I'm not sure what it is, but there is some kind of magic in reaching the ten-minute mark. It suddenly feels so much easier. I know that if I do stick to my promise of working at least ten minutes a day on revisions, I will work much longer than that on most days. I'll be so much more productive for it.

The exact same thing is true in exercise. The first ten minutes on the elliptical, the treadmill, or in a class are often the toughest. Whenever I'm struggling with it and want to walk away from my cardio for the day, I tell myself I can't even consider it until I reach the ten-minute mark. I may hate every second leading up to 10 minutes, but I can't think of one time when I've ever walked away from my exercise early after passing that minute. It's suddenly not as hard to keep going, and I know I can finish it.

Have you ever experienced something like this? Are there other short-term goals that are just as helpful for you? If you've never tried the ten-minute rule, you may want to give it a shot. It really works for me.


Elise Hayes on February 1, 2010 at 8:56 AM said...

Michelle, I love that you break down what has worked for you in the past--like Club 100, or your 10-minute workout rule--and figure out how to apply it to a new situation (like your revisions). I think ten minutes of revising a day is great. Most days, you'll do more, but even on those days where you really only do have ten minutes, you'll have kept your head in the game, so that even when you're not at your computer, there may be times when you think, "oh, that's what I need to add to that scene..."

I use something like the 10-minute workout rule for my jogs. On days when I really, really, really don't want to run, I tell myself I'll just do my "short loop" (my 15-minute route). Ninety percent of the time, by the time I get to the turn (about 7-8 minutes into the run) where I'd be heading back home, I keep going on the longer route. It's just getting started that hurts.

And I'm doing better with my own revisions since we met two Saturdays ago (like Michelle, I'm trying to polish my current rough draft so that it's done by mid-April). Slowly but surely...

Sally Kilpatrick on February 1, 2010 at 8:58 AM said...

Michelle--if you find a way to make revision palatable, please let me know! Other than that, I agree with your approach. My thesis has been so daunting that I finally had to tell myself to open the document and just attempt a couple of pages at the time.

You're absolutely right about exercise, too. If I can get into the workshop clothes and run for the first ten minutes then I can often make it the full thirty I was aiming for.

Hang in there!

Michelle Butler on February 1, 2010 at 9:32 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! I'm glad to hear your revising is going well. Have you figured out any mind tricks that help you do more?

I wonder what it is about those first ten minutes of exercise that can make them the hardest.

Michelle Butler on February 1, 2010 at 9:34 AM said...

Thanks, Sally! When I was working on my thesis, thinking of it as a whole was way too intimidating. I had to break it down into pieces - either chapters or even sections of chapters - to make it so much more approachable. I think attempting a couple of pages at a time is very smart.

In fact, I need to apply this same approach to my revisions for the novel! I do wonder why I have to learn the same kind of lesson more than once. :)

Best wishes for your thesis!

Elise Hayes on February 1, 2010 at 12:11 PM said...

Sally: Like you, I made it through my thesis a few pages at a time. It definitely helped to try to think of each chapter as "just a paper," like the ones that I had written when I was still taking classes. Of course, each chapter was a looonnnggggg paper, but it still helped...(As did deadlines with a thesis group and my committee members).

Michelle, I've been replacing my evening reading/TV time with writing. That's given me an extra hour or two maybe three or four nights a week. Again, it's just a question of starting...Once I talk myself into writing "for just a few minutes" in the evening, it usually extends until bedtime.

Tawny on February 1, 2010 at 3:34 PM said...

Oh yeah, baby! Getting started is always the hardest part. The last two weeks, I've been doing a bosu workout in the morning - just 10-15 minutes. Really quick while I listen to an inspiring podcast. By getting it done and having already "worked out", my afternoon treadmill is a lot easier to get moving on. Its like the mindset is just there.

Writing is the same. Like you say - telling yourself 'just 10 minutes' is a fab way to get it moving.

Michelle Butler on February 1, 2010 at 3:44 PM said...

Elise, I'm glad you found something that works for you. Best wishes!

Michelle Butler on February 1, 2010 at 3:48 PM said...


I have noticed how great I feel when I exercise first thing in the morning - not just energy and attitude but I feel like I've accomplished so much already. This may be a good reason to get back to the gym before I go to work. I haven't noticed if that makes it easier to work out again later, but I'll pay attention to that.

Michelle Butler on February 1, 2010 at 10:18 PM said...

I just did my ten minutes plus of revisions. This approach will work. :)

Sally Kilpatrick on February 2, 2010 at 1:19 PM said...

Congrats to you, and i have 10 pages of revision done, too!

mbutler on February 2, 2010 at 1:59 PM said...

Great news, Sally! Best wishes for your revisions today.

Michelle Butler on February 3, 2010 at 10:24 AM said...

This tweeted quote seems very pertinent to this discussion, so I'm sharing it here:

AdviceToWriters A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules. ANTHONY TROLLOPE

Something for me to think about as I try to to keep up with my at least 10 minutes a day approach.

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